Preserving Your Assets – Archival Framing

Fine Art Gallery | Colour Factory | Melbourne

At the Colour Factory we have been researching archival framing procedures to make sure we can help you find the best ways to store your precious photographs for the future.

As an artist, implementing archival practice not only protects your work and looks great, but also provides a guarantee for collectors. For collectors, we highly recommended you frame your print as soon as possible after purchase to prevent damage from occurring, ensuring it retains and increases in value.

Museum Level Framing is not confined to museums. Artworks that are to be preserved for future generations should be framed to Museum Level, where possible. Processes are intended to be fully reversible up to 35 years, which means that the framed work can be returned to its former state (i.e. prior to framing) at any time, assuming that the artwork is not inherently unstable.

Conservation Level framing gives a high level of protection for your artwork whilst looking good and enabling you to view your framed work to best effect. It should give virtually as high a level of protection as Museum framing. By using conservation quality materials and the best techniques, the framer can give your work protection from physical and mechanical damage, airborne pollution and acids generated by many framing materials. Conservation framing should be good for 20 years in normal conditions. It is recommended that processes should be reversible whenever possible, as the future value of works cannot always be foreseen and work 'in mint condition' commands the best secondary market value.

* The rebate should be deep enough to hold the glass, thick window mount or fillets, object, thick under mount and back board.

* The molding must be both strong enough and deep enough to support the whole package. An old frame will sometimes need to be modified to meet these criteria.

The Conservation Mount
The conservation mount comprises of a window mount and under mount (sometimes also referred to as a back mount). To provide adequate physical and environmental protection, both boards should be at least 1.3 mm thick. The boards should be hinged along one edge using either a conservation gummed white paper tape or linen tape, (never pressure sensitive tapes).

Illustration 1. Mount Package

Illustration 1. Mount Package

Illustration 2. Pendant Hing ('T-bar')

Illustration 2. Pendant Hinge ('T-bar')

The Mount

As the picture is in direct contact with the mount, the choice of mount board is crucial to protecting framed works of art on paper.

Museum level
For framing valued original works on paper.

* Cotton museum mount board

This is usually solid core, made from 100% cotton fibre - a traditional paper making material, proven stable over hundreds of years. It can be un-buffered (neutral pH) or buffered with an alkali deposit. One source says Mounting photographs are a special case because some types may be affected by alkalinity: they should not therefore come into contact with an alkaline buffered board.

Conservation Level

For framing original works on paper.

* Conservation mount board such as Rising Museum Mounting Board

This refers to board made from chemically purified wood pulp and then alkaline buffered. Like Cotton Museum board, the core and facings must meet certain criteria such as light fastness, pH ranges and quality of lamination adhesives. A buffer is recommended with an alkali deposit (minimum 3% Calcium Carbonate) which prolongs the stability of the board and provides some extra protection in hostile environments.

The Hinges

* The picture should never be stuck down to a backing card. Restriction of movement can be detrimental. Hinges should allow the picture to hang safely; they should be applied to the top edge and adhered to the under mount.

* Adhesives used must be easy to remove at a future date, and must neither stain nor darken with age. The ideal adhesive is freshly made wheat or rice starch paste. Conservators like to use Japanese paper hinges as they are thin pliable and strong.

* Water-soluble conservation gummed white paper mounting tape is acceptable but pressure sensitive archival conservation tapes are not recommended for use directly on the picture.


Works on paper need to be mounted clearly away from the glass to allow for air circulation and movement. If the picture is to be 'close framed' (without a window mount) it should be held away from the glass. There is a range of glazing materials with different optical properties.

Reducing Light Exposure

* Museum level framing must use UV filtering glass and it should be strongly considered for conservation level. Light exposure has a pronounced effect on paper condition and pigments.

* The harmful effects of light can be reduced by using ultra violet filtering glass or UVA Acrylics. Ideally the glass should have the least amount of radiation below 400nm (invisible UV radiation) and the maximum amount of visible light transmission.

* Perspex™ and Plexiglass™ can be useful because they are lighter and unlikely to break on impact. However, these materials do scratch more easily.

* The mounted picture/glass sandwich can be sealed around the edges with gummed paper to prevent thunder flies or pollution from penetrating the frame.

The Back Board and Final Assembly

Here is the major difference between Museum and Conservation framing. In Museum framing the print must not be attached to the backing board, and will 'hinged' in the frame. In Conservation framing the print may be attached to an archival board using an inert adhesive.

For Museum Level framing:
* The back board should be made of a stable, rigid material, such as pH neutral conservation backing board.

* Further protection from migrating acidity can be provided by the insertion of a sheet of Melinex™ (polyester film) or cooking foil between the back mount and back board.

* The air gap should be sealed with a good quality gummed paper tape only. Pressure sensitive tapes fail and leave a sticky residue.
In some cases of Conservation framing, the image is attached so it sits flatly on the backing board. There are a variety of archival materials that can be used including those used in Museum framing.

* Dibond - is a rigid, durable aluminum composite material consisting of two pre-painted sheets of .012-inch aluminum bonded to a solid polyethylene core - a unique composition that makes it approximately one-half the weight of aluminum. This is recommended for mounting large scale prints for its rigidity.

* Kapamount - is a lightweight product made from foam core coated by a thin layer of aluminum, covered by ph neutral mount board.
* An inert polyester adhesive is used to adhere the print to the backing board.

At the Colour Factory we are investigating and implementing these methods and will shortly have a Museum level framed artwork in our foyer for viewing.

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