For any prints that you want maximum protection for to ensure it stands the test of time, you’ll likely turn to online search for advice (hopefully) from picture framers. When you do, you are going to run into the term conservation framing. It is framing lingo used to describe the acid-free process of framing prints to protect them from all manners of dangers. Things like movement restrictions, humidity changes, temperature changes and warping.
There’s many ways a print can be damaged, and by following best practice in framing, the damage can be avoided using what’s considered to be conservation material. In simple terms, it is products that are acid-free.
The importance of acid-free can’t be understated when it comes to framing. Acidity is measured using the pH scale that ranges from 0 to 14. A pH 7 is neutral and anything higher than a pH 7 is acid-free. If the number falls below a pH 7, it is acidic so won’t be suited to conservation framing.
Acidic materials are the worst enemy to paper materials and must be avoided. If you’re considering using a custom framer, you will need to know their methods are safe and that’s best done by using someone experienced and by asking what materials they'll be using.
It is one thing to buy an acid-free picture mount, but it’s quite the other to know that the tape that’s securing your print to the mount board is acid-free too. What you don’t want is to sandwich your print between a protective barrier of acid-free mount board and backing board only to secure it in place with masking tape, which completely defeats the purpose.
It always helps to know what the exact process is for framing quality prints for maximum protection so you can choose if you want to do it yourself or use a professional framer.
The 3 Essential Acid-Free Materials Needed for Conservation Framing
- Acid-free Mount board
- Acid-free Backing board
- Acid-free tape
- About the boards
The simple concept is that by placing the print between an acid-free front mount and the backing board is that the print is then sandwiched between the two, giving it a protective barrier from any acids that would cause damage to the print.
- About the tapes
This is where things get tricky because all too often, the print is taped by an unsuitable type such as masking tape, cellotape, packaging tape: all of which are acidic.
When attaching a paper print to the mount board, nothing can be acidic. When it does, it defeats the purpose of the acid-free mount board and backing board.
There are tapes called frame backing tape which aren’t always acid-free. They may just be a thinner version of sticky tape to prevent it showing through from the back of the print. The tape you need is acid-free. There are different types, mostly called conservation tape, or archival tape.
The technique to use to secure your print to the mount board
With acid-free tape, you don’t want to restrict the movement of paper. Paper fluctuates with temperature changes and humidity so if you run the tape around all the edges, you’ll restrict the prints movements, which will eventually cause warping or other types of damage to the extent that restoration work could be required to repair any damage caused.
To prevent any damage to the print, you need minimal tape, yet preserving the security of attachment to the mount board. You do that using hinging.
The most common hinging method used in framing and the one that’s simplest is the T-hinge.
How to Secure Your Print to Mount Board with a T-Hinge
You’ll need four strips of tape for hinging. Each should be approximately one and a half inches.
The first two strips are placed vertically at the back of the print along the top about two inches in from the edge. Half should be on the back of the print, the other half overlapping onto the back of the mount, one on either side of the top edges. To ensure you’re fixing the tape in the right position, you may want to use something to add weight to the front of the print ensuring it doesn’t move position while you’re securing it in place.
The other two pieces of tape are applied vertically over the top of the already positioned tape to form the bar of a T, which is why it’s called a T-hinge. You’re forming the shape of a T with the tape that will allow the picture to hang down from the mount, which also allows it some room to move, but not so much that’ll move out of the centre position inside the frame.
The other thing you’ll want to know about the tape you use is that it’s reversible. That’s why it’s best to use either conservation tape or archival tape as they’re reversible. Unsuitable tapes leave behind stains, and that can show to the front of the print. What’s meant by reversible with framing tape is that when you remove it to reframe a print, you can peel it off and there’s no residue left behind.
When you’re framing your own print and want to ensure the longevity of it by retaining its original quality, acid-free is the way to go. That’s all that’s meant by the term conservation framing, keeping everything inside the frame pH neutral or at least higher than a pH 7 on all materials used inside the frame that’s going to be in contact with the paper print.
Knowing your materials are acid-free you can then go ahead on your framing project, knowing the print will be safe, or the alternative is to work with a framer who only uses acid-free materials to give you a professional finish. Obviously, it’ll be cheaper to frame it yourself, but at least by knowing the materials to use, you won’t be sacrificing the safety of the print.