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Framing Your Digital Fine Art Print
The best way to preserve and display your original fine art print is to frame it with archival-quality materials.
“Archival” refers to methods and materials that are known to prolong the lifespan of a work of art. Archival materials help ensure that in the future a work of art can be removed from its frame and mounting without damage.
Other terms that refer to this quality are “conservation” and “museum quality.” These terms may not be used in the same way by all manufacturers and framers, nor are they a guarantee. But in general, they refer to best-practices standards for prolonging the life of a work of art.
Archival methods and materials are more expensive than non-archival ones. Ask your framer to show you the various quality materials that are available and their cost. You can then best decide which ones to use for your Hymnscript fine art print, which itself was created with archival inks and substrates. If your budget allows archival-quality materials, use them.
A framed art work should include these materials:
A frame not only presents an artwork, it helps to protect it from the environment and preserve it for future generations.
Select a frame that complements the artwork, not one that calls attention to itself. Select a frame that you like and that will stand the test of time. Don’t be concerned about a frame “matching” your decor. A well-chosen frame and mat will showcase your artwork and fit into almost any style of decor. Also select a frame that is sturdy enough to hold the glazing, mats, artwork, and backing.
Metal frames, typically aluminum, are considered “archival.” Their anodized or baked finishes do not emit damaging fumes like wood frames can.
Wood frames may contain resins and acids that can, over time, damage their contents. Most wood frames, however, are finished and sealed except for the groove (called the “rabbet”) that holds the glazing, mats, artwork, and backing. The rabbet should be lined with a barrier to prevent acid in the wood from transferring to the mats and print.
Your fine art print should be protected behind a sheet of glass or acrylic.
Glass is less expensive, easier to clean, and more resistant to scratches than acrylic. However, it is heavier, breakable, sensitive to variations in temperature, and highly reflective.
Standard glass can block up to 45% of the ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight and fluorescent or halogen lamps, and UV-coated glass can filter up to 99% of the UV wavelength.
Some UV glass is labeled as “museum quality.” True museum quality glass costs considerably more than ordinary picture-framing glass. It is of superior quality and may have a transparent, non-glare coating or an anti-static coating. It also is harder and stronger than ordinary picture glass, and is optically clear and distortion free. Its UV filtering protects against 95–99% of the ultra-violet light spectrum.
Acrylic material (Plexiglas® , Lucite® , Perspex®, Lexan®), is lighter and a better thermal insulator than glass, and it is shatterproof. But acrylics are more expensive than glass, susceptible to scratching, and carry a static charge, so they should not be used to protect media such as pastels or charcoal.
Acrylic material filters up to 60% of UV rays without a UV coating, and up to 99% with a UV coating.
Ask your framer to demonstrate your artwork behind samples of various glazings. Take a look at how the artwork appears in both natural and artificial light. The glazing should look clear, be free of imperfections and distortions, and not alter the colors of your print.
Front Mat (Window Mat or Outer Mat) and Back Mat (Backboard or Mounting Board)
The front and back mats are the most important framing materials because they come in direct contact with your fine art print. They provide support and prevent the surface of the print from coming into contact with the glazing.
Mat board is available in different grades, some of which is not of archival quality. Understand the various grades before you decide on which board to use with your fine art print, and buy the best quality front and back mats you can.
- 100% cotton rag is the best archival quality mat board. Usually called “museum board,” it is naturally 100% acid free and 100% lignin free because it is not made from wood pulp. It also is available in a buffered form to help protect prints against high light and pollution levels.
- 100% Alpha Cellulose mat board is an archival quality mat board that is 100% acid free and 100% lignin free. It also is buffered for additional protection.
- Acid-free mat board has been chemically neutralized. It also may be buffered. But acid-free mat board is not lignin free, and lignin can discolor and damage your artwork. Acid-free mat board will provide protection for a period of time, but it is not of archival quality.
- Buffered mat board is made from bleached wood pulp and treated with a buffering agent to make it acid-free. Over time the buffer can deteriorate, negating its acid-free protection.
- Standard mat board is made from bleached wood pulp and is not acid-free. It can discolor and deteriorate your artwork.
If you plan to use a colored front mat, be sure it is “color safe” or “color fast.” Some colored mat boards, even if made from 100% cotton rag, can fade (even if protected by UV glass) or, under certain situations, run or bleed and ruin your fine art print. Most professional framers recommend the use of a plain white back mat.
The front mat and back mat should be the same size and the same material.
Board should usually be a minimum of four-ply. Six- and eight-ply boards provide greater support and deeper windows where needed.
Selecting a window type is a matter of personal preference. You may choose to have a window cut with equally sized top, bottom, and side margins. Or you may prefer a “weighted” mat, where the bottom margin is slightly larger than the top and sides. A weighted mat gives the image a “visual weight.” Margins should be proportionate to the size of your artwork, but generally they are around three inches on the top and sides and three to four inches on the bottom.
Your artwork should be attached at the top or side of the back board with hinges, corner supports, or edge strips specially designed for this duty. These devices support the artwork within the front and back mat and allow the artwork to be removed in the future without damage. Do not use masking tape or any other form of adhesive on artwork; over time it will discolor the artwork and mat.
Your Hymnscript fine art print should not be dry mounted or spray mounted onto the back mat.
As a general rule, artwork should not be folded or cut to fit a mat and/or frame.
Review the selection of mounting methods with your framer. Always choose a material that will preserve the life of your Hymnscript fine art print.
“Floating” Your Print
You may decide that you would like to display your print without a front mat, showing the whole print and its edges, including the artist’s signature and studio hallmark. This is called “floating” the art.
Floating requires the use of “spacers” to prevent the artwork from touching the glazing. It also requires special hinging techniques to support the print within the frame. Confirm with your framer that the spacers and hinges to be used with your artwork are of archival quality.
A backing layer is used to further support and protect the frame package.
This backing should be archival quality (lignin-free and acid-free). Two good choices are “blue board” (an acid-free corrugated board) or Coroplast® (an inert corrugated plastic sheet). Foam-core boards can be used, but even those labeled “acid-free” may emit damaging gases. Ask your framer for the technical specs on foam-core.
To further protect your artwork, consider a moisture barrier placed outside of the backing layer. This barrier can be made of polypropylene, polyester film (like Mylar-D), or Marvelseal, a laminate of aluminum foil and inert plastic that is impermeable to moisture and gases. This barrier can be especially helpful in cold climates or when artwork is hung on an outside wall.
The frame should be sealed on the back with a dust cover. It gives the framing a professional finish, and more importantly helps to discourage dust and insects from getting into your artwork. Use acid-free backing paper that is strong and puncture-resistant instead of an off-the-shelf kraft paper, which is usually very acidic.