Caring for Works on Paper
As photographs have some unique preservation and restoration issues, they are discussed in another section, but many of the same rules apply. Paper objects are extremely fragile and therefore special handling and storage is critical to their preservation.
Paper should be touched as little as possible with uncovered hands. If you must handle important documents or works on paper it is best to use white cotton gloves. Having paper encapsulated or encased in archival Mylar or archival-framed can not only lengthen the life of the object but also make for easier and safer transportation.
Ideally, paper should be stored or framed in archival materials. This means that the surrounding area is free of acid. Paper, made from wood pulp, will almost always contain some degree of acid and overtime this acid will cause the paper to turn yellow and brittle. Deacidification solutions applied by a paper or photograph restoration specialist can neutralize these acids to prevent decay. This process should be done prior to encapsulation and/or framing. Archival or acid free matting and materials for frames should also be used so that the acids in these materials do not migrate and contaminate the preserved object. If a paper artwork or document is to be mounted to a backing it is important that archival (non-acidic) adhesives be employed and that all procedures be reversible. The glass or glazing used in the frame should also be of a high quality, such as UV glass, which diminishes the amount of damaging Ultraviolet light reaching the paper. Glazing is also available in non-reflective or non-glare glass. Glass such as Low-E glass is not recommended as it does not sufficiently reduce the amount of UV light where the glass is set close to the object needing protection. Acrylics, such as Plexi-Glass, may be used in certain framing situations where the materials are stable and unlikely to be affected by static electricity (such as pastels or charcoal mediums). Since acrylic is a plastic material there is also the risk of off gassing, which could be potentially damaging to paper objects. It is also very important that there be a small amount of space between the glass and the paper so that should any condensation occur, it will not damage the object’s surface or cause it to stick to the glazing. All frames should be sealed sufficiently to prevent air and moisture from entering, but allowing space between object and glazing is a precautionary measure. Hanging hardware, both for the wall and art, should be selected based on the weight/size of the work and the type of wall.
Works on paper include everything from printed documents to watercolor paintings and photographs. Our photograph restoration and preservation tips can be viewed from the side navigation.
Should you choose not to frame your works on paper, they should be stored in archival boxes and flat files. Folders made of archival board can also be used provided they are slightly larger than the objects they contain and stored in a humidity-controlled environment. Flat files should be made of anodized aluminum or powder-coated steel, not wood since most wood contains acid that will yellow paper. If you must use a wood flat file, encase the papers in Mylar envelopes or at least line the drawers with Mylar sheets.
Ultraviolet light can be very damaging to works on paper. Not only should the glazing used in the framing be UV glass, lighting in the room should be non-UV light. Windows in rooms where paper is to be displayed should be coated with UV protective film and lighting should be incandescent or tungsten since these bulbs emit a very small amount of UV light. Closing draperies or blinds as much as possible is recommended but alone will only diffuse light, not prevent UV damage.
Temperature and humidity are important factors to consider in the preservation of any art object, but are especially important for paper. Humidity changes can cause paper, a wood based product, to actually change shape and size. These changes can crack and damage the medium as well. Generally the relative humidity should not exceed 60% and the temperature should remain constant at 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Whenever paper comes in contact with water it is more fragile than when dry. The threat of damage from flooding due to inclement weather or damaged plumbing is an often-overlooked factor in art preservation. If an object is soaked, partially wet or merely damp, mold and mildew can begin to grow and stain it almost immediately. Additionally, if framed improperly the object can stick to the glass or glazing and removal can tear the paper’s surface. Wet paper should be dried immediately, but if it is stuck to another surface it can be frozen without being removed until it can be taken to a paper, photograph restoration specialist, or conservator who can address the condition properly.