Conservation Framing

Conservation framing, also called preservation framing or museum quality framing, is framing done with the proper materials and techniques to preserve and protect your art for the long term.  We want to keep you informed as our industry creates new and better products to preserve your art for generations to come.


When you buy a piece of matted artwork from an artist, chances are more than likely that it has been matted with a cheap “regular” wood pulp mat. Even though wood pulp mats will damage your art over time, there is no denying that matted art looks better than unmatted art, even in a cheap mat. Since most artists don’t have unlimited resources, it stands to reason that they would use the least expensive material available for presentation. Let’s face it, the artist is doing you a favor by saving her time and money for the artwork and not buying a top-of-the-line mat. Artists realize that many people change the mat when they frame the art anyway.

Here’s an easy way to distinguish an “archival” mat from a “regular” one. Look at the bevel where the mat has been cut. If the interior of the mat is pure white, odds are that it is an “archival” mat. However, if the bevel is yellow or brown, you’ve got a “regular” wood pulp mat – a mat that will discolor and leave an acid burn on your artwork over time.

In addition to the conservation qualities of archival mats, they also hold their colors much longer than “regular” mats. Recently we had a customer who came in to remat a gray nautical print that, for some inexplicable reason, had been matted in lime green. Well, once we took the print out of the frame, we discovered that the edges of the original mat (which had been protected from fading by the lip of the frame) were gray like the print. The “regular” mat had faded so much that it had changed to a completely different color. At Carter Avenue, these “”regular”” mats are a long, faded memory.

One of the most exciting new conservation matting products of the last few years has been the Alphamat Artcare System developed by the Bainbridge matboard company. While all archival quality matboards will not degrade or harm your artwork, only Alphamats are designed to actively trap and neutralize pollutant gases before they can reach your art. The fibers used in an Alphamat care covered with and surrounded by crystalline cages called “molecular traps”. In short, the boards trap acids (both from the air and the artwork itself) to keep them away from the artwork. Who knows what they’ll come up with in the 22nd century?


The hinging of paper art is probably something that has not kept you up late at night, but it is a vital part of the preservation process. When we are working with original art on paper (i.e. watercolors, pastels, drawings, original prints, etc.,) we want to make sure that whatever means we choose to hold the art into place for framing is three things: archival, stable and reversible. Everyday household tapes (such as masking tape, scotch tape, and packing tape) fail all three tests. We see pretty much any kind of tape that you’ve heard of, including surgical tape and duct tape, used to strap art to its matting. Often we will take apart old frames and find prints stained with adhesive from bad tapes leeching into the edges of the paper. Sometimes our paper conservator can help remove these stains, sometimes he can”t.

There are several proper methods for hinging paper art. We choose the one that is most appropriate to both the type of paper art and the style of framing that it will be presented in. For most art this means using acid-free framers tape or Japanese mulberry paper with wheat starch paste. Another alternative is suspending the art in clear, polypropylene corner mounts. At Carter Avenue we know which hinging method is most appropriate for your art and we discuss the options with you if there is more than one appropriate option. You can be sure than we will never suggest masking tape, so don’t even think about asking.


So what kind of glazing do we want to use to protect our art? Glazing, of course, refers to the glass or acrylic that covers a framed piece of art. In framing, glazing exists for the sole purpose of protecting your art from its environment. All glass protects the art from dust and other less-than-clean things that float through the air. However, archival glass can also prevent damage caused by ultra violet (UV) light. Our best glass contains an extra UV filter that slows the fading of your art. This conservation glass is available in clear, non-glare, and museum versions. We recommend this glass for most original works on paper, especially those with color inks – which tend to be less stable.

Back in the “good old days”, there was no such thing as conservation glass. Back in the “not-so-long-ago days”, the cost of conservation glass was prohibitively expensive. In the 21st century, conservation glass is both affordable and available. Just like pocket calculators.

More and more we are using UV filtering glass on non-original art. In some ways, the poorer the quality of the art, the more necessary UV protection is. That calendar print that you’re framing wasn’t made with inks that were intended to last for ages. The same holds true for the felt-tip pen signature on your college degree. Save the fading away for jump shots on the basketball court.


Now that we’re moving on to the most glamorous aspect of picture framing: the backing. Okay, backing is not very glamorous, but it is quite important. Even if you have used archival materials in your matting, hinging and glass, your art is still at risk if you have improper backing. Imagine stepping outside into a Minnesota winter with bare feet. Even though you’re wearing a parka, hat and gloves, you wouldn’t feel very warm. Think of good backing as the boots that keep your picture warm.

Many things framed in the “good old days” use corrugated cardboard or even wood strips for backing. Anything made of wood will leave its mark on paper artwork, and that’s not a good thing. We will often see wood patterns – the grain, knots and all – burned into the back of prints that have been improperly framed. Conservation quality backing is part of any good framing package.


Using archival materials is the first, best step to being able to preserve and enjoy your artwork. But you’re not done yet. You still have to choose reasonable conditions for displaying your art if you want it to last. Just because you put conservation glass on your painting doesn’t mean that it’s going to be safe hanging in the sun porch. Ditto with your bathroom where your husband likes to take long, steamy showers. We’re picture framers, not miracle workers. You can hang your art in a volatile environment, but even with the best archival materials, just realize that your artwork is going to have a shorter life.

We hope this short jaunt through the forest of preservation framing has been somewhat enlightening. As with all topics of this nature, we certainly have not covered everything here. Please feel free to stop in and ask us about the best ways to present and preserve your treasured artwork.