If you have a photo hanging on display that has been around for a while, chances are you’ll notice the colour hasn’t stayed the same. The average family home owner are not art collectors so will not pay too much attention to framing photos, mostly because they’re not considered valuable in the monetary sense, but more so on an emotional level.
Should a digital backup copy be lost due to a fatal system error on your computer, the once available copies that could be printed on demand would be gone.
Colour fading can be both an expensive problem and an emotional one if you find you need a picture reprinted because the damage is done.
Let’s take a look at what causes prints to fade and how you can protect your prints from each of the dangers highlighted below.
The causes of print deterioration
- UV Rays
This is the number one cause of colour fading - direct sunlight. However, even taking steps to reduce the amount of this destructive invisible band of light bouncing off your prints, it can still happen due to visible lighting.
Fluorescent lighting is available for picture lights; however, they expose it to higher UV rays than you get from incandescent bulbs. What should also be considered is the proximity of the light source because they will radiate some heat, which isn’t good for photographic paper.
Another light source that could be considered is LED lights as they produce close to no UV.
To protect prints from damage by UV light, you can also introduce a UV shield either by using UV-resistant glazing, or for existing frames, using a UV-resistance aerosol to spray a coating over the existing glazing.
Heat is an environmental factor that contributes to colour fading and print deterioration. It is a contributing factor of direct sunlight because of the associated heat. In addition though, there’s a range of heat sources around all homes, in particular in kitchens where temperatures are higher due to cooking processes.
Indirect sources of heat can include:
- Open fireplaces
- Shelves above radiators
- Sitting smaller frames on top of a radiator cover
- Convection heaters
Any source of direct or indirect heat should not be near the frame as it fluctuates the temperature within the frame more, contributing to it becoming damaged.
Recommended is to control the room temperature as you’d normally do anyway with your heating system to maintain a temperature of between 18 degrees Celsius and no higher than 21 degrees Celsius and ensure that no heat sources are too close to the frame prints or directing heat directly at it.
- Relative Humidity
Relative Humidity relates to the water vapour in the air. The higher the water vapour is, the more condensation you’ll have and it’ll feel hotter too. Too low a humidity level will make the area feel cooler and too high it’ll feel warmer.
This can tie in with temperature and it’s also worth pointing out that when you have high humidity and high temperatures, it’s a health hazard because that’s when people are at risk of heat stroke.
In homes, humidity will increase due to activities like drying clothes over the radiator as that will expel the water into the air. Baths and showers will also increase the humidity, which is why a large amount of print materials are not suitable for hanging in a bathroom. There’s more humidity fluctuations happening, which leads to the prints being damaged.
Recommended for comfort levels is a 45% Relative Humidity level, however to know that’s what your rooms are at, you need a way to monitor it, which you can buy monitors for. Or you can use a dehumidifier or humidifier to control moisture if necessary, but in most cases unless you’re air drying clothes where your prints are displayed, or there’s something happening frequently that you notice condensation is becoming common, simply airing the room by opening a window may be sufficient. If you need accuracy though, you’d be best using equipment to control the moisture content in your home.
A concoction of other possible colour fading causes on prints
Air contaminants like grease in kitchens, and dust will contribute to print deterioration. That’s the protection element your frame has. For it to be effective though, it needs a controlled environment, preventing excessive exposure to UV rays, and environmental fluctuations to temperature and humidity.
Using a quality frame with acid-free mount and backing boards, in addition to controlling the environment your prints are displayed in will help prevent discolouration and deterioration of your prints.