Care & Handling your Fine Art Prints
Works of art carefully handcrafted and printed on paper are inherently fragile, but can be protected from damage with a little bit of knowledge and effort. This may go some way into allowing prints to last for many years to come, sometimes centuries, but improper care can dramatically shorten this time frame, with some factors playing a bigger role than others in the speed of degeneration.
We want to display our favourite bits of art in our own homes, working spaces and other personal or public areas that are in our own domain, and so this can often impose difficult conditions upon the artwork. I live in Hong Kong, where environmental conditions play a huge role in the lifespan of my artwork; external humidity, sunlight and dry air conditioned rooms create a concoction of adverse effects that will only harm prints if the art is not taken care of correctly. I’ve unfortunately learned this the hard way before, and so I hope some of the below information can help you preserving whatever prized pieces you may own, especially if you have spent a lot of your hard-earned cash on them.
My Limited Edition prints are printed on fine art paper and mounted on artboard (more details are on my Prints page). I choose to expose the paper directly to the environment without glass covering as this loses the real print quality and gives too much reflection, especially if you will display it in a well-lit visible area (very likely). This is an important decision, and so with each purchase I communicate with my clients in order for them to understand exactly what is needed to preserve and care for their chosen piece of art.
Context and background
Paper is fundamentally made of finely broken down plant fibers (cellulose). In its purest form, cellulose is extremely durable, but additives, preparation methods, pollutants, environmental factors and user error can cause the paper to become weak over time (in order of importance):
- Light – exposing your prints to direct sunlight and even strong artificial light from bulbs can cause color fading. Light damage is cumulative and irreversible and can even damage the structure of the paper itself.
- Temperature – extreme temperature fluctuations can cause expansion and contraction of the paper fibers and make the print surface uneven. Increases in temperature alone can also exacerbate the rate of deterioration, leading to brittleness and darkening of the paper (why museums keep a constant temperature in their exhibition rooms).
- Humidity – moist air can lead to mildew, mould and foxing (brown spots), as well attract insects etc. On the other hand, too low of humidity will dry out the paper and make it brittle. Furthermore, constant fluctuations can also cause the paper to buckle.
- Pollution – dust, dirt, sweat and oils from your hands as well as acids from the paper itself and mounting materials from framing (glue etc.) can cause discolorations and corroding of the paper.
- Pests – insects like silverfish and some other pests can eat the paper.
- Poor Handling – incorrect human handling of the paper can lead to creases and bends that are difficult to remove. Dirty hands and/or oils on the fingers can scuff the surface and leave residues.
- Storage – Improper storage can lead to prints coming in contact with any of the things listed here.
- Keep out of direct sunlight (especially south-facing light) and high-intensity artificial light.
- Keep prints in a cool environment, preferably within the range of 60°-72° F (16°-22°C). Try not to hang prints near areas that get too hot or cold, like fireplaces, radiators, or air-conditioners.
- Keep a relative humidity between 35 and 55%; avoid hanging your print somewhere that is very humid, like a steamy bathroom or next to a humidifier.
- Keep away from dust, dirt and other pollutants – most small amounts of surface dust can be very gently brushed off with a dry cloth, a (clean) makeup brush or air duster (see image below).
- Keep the prints as far away from humans as possible, from the moment it gets printed! Handling errors can destroy a print before you even get it on your wall. If you need to handle your print, use gloves if possible, both hands and hold it by opposite corners (very gently) to avoid creasing. Also, try to hold from the edges and not touch the printed part to much.
- Use protective sprays (if your print is exposed without glass like MJP’s Limited Edition and Open Edition options are). We favour Ilford Galerie Fineart Printing Solutions when it comes to protective sprays – they coat the image and protect from scratches and UV light without changing the original tint, colour reproduction and texture of the print.
- Keep your prints flat (horizontally), well protected and covered if you need to store them.
- If you have not purchased through this site with MJP where all of the printing, mounting and framing is taken care of for you with the highest possible quality, then ensure you go to the most respectable printers and/or framers you can find, and prepare to pay more for them in order to preserve your prints for the whole of your lifetime. Some tips would be to:
- a) mount on ph neutral, acid-free backing;
- b) if glass is necessary or chosen (not with our prints) then try and get UV glass for light protection;
- c) avoid self-adhesive tapes to mount prints) never trim or cut a print;
- d) ensure the framing is well crafted and of solid, durable material.
If you choose a print through our site then much of the hard work is chosen and completed for you. It may seem that there is still a lot that can be thought of when it comes to caring for your Fine Art Prints, but with a little advance thought and small but often upkeep methods then you will be able to preserve your print for your entire life. I hope this summary will at least help in that process for you, but if you have any questions that aren’t covered here or require further elaborations on the points I’ve covered then please contact us!