Printmaking 101: Preserving your Prints

In the spirit of spring cleaning and organizing, we wanted to share some basic tips for all the artists or collectors who might be organizing their work and collections this season.  Here are some basic rules to follow to keep your artwork in the best condition possible:

1. Display prints in archival materials–most galleries will have all of their framed work displayed in archivally sound materials, most importantly acid-free matting and backing.  These are important as framed works on paper are touching the matting and backing while framed.  If these materials aren’t acid-free, they can start to corrode the paper, making it weak and discolored (think of those really old newspapers in your attic–how they are all yellow and brittle–you don’t want that to happen to your artwork!).  Some artists/galleries also offer UV resistant glass and plexi, which can help keep colors from fading.  However, this is not always the case and if you want it, best get the work framed yourself from a reputable framer.

2. Keep artwork out of direct sunlight and humidity–First and foremost, you should be enjoying your artwork and hanging where you want to.  If that means in a bathroom or in the sun-room then go for it!  But there are some steps you should take to keep it safe.  Sunlight will fade pigments over time, some faster than others.  Paint and ink companies are coming up with more stable replacement pigments, but they’re not perfect yet, so for right now it’s safe to assume your artwork is susceptible to fading over time. If you can find a wall in your bright room that doesn’t receive the full force of the sun, we’d recommend hanging the artwork there.  Also, as mentioned above, you can get UV resistant framing materials that will help protect the work.

Humidity, also, can be detrimental to artwork.  Kitchens, bathrooms, walls near drafty windows or doors, are all places that where works on paper and even works on canvas (those stretchers are made of absorbent wood!) can wrinkle and warp.  Again, good framers can essentially seal a work into its frame through close-fitting parts and good framers tape.  It’s an investment, but if you really want that $500 print to hang opposite your bathtub, it’s worth it!

3. Store works correctly!  It’s appalling how many of our artist applicants still come in with works wrapped in newsprint.  (We set them straight, don’t worry).  If you have loose prints that are currently not on display, do NOT put them in newsprint!  Newsprint is highly acidic and will start discoloring the paper and making it brittle, just like bad mat-board.  Instead, go to the art supply store and get glassine.  It is an inexpensive, thin material that kind of looks like wax paper.  It is totally acid free and can be layered under, between, and over prints before putting them in a box or drawer for storage.

Also, if you can, store prints flat.  It just makes it easier to pull them out when you want to display them again.  Nothing is more annoying than trying to go through a portfolio of prints and having to fight the curled edges of the paper just to get a glimpse of the image.  Flat prints can go into boxes–just if they’re cardboard make sure they are lined with glassine.  Cardboard is also very acidic and if prints are stored for a while they can start to yellow. (Archival boxes are available online or in art stores, if you’re really serious about it.) These boxes can be stored under beds, in closets, etc.

Finally, where you store prints is important!  Prints out of the frame are even more susceptible to heat and humidity than prints in the frame, so dank basements, hot attics, or storage units without climate control are not recommended as storage areas.  If you’ve worked hard to make (or amass) this artwork, take care of it and you will be able to enjoy your collection for years to come.

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