Conservation Framing Preserves and Protects

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Experts from the Image Permanence Institute and Tru Vue offer consumer tips for taking valued pieces to be custom framed and for choosing custom framing products.

People choose to custom frame their most valued pieces of art for a variety of reasons, but the most common is to preserve and protect. A recent article in Art World News referenced a 2010 Unity Marketing study that stated more than half of people who custom frame cited preservation and protection as a “very important” benefit.

Yet, conservation framing – a term used by many in the industry -- is confusing for some people, even those with several custom-framed pieces in their home. Determining which products truly offer conservation benefits can be a challenge. Many products with preservation claims cost more than others without, which leads people to question their necessity for certain pieces.

So, when taking a piece to a custom framer, it’s important to know some basic information about conservation framing.

Damage comes from different types of environmental factors.
External factors like light, dust and heat are primary considerations in protecting a piece. In fact, damage is often a combination of things, which means that controlling as many aspects as possible of the preservation environment is important.

For example, conservation framers recommend UV protection when framing a valued piece. Standards developed by the International Standards Organization (ISO), an international body of experts who develop standards for a variety of industries, call for no less than 97 percent UV protection. Though it addresses an issue that isn’t apparent to the naked eye for many years, the damage actually begins early on.

“I tell people to think about UV protection like sunscreen,” said Daniel Burge, senior research scientist at the Image Permanence Institute (IPI), a non-profit laboratory that focuses on preservation research. “It alters the chemistry now that causes damage years later.”

Damage can come from the framing materials themselves.
Anything that touches a piece can be a source of trouble, so it is important to consider the framing materials. Reputable custom framers have access to the highest quality materials, but it is good to know what you need so there are no surprises.

“It’s important to communicate with your custom framer about your plans for your piece and why you have chosen to custom frame it,” said Ed Boudjouk, custom framer and customer contact manager for Tru Vue, the largest supplier of glazing products to the custom frame industry. “This way your custom framer can help you make the best decision on conservation materials.”

For example, ISO standards call for all paper and paperboard materials to have a pH between 7.0 and 9.5, be buffered with at least 2% calcium carbonate, and be lignin-free. All wood frames should be sealed to avoid giving off harmful chemicals, and some metal frames should be sealed to prevent corrosion. Adhesives should be acid- and rubber-free. And all materials should pass the ISO photographic activity test (PAT).

Terms can be misleading.
Similar to the term “all natural,” used by food companies, many of the claims made by manufacturers of framing materials are broad and ambiguous.

In the world of framing, non-toxic is a common term. It sounds good, but it may not mean anything more than the product won’t damage a piece or the person who handles it. Other terms such as “acid-free” and “archival” are marketing terms and are not necessarily representative of specific standards.

“Some companies are very clear about using standards, but many don’t use them at all,” said Burge. “Too often, manufacturers default to vague and inaccurate terms in their advertising.”

In terms of product recommendations, look for those manufactured to meet ISO standards. Check the packaging or product literature for statements like, “Meets ISO 18902—Imaging materials—Processed imaging materials—Albums, framing and storage materials.” Those that state, “Passes ISO 18916” or “Passes PAT,” have been tested to determine if they cause fading or yellowing of photographs. This is a part of the standards included in the ISO 18902, but the ISO 18902 includes standards that are intended to preserve and protect a piece. The PAT is a test that just determines if certain materials will cause harm.

For more information on conservation framing, check out the IPI consumer guides, including A Consumer Guide to Materials for Preservation Framing and the Display of Photographic Images at http://www.imagepermanenceinstitute/resources/publications. Also visit for an overview of custom framing for the home.

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Note: Content for this press release adapted from Art World News, September, 2012.

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Traci Failla

(773) 919-4928
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Christine Shaffer
Tru Vue
(507) 332-4167
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