Conservation Picture Framing

Have you been plagued with yellow streaks or mould on paper art works such as prints, posters or originals? Is mould slowly growing between the glass and the picture? Have you ever gone to get artwork valued and discovered that it had been stuck down to a wooden backing board when framed and is consequently worthless? If you have, and want to avoid this happening to your precious pictures then it is time to learn about conservation framing.

There are a number of ways in which an image can deteriorate. It’s in the best interests of the picture/photo/art to have it framed with conservation in mind. Definitely a top priority when the picture has financial or personal value.

We have compiled some tips from the PictureStore framing team to help you select the correct framing components, and warn you of the dangers of poor quality framing components and poor workmanship.

Selecting a frame

The frame you choose needs to be strong enough to support the final weight of the glass, mounting and artwork. Although this may seem obvious, over the years we have seen many works come into our stores to be re-framed because a suitable frame was not selected in the first place. Many customers buy a framed print, usually at a furnishings shop, department store or at the markets and once unwrapped, they discover that the sides sag so much that there is a visible gap between the frame and the glass. When this occurs it is clear that the frame material used is too soft and flexible. As a result the poor quality framed artwork is often removed from display due to poor presentation and poor workmanship. Although purchasing a pre-framed art piece is usually economical in the beginning experience indicates you will end up spending more money in restoration, or eventually discard the image in disgust. A professional job from the beginning will save both time and money.

Should you use glass or acrylic?

When choosing glass or acrylic (perspex) you must consider the purpose for which your picture is to be used and where it is to be displayed. If your picture is made of material that can deteriorate when exposed to the elements, such as paper, it should go under glass or Perspex. If your picture is to hang in a position where it may reflect light then non-reflective glass should be used. For high value pictures you should consider using UV quality glass, which breaks down ultra violet light reducing fading and general deterioration.

Why use mat boards?

Conservation mat boards should be used for a number of reasons. First of all, there are paper mat boards used by some framers which do not have any conservation qualities. Because these boards are paper-based, they contain acids such as Alum which is a binding agent used to manufacture paper and board. This acid accelerates the deterioration of paper and results in acid burn. This acid burn is evident by the yellow lines you may have seen on paper works. Or else you may have seen that the bevelled cut on a mat board (the white line cut at an angle of 45 degrees on the inside edge of the mat board) has turned yellow. If this line has turned yellow, the mat on the work is paper based and will continue to bleed acid into your art or print. You should insist that your framer only uses material that has been treated in such a way as to preserve, not ruin, your valued work. There are several conservation quality mat boards available on the market at a reasonable price.

Secondly, although the aesthetic appeal of a mat board is very important, there are practical reasons why mats are used within framing. The mat board lifts the glass off the picture protecting your picture. There should be some space in between the picture and the glass to allow the picture to breathe. This is especially true in environments of high humidity. Humidity levels generally are quite high throughout the year in mainland Australia. If the glass is pushed against the picture there is no room for moisture to pass and this can result in foxing. Foxing is evident by reddish-brown marks caused by a combination of metallic acids, mould, high humidity and high temperatures. By lifting the glass off the paper, the risk is minimised.

Who cares about the backing - no one sees it anyway!

As with mats, the wrong backing can cause damage to your work. Many framers and online poster retailers use inexpensive regular backing such MDF, plywood, chipboard, masonite or even cardboard. We recommend and use a lightweight neutral pH backing fomecore backing which resist warping, is more dimensionally stable than regular backing boards and are far less acidic resulting in much slower aging of your artwork. Barrier paper can be added to this as an extra precaution for works of higher value. Your picture should then be sealed to protect it from dust, air, insects and deterioration.

Mounting - is there an option?

When mounting a picture, a framer has a number of options. The option chosen will determine how permanent and well protected your work will be. Basically a picture can be hinged or stuck down. Hinging is the process of taping the top of the work to the mat and letting it hang. When hinging, your framer should use acid-free tape. If non-conservation quality tape is used, damage may occur. Many pressure sensitive tapes contain solvent and when used for framing, the solvent soaks into the artwork, breaking down the binding agent and accelerating acid burn. Some tapes will adhere permanently to the picture and cannot be removed without spoiling the work.

A more permanent method of holding a picture in place, such as posters, open edition prints and photographs, is to stick the entire picture to the backing board. This is done to achieve a smooth flat finish. Using adhesive spray on a wooden backing board will cause a chemical reaction accelerating the deterioration of the artwork. We recommend quality lightweight acid free backing available with an adhesive surface.

If your picture is of little importance or value to you then cheap framing may suit … but remember, as with most things, you get what you pay for and picture framing is no exception.

If you have a question or wish to make a comment on conservation framing please send an e-mail to

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