Choosing the Right Framing Glass for Clarity and Protection

Written by Mark Rogers

When you’re framing a piece of art or a photo and it comes time to choose which type of glass you’d like, how do you decide? Glazing, or frame glass, is an often overlooked step in the framing process because most people focus on the mat and frame. Choosing the right glazing can make a dramatic impact on how your art is displayed and preserved.

Glass, as opposed to plastic or acrylic, has the benefit of being scratch-resistant although it’s heavier and more fragile. There are different finishes on framing glass that result in different clarity and visibility levels. The purpose of glazing is to protect the art from humidity, heat, and damage. Glazing materials also prevent abrasion from dust and protect art from both artificial and UV light.

The least visible glazing best displays the artwork, with the goal to achieve “invisibility” with the glass. Glazing with additional protective coatings help preserve the art but result in a less clear view. In this post, we’ll cover plain glass, UV protected glass and non-reflective glass and the pros and cons of each.

Plain glass

Plain glass, which is the cheapest option for framing, is usually between 2mm and 3mm in thickness. It’s sometimes called standard, float glass, or basic glass and you can find it in ready-made frames. This is the lowest grade offered and suitable for many types of framing work. Frame Destination’s clear glass is high-quality, 2mm thick clear glass.

Pros: Inexpensive, protects against dust, can see the art clearly
Cons: Reflects overhead lights and sunlight, which can obscure your view of the picture

Non-Reflective Glass (NRG) and Anti-Reflective Glass

On this type of glass, there is usually an anti-reflection coating that disperses light in order to reduce reflections, enhancing visibility of the photo or art. NRG may be acid etched to give it a non-glare on one or both sides. It may also be known as anti-glare or non-glare glass. The way the glass surface is treated makes it appear blurred from certain angles, which can negatively affect the display of 3D or layered art. One problem with most framing glass is that has a green tint from iron in the glass. The Anti-Reflective Glass from Frame Destination is Water White, which means it has no green tint or optical distortions. Its anti-reflective coating reduces reflections while revealing the true colors and textures of the art.

Pros: Does not reflect light, can make your piece look better, can be used on oil paintings
Cons: More expensive, some basic low-grade types can dull colors, make the art unclear

Ultraviolet (UV)-protected glass

UV can damage your art as it’s transmitted through the glass, to guard against this some glass coating reflects or absorbs the UV spectrum. Some use organic UV absorbers, which are added to a silica-based coating to create an absorbing layer on one side of the glass. Another option is interference UV blockers that are built into thin film stacks and maximize the UV reflection. Some manufacturers add a colorant to the coating to make the glazing neutral in color. Frame Destination’s UV-Filter Glass, protects art above from UV rays above 90%, has a hard coating, and is scratch-resistant.

Pros: Nearly completely UV absorbent, protects against fading
Cons: Chemically-deposited UV absorbers make a less scratch-resistant surface, may increase absorption of visible light

Anti-Reflective and UV-protected glass

This type of glass is nearly invisible, anti-reflective with conservation-grade UV protection. For art and photographs that are particularly valuable, this is the best option. It not only blocks up to 90% of indoor and outdoor light, but it helps maintain the clarity and brightness of the art. FrameDestination’s UV Anti-Reflective Glass Water White-ArtGlass has no green tint or optical distortions and has an anti-reflective coating. It’s practically invisible and blocks more than 90% of harmful indoor and outdoor UV rays to help protect the art from fading and discoloration, yellowing, and bleaching over time.

Pros: Anti-reflective, UV-protection, nearly invisible
Cons: More expensive

Preservation framing is an important process to maintain the life of your photos and artwork. Choosing the right glazing is a critical step and framing professionals can advise you on which type to choose. Ultimately, though, it is up to you to protect your art and make sure it doesn’t become discolored or faded over time. At Frame Destination, we have the perfect options for all of your framing needs with a range of glazing options for all projects. Educate yourself on quality framing materials, obtain advice and help from a professional framer, and keep your art away from heat and sunlight so you can maintain it for as long as possible.

For quick primers on picture frame glazing see our infographics on Glass vs. Acrylic and How Does Light Affect Artwork.

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7 thoughts on “Choosing the Right Framing Glass for Clarity and Protection”

  • Peter

    Choosing the right glass for your frames is as important as displaying your art. Great post Mark. Never thought of Ultra Violet protected picture frames before for my picture frames and artwork. Looking forward to it.

  • Cloe Martin

    Choosing the right glass for your frames is as important as displaying your art. Great post Mark. Never thought of Ultra Violet protected picture frames before for my picture frames and artwork. Looking forward to it.

  • Maggie

    Wow, I didn't even know that there are different types of glass available for frames in the first place! Right now, I'm really intrigued by the non-reflective glass. That's such a great way to ensure that everyone can see the picture, no matter what. Plus, I don't mind paying extra money to ensure that my pictures can be properly appreciated. I'll be sure to look into them as soon as I have a chance.

  • Catherine

    What is the proper method of cleaning glass before framing watercolors and pastel paintings? What glass cleaner do you recommend using?

    • Mark Rogers

      Catherine, the most important thing is to use ammonia free glass cleaner. We like Sprayway and you can get it at Walmart:

  • Catherine

    What glass cleaners do you recommend using to clean the glass before framing pastel and watercolor paintings? If specific where do you buy the glass cleaners?

  • Shelley

    Hi. Can you comment on the non reflective glass ...made using acid. Does that acid have any impact on the matting or print being framed any concern like we would see with using non-acid free paper? Thanks.

    • Laura W

      Hi Shelley - Acid is just one method used to create etching, similar to frosting glass, but most of the time is not a component left on the glass that would harm the contents. Each picture framing glass should have its own specifications, so that you're able to learn the process used. For example, our Anti-Reflective, Water White glass is actually created using a specific coating, rather than the etching method.

  • Jay Keany

    When using etched anti glare glass, which side faces out of the frame? I'm assuming it's the etched side out and smooth side to the picture.

    • Laura W

      Hi Jay - we only have etching on our acrylic, but the smooth side does face the art on that one. I would make sure to read the specs on the specific brand though to make sure that's also what they suggest. Thank you!

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