Ask The Conservators: Does conservation-level framing really make a difference?

Will custom, conservation-level framing really make a difference with my artwork? What about the those low-cost, pre-made frames that come with their own mats and glass - won’t they get the job done? 

Framing is more than just a means to hang your artwork. Proper framing should both enhance the viewer’s experience of the artwork, and protect the work from risk factors that can do permanent damage. Of course, readily available low-cost solutions can be a good means to an end for getting items on display quickly - but for anything important, valuable or irreplaceable, it is critical to understand the benefits of choosing quality custom framing.

When framing works on paper, such as prints, photographs, or even family keepsakes like letters or land deeds, low-quality framing can leave your item exposed to a number of risk factors. Without specially treated glazing or glass, harmful UV rays will cause irreversible fading over time; this can result in inks disappearing completely. If the mat and mount are non-archival, acid transfer can cause both discoloration and accelerated brittleness of the paper which can cause the paper to crack and crumble. For example cardboard, a typical item found with pre-made low-cost frames, is highly acidic and a common source of degradation.

Detail of a conservation framing package with appropriate materials. The backing boards provide extra stability for the work of art. Mats and spacers not only provide a layer between the art and the glazing, but also add an aesthetic quality. The UV protective glazing protects the work from the environment and fading. Finally, the acid-free tape encloses the package to guard against moisture or dust from infiltrating the package.

As for paintings, a well-selected frame can create a protective perimeter that discourages viewers from getting too close and touching or accidentally coming into contact with the surface. Framing with glass is also a option that should be considered in spaces where food and drink are served, and if the painted surface is particularly delicate, glass will also help from excessive dirt or grime gathering on the surface. Once professional fit into a frame, paintings also benefit from the additional stability and rigidity the frame provides.

Framing certainly isn’t limited to just paintings or works of art on paper; flags, needlepoints, quilts, dresses, relief sculptures - the list is ongoing. No matter what the medium is, quality framing adds a level of protection that is critical to consider with those items that are the hardest - or impossible - to replace. Think of framing as preventative care, and carefully consider how you house and display those items that are most precious.

Interested in learning more? Check out this sampling from The Center’s library of newsletter articles, discussing the importance of proper framing.

Protecting Paper: An Illustrated Guide to Sink Mats

Protecting Your Art Assets: A Collaboration Between Conservation and Custom Framing

The Importance of Conservation Framing: The Basics and The Benefits of Archival Housing