Conservation of Prints on Paper

 NZ Fine Prints just posted this helpful article about best practice in taking care of fine art prints.
Leading NZ fine art conservator Lynn Campbell of Campbell Conservation offered some advice
for new collectors of original or antique prints
and for those who want to know more about how to care for their collection.

Conservation Of Art: General Principles
Lynn says "Try to provide conditions that are as stable as possible. 
High temperatures and humidity levels speed up the degradation of the paper 
and encourage mould growth. 
Fluctuations cause distortions and subsequent damage to paper items."
The optimum storage conditions are 18-22°c and 45-55% relative humidity.
These precise conditions are difficult to achieve without specialist air-conditioning systems
but it is possible to apply some basic but important principles that will make a difference:
1. Avoid using an attic or basement as a storage area.
These areas tend to be prone to dampness or water leaks and conditions can fluctuate greatly.
2. Keep away from heaters, fire-places and other sources of heat.
 Avoid contact with bathroom, kitchen, laundry and external walls,
as humidity in these areas fluctuates greatly.
3. If possible use a storage location in the centre of a building away from external walls.
These areas undergo the least fluctuations in temperature and humidity.
4. Keep storage areas clean and well ventilated to avoid pest infestations and mould growth.
5. Avoid strong light sources and direct sunlight
as these will accelerate the degradation and fading processes.

Never use sticky tape!

Optimal Long-Term Storage For Works On Paper (eg Prints)
1. Lay prints flat in archival (acid-free) boxes.
Alternatively, use ordinary boxes lined with acid free paper.
Valuable or fragile prints should be individually wrapped.
Store artworks in folders or keep them mounted and framed.
Artworks on paper similar to prints with fragile or delicate surfaces
such as unfixed charcoal or chalk drawings are best mounted to avoid abrasion and smudging.
For long-term protection, mounts should be made from 100% rag, acid-free, alkaline buffered mount board.
This is sometimes called “museum board”.
The mount should have a window at the front and the item should be hinged to the backboard.
Do not use sticky tape to attach the work to the backboard.
Conservators prefer to use Japanese paper hinges and wheat starch paste
because they are stable, long lasting and will not stain paper.
Frames can be fitted with glass or acrylic sheet.
Items with loose powdery media should be framed with glass as acrylic has a static charge.
In all cases there should be no contact between the item and the glazing.

2. Place boxes off the ground (e.g. on shelves) to allow good air circulation
and prevent damage in the event of a flood.
The storage area must be an insect-free environment so inspect well before use and keep it clean.
If using pest strips, insect traps and pesticides
ensure that these do not come in direct contact with the items as they can cause damage to paper.
3. Ensure that there are no overhead pipes in the area, as these can drip.
Placing plastic over the boxes may provide some protection
but will restrict air circulation and may encourage mould growth.  
4. Keep frames off the floor. Stand upright on blocks or pieces of foam if shelves are not available.
5. Avoid rolling oversize prints or maps.
If this is unavoidable, roll onto a wide diameter (at least 10cm) cardboard tube,
which has been covered with Tyvek™ or acid-free tissue.
Wrap the rolled item with Tyvek™ or acid-free tissue.

Best Protection For Prints On Display
The use of stable framing and mounting materials is especially important
as even if the prints are being shown only for a short term exhibition
they may remain in the frames after the exhibition is over.

Correct Framing Is Vital For Prints On Display
1. Glazing is a must with a works on paper like prints.
The glazing should not come in contact with the object.
Ultraviolet-filtering glazing is recommended especially if the room has sources of UV radiation.
Note, however, that acrylics are not always appropriate for use in frames since these plastics carry a static charge that can dislodge pastel and other friable media.
In such cases, ultraviolet-filtering glass can be used.
2. The mounting materials inside the frame must adhere to conservation standards.
Conservators recommend use of pH-neutral or slightly alkaline (buffered) mats or mounts.
Hinges or the non-adhesive systems should be used to attach the objects to the mount.
If hinges are used, a high-quality, strong paper such as Japanese Kozo should be used
with an appropriate permanent, non-staining adhesive such as starch-based paste.
The back of the frame should contain backing layers of archival cardboard
 that are thick or dense enough to protect the object.
Frames should be well sealed and hung securely.
3. Avoid hanging artworks in damp areas such as on un-insulated outside walls,
which can be problematic in winter or during periods of high humidity.
If it is necessary to exhibit on an outside wall, a moisture barrier of polyester film or Marvelseal™
can be inserted between the backing layers or over the back of the frame.
4. The frame should be deep enough so that its back is recessed,
allowing a space for air circulation between the frame and the wall.
Frames can also be held away from the wall slightly by small rubber bumpers
or by push pins attached to the reverse of the frame.

Lighting Considerations
Exposure to light can cause discolouration and brittleness in paper and fading of media.
Keep lighting to a minimum.
Tungsten light bulbs provide a less damaging type of light than fluorescent or natural light sources.
Do not use frames with clip-on light fixtures. These create 'hot spots' which can dry out the paper.
Do not display pictures near sources of heat or moisture.

Cleaning & Handling
Check the backs of framed pictures periodically for dirt, dust, signs of mould or insect activity,
and to ensure that hangers and hardware are secure.
Dust frames regularly.
It is important to have clean hands when handling paper based materials
because paper easily absorbs skin oils and perspiration – these can cause staining and degradation.
When handling and transporting unframed works of art and documents,
 use a thick support paper or cardboard underneath or place your item inside a folder.
When carrying a framed work, grip both sides of the frame.

And lastly a final reminder (particularly considering the recent earthquakes in Christchurch),
use closed hangers or crimp the hanging hook closed
to help prevent the artwork from falling in an earthquake.

Thanks to Anthony Ellis of NZ Fine Prints for sharing this article with us.
If you would like to get in touch with Lynn regarding your paper conservation or art restoration needs
please call Lynn at Campbell Conservation in Christchurch on 03 980 4972


endemicworld said…
Yeah that is helpful information for new (or old) collectors. Thanks for sharing.