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The Benefits of Archival Matting and Framing

The Benefits of Archival Matting and Framing by Sharon Yamanaka

Whether you're a professional artist or a collector looking towards the future, archival-quality framing is the best way to preserve and display your artwork. Archival framing uses only acid-free materials and takes potential problems into consideration, correcting for them before they occur. It is often just as easily done as conventional framing.

What exactly constitutes archival-quality artwork?
For the framing itself, it means that anything done to the artwork doesn't harm it in any way, and is fully reversible. As far as archival artmaking techniques, that's a different story. A lot more things such as time, effort, cost, and forethought (often at the expense of spontaneity) go into both the before: making the art, and the after: displaying the art, than into the actual framing. With that in mind, here is a brief description of the steps involved in archival framing and display.

Gathering the Materials.
Archival framing begins by using acid-free materials, acid being one of the primary culprits contributing to the breakdown of paper as well as the fading of pigments. There are two types of acceptable archival papers: acid-free and 100% rag acid-free, with the latter, made from cotton or linen "rags," being the highest quality.

Set up your Workspace.
Work in a well lit area, preferably daylight. Have all your supplies ready, and have a large clean and sturdy surface to work on. Otherwise you may find that the mat cut is incorrect or uneven, the glass may crack or chip, dust may become trapped in the finished piece -- all making the frustration level rise.

Hinging

The Benefits of Archival Matting and Framing
by Sharon Yamanaka

Whether you're a professional artist or a collector looking towards the future, archival-quality framing is the best way to preserve and display your artwork. Archival framing uses only acid-free materials and takes potential problems into consideration, correcting for them before they occur. It is often just as easily done as conventional framing.

What exactly constitutes archival-quality artwork? For the framing itself, it means that anything done to the artwork doesn't harm it in any way, and is fully reversible. As far as archival artmaking techniques, that's a different story. A lot more things such as time, effort, cost, and forethought (often at the expense of spontaneity) go into both the before: making the art, and the after: displaying the art, than into the actual framing. With that in mind, here is a brief description of the steps involved in archival framing and display.

Gathering the Materials
Archival framing begins by using acid-free materials, acid being one of the primary culprits contributing to the breakdown of paper as well as the fading of pigments. There are two types of acceptable archival papers: acid-free and 100% rag acid-free, with the latter, made from cotton or linen "rags," being the highest quality.

Set up your Workspace
Work in a well lit area, preferably daylight. Have all your supplies ready, and have a large clean and sturdy surface to work on. Otherwise you may find that the mat cut is incorrect or uneven, the glass may crack or chip, dust may become trapped in the finished piece -- all making the frustration level rise.

Archival Matting Step-by-Step
Archival matting should be strictly functional -- no doubled, colored or contrasting mats -- just a simple, neutral color that provides a border around your artwork and sets it off, both literally and figuratively, from the outside world. If you want your artwork more ornate, instead of playing up the matting, concentrate on the frame.

Use 100% rag, acid-free mat board such as museum board. (Some mat boards are archival quality only on the side touching the artwork. These aren't considered as reliable as the ones made out of 100% rag throughout.) If anything else is used in the matting -- for example a fabric such as watered silk -- linen or other acid-free barrier is placed between the fabric and the artwork.

The Standard Hinged Mat
The hinged mat is used for pictures with margins, bleed images (these go to the ends of the paper), or papers with deckle edges you want exposed.

The artwork is attached to the backing board with hinges made of paper tape or handmade Japanese paper, which is thin, flexible and has long sturdy fibers. Two rules should be considered when making the hinges. First, use as few hinges as possible, while still providing good support for the artwork. Second, the hinge should always be weaker than the paper to which it is applied, so that under stress the hinge will give way instead of the art.

Never tape artwork directly to a mat or backing board. Even the group of tapes labeled archival are too strong and inflexible to be used directly on artwork. Although the adhesives on these tapes are initially water soluble, they become insoluble over time, requiring the use of a stronger solvent to remove them.

Making The Hinges
The classic hinge is made with two Japanese paper rectangles, typically torn from Mulberry paper or similar lightweight paper and adhered with wheat paste. Lineco's Hayak Gummed Japanese Hinging Paper greatly simplifies the process.

Position the artwork as desired behind the window of a prepared, closed mat. Then open the mat window and make light pencil marks on the backing board around the two upper corners of the art work.
For a V-Hinge, invert the art work on its upper edge, face down, so the two upper corners rest just above the pencil marks.
Place the hinge pieces on a clean blotter and moisten the adhesive thoroughly. Wait for the adhesive to absorb water and get sticky.
Attach 1/4" of the hinge to the back of the art work and the remainder to the backing board, following either the T-Hinge or V-Hinge diagram.
Place the reinforcing strips on a blotter and moisten the adhesive. Carefully center a strip over the portion of the hinge which is attached to the backing board. The hinges should not be visible when the mat window is closed.
Check the fit, then let hinges dry before closing the mat window.

Use standard foam board behind the backing board to support the matted work in the frame. Or hinge your artwork directly to acid-free foam board which works as both backing board and filler.

see larger image

Mounting Strips or Corners
Use mounting strips or corners instead of hinges if you don't want to attach anything to the artwork itself. Strips or corners can only be used on images with fairly wide margins -- not on bleed images -- otherwise the corners or strips will show through the mat window.

To use Lineco See-Thru Mounting Strips, position your artwork on your mat, then peel the release paper on the acid-free Bristol strips to expose the pressure-sensitive adhesive. Press into place just outside the edges of the artwork and burnish for a secure grip. Mylar tabs hold the artwork.

Corners must be big enough to support the print, but small enough to not show through the window. Use Lineco corners, or fold your own from neutral pH paper like Rives Lightweight. Position your artwork on the mat, lightly trace the corners, remove the artwork, affix the corners and burnish well. Slip the artwork into the corners and close the mat window to make sure the corners do not show. Adjust, if necessary.

The Matless Mount
If you want to frame artwork without a window mat, consider using Econospace plastic tubing which creates space between the mounted artwork and the glazing

Archival framing Step-by-step
If the materials used in your chosen frame aren't acid-free (such as aluminum), then those areas touching the artwork need to be lined. (This is called rabbet sealing). Use acrylic paint, metallic frame sealing tape or wax on the inside surfaces of wooden frames to protect the artwork. Again, the idea is to keep anything touching the artwork at a neutral pH.

Glazing
Acrylic, which is both lighter than glass and shatterproof, is preferable for the majority of artwork. An exception is pastels, since acrylic's static charge can attract fine chalk particles from the artwork. In this case, glass is often substituted. Glass or acrylic glazing should be treated with a special coating to keep out damaging ultraviolet (UV) light.

Backing
Use acid-free, archival-quality museum board or foam board for the backing. Even oil paintings are often backed to protect the canvas, with triangles cut out at the corners of the backing to let air circulate around the reverse side of the painting.

Decide on the size of the mat board and frame
A minimum two-inch width for the mat is recommended, with the lowest side slightly wider to give more "weight" to the bottom of the picture. The height and width of the mat is also the size for the glazing and backing. Figure the size of the frame from there, remembering corner overlap if it is an acrylic or oil piece on canvas. Do not include the lip or rabbet in your calculations, instead measure from the inside of the rabbet.

Measure Twice!...
The secret to successfully framing art work lies in correctly calculating the measurements. The effect you want to achieve will determine what frame profile you can use and what combination of materials will fit in that profile. Knowing the rabbet depth of the frame profile is essential. This inner dimension must hold the glass or glazing material, the window mat(s), the backboard and filler board, and still leave room for the clips or points to secure everything.

Cut the pieces
Perfect measurements and angles are crucial! If your measurements are correct down to an eighth of an inch, then cutting has to be correct to the sixteenth of an inch.

Assemble
Attach the artwork to the backing using lightweight, acid-free paper hinges and archival adhesive such as wheat paste, rice paste, methylcellulose or white UHU glue stick. Assemble the outer frame. Place the glazing, mat, artwork, and backing into the frame and secure. For certain types of artwork seal the frame to keep out dust particles, for others leave aeration "holes" or triangles in the corners of the backing to prevent mildew. Finally add the hanging wire and felt cushions for wall protection.

Is archival framing and careful display worth the hassle?
Ask Benny Alba, a painter-printmaker whose work has been featured by Daniel Smith. Alba comes from a long line of artists, including her mother whose work has been collected by museums. As a political statement about the astronomical increases in future value of artwork that often did not benefit the artist, her mother chose to work in a non-archival fashion. Alba now sees personally cherished and valuable pieces of her mother's artwork deteriorate.

One episode occurred when Alba's studio flooded when she was unexpectedly out of town. Alba had laid out many of her mother's studies and some finished works on the floor, expecting to return the next day but returning a month later instead. Because these pieces were not on archivally sound materials (some were collages), they were not only water damaged but also cross-contaminated by foxing. Foxing -- a type of acid visible as reddish-brown spots that eventually eat through the paper -- can start on a non-archival source and then gradually spread throughout an entire room's art. Because of this, Alba carefully isolated these damaged works as well as dipping some in a special bath to neutralize the acid. Unfortunately, collages using magazine images are not easily dipped. Alba has opted to allow these works to age instead.

On a grander scale are the steps taken by art museums to preserve their collections. Alba says, "curators must choose between works when they deteriorate. Limited budgets have made expensive restoration choices more difficult than ever before." She is adamant in warning artists, "Choose to work archivally or not, with an awareness of the consequences. From what I hear, art schools are not giving that information as much as they could."

In conclusion, it may be closer to a pound than an ounce, but protection and preservation at the outset of a project will save your work for future enjoyment. Damaged artwork is never the same no matter how well restored. What was that saying? Art is long...and even longer if you make the effort!

Some Hints from Benny Alba

Not all mat board and foam core materials are archivally sound. If it isn't labeled "archival" then it probably isn't. If you don't know, ask. One of the best things about Daniel Smith's staff is that they'll tell you the truth and if they don't know, they'll investigate the matter thoroughly.
Wooden flat files are not archival -- they're untreated wood. Archival papers placed in them, even with the use of liners, are not protected from the acid in the wood. I prefer metal files. You buy them once and then forget your worries.
"Don't mix archival with non-archival sheets of papers as the damage-causing acids 'travel.' Store each type separately with some distance between the two. And remember, whole libraries have been changed over long periods of time by just one book. So just be a bit more careful for your relatively short term storage."

Displaying Artwork
Even if your artwork is archivally framed, placement will also affect its longevity. That tempting spot on the mantel above the fireplace is a poor place to hang artwork as it is subject to extremes in heat and possibly smoke and soot. Ideally, artwork should be hung on an interior wall with no direct sunlight or doors, and subject to as little variations in temperature and humidity as possible.

Below is a list of the more common causes of damage to artwork:

  • Light Damage - Fading due to irregular or too much exposure to light.
  • Acid Damage - Embrittlement/discoloration
  • Breakage - Accidents in transportation or poor placement.
  • Fingerprints - Oils from handling can eventually show up on the artwork and matboard.
  • Mildew - Mini "greenhouse" effect caused by poor framing can allow mildew to form.

Issues with Light
While most of the problems have been discussed and can be eliminated or minimized, light is a completely different challenge. You need it to view the artwork, but it also causes slow, steady deterioration. Any given piece of art has some total number of hours of light at a given intensity that will be the life of the piece. Some media are more light sensitive than others are, with watercolors being the most vulnerable. By limiting the amount of light your artwork will be subject to, you can increase its lifespan, hopefully for many generations to come. But in order to do that, you HAVE to have UV protection against natural ultraviolet light as well as artificial lighting (fluorescent lighting is worse than incandescent). To minimize light exposure, think about keeping pictures in rooms with low-level lighting and framing them with UV-treated acrylic glazing. Close curtains and shades when the room isn't in use.


How to Order Frames
at Daniel Smith

Our frames are priced in pairs and ordered in the overall, four sided dimension of your frame.

1. Calculating Frame Dimensions: Order your frames the size of the outer edge of your artwork or glass to the nearest 1/8." We cut frames 1/8" larger than specified for ease of assembly.
2. Placing Your Order: Please give your salesperson the overall dimensions of your frame, (i.e.: 18" x 24").
3. Wood Frame Cuts: Each frame is custom-cut and the corners of both pairs are routed as a unit. This ensures precisely mitered corners, equal and matching routed grooves, and a close match of color stock.
4. Frame Hardware: Our metal frames come with all the necessary hardware except picture wire. Wood frames come with the Thumbnail® corner system. You'll need wood glue to bond the corner joint, a method of securing your artwork in the frame, frame hangers, and picture wire.
5. Frame Sizes: Due to the nature of our cutting equipment, the minimum frame length we cut is 6". We will cut frames up to 96".
6. For artwork on stretched canvas or linen: - measure the overall height and width from the outside edges. You must include the size added by the stretched canvas wrapped onto the sides of your stretcher bars. Pay special attention to the canvas folded at the corners. Make sure the profile you select is deep enough to fully cover the sides of the artwork.
Frame orders require 72 hours or more for completion prior to shipping.

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