What Does the Most Damage to Framed Pictures?

Written by Mark Rogers

Most people know that direct sunlight can seriously damage precious framed art and documents. Over time, light exposure can cause colors to change or documents to become brittle, yellow, or oxidized. But light exposure is not the only threat to your cherished art pieces and photographs. To improve the lifespan of your framed treasures, keep in mind the many other ways damage can occur.

    • Acid and Lignin

This type of damage is usually caused by improper mat board, backing board, adhesives, and other materials in the frame package as well as any chemical or airborne pollutants that the piece is exposed to over long periods of time. Lignin, which is found in wood products (including wood frames), can fade or yellow photographs.

How to Prevent It: Choose mat board made from cotton rag or alpha cellulose, use acid-free mount board, photo-safe adhesives, and other materials marked “museum quality.”

    • Air Pollution

Airborne pollutants inside the home will cause fading of photos and art. Even the type of paper a photo is printed on can be the culprit and give off harmful gases inside the frame, causing discoloration.

How to Prevent It: Besides using the correct materials, it is important to ensure the environment in which the frame piece is displayed is not harming the photograph. For example, be cautious using household cleaners around the frame. Additionally, if you paint a room, let it cure for two weeks before rehanging the frame.

    • Insects

Infestation by insects can leave holes and stains and must be treated by a professional conservator or exterminator. Insects usually enter through openings as a result of a poorly assembled frame.

How to Prevent It: Check framed pieces regularly for signs of insect infestation and damage.

    • Heat

Did you know that room temperature is actually too hot for a photo? Framed pieces exposed to heat for extended periods of time can warp, discolor, or deteriorate. Even the light you use to display and highlight your art can produce enough heat to damage your framed piece.

How to Prevent It: Use non-heat producing lighting to illuminate your framed piece and avoid displaying it where the frame will be in direct morning or afternoon light.

    • Moisture

When exposed to moisture, framed photographs can succumb to blocking. Blocking occurs when the surface of the photo becomes adhesive-like and sticks to the glass frame; the photo is often destroyed if it is attempted to remove it. Moisture will also cause warping, mold growth on the surface of the piece (which poses a health hazard), and color bleeding on digital photographs.

How to Prevent It: Display your framed piece in a climate controlled area—low humidity and air conditioned is best. It is also advisable to use picture frame spacers to ensure the artwork does not touch the surface of the glazing.

Prevention and Protection

Defend against damage to your artwork by first selecting the correct materials to use in the entire frame package.

  • A structurally sound, high-quality frame
  • Glazing, either glass or acrylic, preferably with UV protection
  • Picture frames spacers
  • Acid-free mat board
  • Acid-free mount board
  • Backing paper, which seals the package to protect against humidity, insects and other pollutants

A professional frame store can supply all of these high-quality framing materials. You may opt to use your own selected materials in place of ready-made frames, some of which already include archival materials, but it is important to ensure that every piece of the frame package can stand up to potential damage. In the long run, an investment in a good framing package is the best way to ensure you can enjoy your framed pieces for years to come.

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9 thoughts on “What Does the Most Damage to Framed Pictures?”

  • Lisa

    I need to frame my cyanotype prints and thes need oxygen to stay blue, so how can I frame these please.

  • Mark Rogers

    Lisa, cyanotype print technology changed over the years, and there are some technologies commonly called cyanotype that may not actually be. Certain cyanotypes do not like light at all and so they are not framed. Instead, you make a copy and frame that while keeping the original in the dark. The oxygen requirement is not something I am familiar with but this is not my area of expertise. I would encourage you to find a custom framer that is certified by the PPFA and has obvious print identification and conservation framing capability (do not take them to Michael's or other big box framing stores).

  • Richard Gill

    Picture need frames not only to beautify the artwork but also to protect it from the external souces that damage the artwork , which is invaluable with life long memories to be preserved. Arcylic Material are very popular these days as it gives a classic look to the pictures along with the protection.
    Websites such as American Frames, Fairy Frames , PaintBoxNolita , PaintBox Art & Frames do provide services for all type of pictures and artwork.

  • Rosanne Duvall

    How can I fix picture with air bubbles

    • Mark Rogers

      I would take it to a custom framer so they can see if it is possible to deactivate the adhesive and then remount it with a dry-mount press that may be able to mostly remove the bubbles.

  • Peter Hewitt

    Do you know if some grades of picture framing acrylic emit any kinds of gases that can harm photographs? Thanks.

    • Mark Rogers

      Peter, to the best of my knowledge that is not an issue. In fact, Museums prefer acrylic to glass. I can only speak of picture frame quality acrylic. Not sure about things like thin styrene used in cheap post frames.

      • Peter Hewitt

        Thanks for the quick reply. I also contacted Evonik today and they said that there are no plasticizers in their materials and that everything is acid free. I think that some people handling acrylic might be using organics to help remove stubborn protective film on sheets and they are contaminating the acrylic in their shops.

        • Mark Rogers

          Ah yes, you do have to be careful of that and cleaners. For example, you dont want to use regular Windex to clean it before assembly which will then put a coating of ammonia on the inside of the frame to damage your print.

  • Neralena Ramirez
    Neralena Ramirez August 30, 2018 at 5:11 am

    Hello, my metal picture frames the the issue. I purchased a set of 3 beautiful frames years ago. Recently moved to a valley where the air is different and the temperatures are more intense. I noticed one frame beginning to oxidize (the others looked fine). Cleaning with everything I can think of to no avail. Please advise. Thank you for your time and expertise!

    • Mark Rogers

      Neralena, that can be complicated and will depend on the type of metal they are made from. You might consider taking them to a custom frame shop (privately owned, not a michaals or other big box store they will not be able to help you). Almost all of the frames we sell are anodized and we have not heard of our customers ever having this problem.

  • Scott Burns

    I know metal frames are generally not sealed with a paper backing like wood frames, but how do you keep insects from getting in? I have several framed movie posters that have now deceased little critters stuck between the glass and the mat. Is there some secret? Or is there a way to actually seal a metal frame to keep the bugs out? Thanks for any suggestions.

    • Mark Rogers

      Scott, the metal frames should have springs clips (at least ones we sell) that compress the backing against the mat and glass. Perhaps not as solid as a glue barrier, but I would think it would prevent most bugs. You can glue a paper backing on the back of a metal frame but it is difficult since the rail is so thin.

  • Bhagya

    Is there any issue for framed photo if we put them near the air conditioner? Will it spoil ?

    • Laura W

      Hi Bhagya - I don't want to definitively say yes or no since artwork mediums vary so widely. I would check to see the materials used in the artwork and frame and then make a decision based on that.

  • Chris

    Hi I bought two art pieces from an artist that uses the old Japanese art trades. For these pictures were made on rice paper and told me to get a frame that has no air or weathering as it could ruin them. What would you suggest I get for them and/or could you point me to a vendor that sells such frames?

    • Heather

      Hi Chris,
      For something specialized like the piece of art you describe, I would highly suggest you check with a custom framer to help with framing.
      Thanks and have a great day!

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