We frame and display the photos, art, documents, and keepsakes that we love, but over time those mementos can yellow and discolor with age. Luckily, by using the right framing and storage supplies, you can help prevent yellowing and deterioration.
What Causes Yellowing
One of the main reasons photos and other papers turn yellow and discolored over time, even when “protected” in a frame, is because they’re exposed to naturally occurring acidic materials. Paper-based materials contain lignin (a chemical in wood pulp) which can produce acid as it ages and deteriorates. This is what causes photos, documents, and artwork exposed to or produced on lignin-containing materials to discolor.
Learn more about acid’s effect on art.
Another common cause of discoloration is exposure to UV light. Just as our skin reacts and changes color when unprotected in the sun, photos can have similar reactions, including yellowing and fading clarity.
Picture Frames and Yellowing
A picture frame alone cannot prevent yellowing if the other materials used in the framing process contain lignin or are not pH-neutral. However, some frames are more prone to yellowing characteristics than others.
Metal picture frames will not cause yellowing from the frame because they are naturally pH-neutral. Wood picture frames often contain traces of lignin, which could cause yellowing, but other framing materials and the right techniques can be used to protect your photo or art from the wood frame itself.
Select a pH-neutral, museum-quality mat board for your framing project. Be sure the border of the mat goes beyond the paper containing the image to fully protect it from the frame. You can also apply archival quality frame sealing tape to any exposed wood on the interior of the frame. This creates a protective barrier between your art or photo and the wooden frame.
Safe Framing Supplies
Even when using a metal picture frame, it’s important that you invest in safe mat board, mount board, mounting supplies, and frame backing if you want your images to last untainted.
Select an acid-free foam or RagMat mounting board. Foam mounting boards are affordable and contain no wood products, meaning they are lignin-free. Rag mount boards, like the Bainbridge AlphaRag, are made of cotton and buffered to maintain alkaline (neutral) pH. If you’re particularly concerned about preservation, look for boards that pass the FACTS Guide for Permanence in Mat and Mounting Boards.
When mounting your art, opt for acid-free materials like archival-quality hinging tape or hinging tissue. You can also buy a complete museum-quality mounting kit that come with a variety of safe papers, adhesives, tape, and other useful framing items.
Invest in high-quality, acid-free mat board. Avoid cheap papermat boards as they are typically not archival-quality. Instead, choose Alphamat,RragMat, or Alpharag mat boards that are rated as archival, conservation, or museum quality.
Finally, seal the back of the frame completely with acid-free backing paper to protect it from outside contaminants.
Choose the Right Frame Glass
Protecting your photos, prints, and art from acids in wood and paper products isn’t enough to keep them from yellowing. You must also guard against UV exposure.
Whether you choose acrylic or glass glazing, opt for a UV-filtered option. UV filters can be added as a layer in framing glass or mixed into acrylic glazing for longevity. UV-filter frame glazing often blocks 90-98% of UV rays, protecting your art from yellowing and other damaging effects of the sun.
If you prefer anti-reflective glazing for better picture clarity, opt for a glazing that combines UV-filtering with anti-reflective properties for the best of both worlds.
Protect Art in Storage
We want to protect and preserve our art and photos, even when they’re not on display. While art that’s packed away in a cardboard box may be safe from UV rays, it’s still susceptible to acid discoloration because cardboard’s not kind to art or photographs.
To safely store your photos, invest in archival-quality photo storage boxes. These boxes are specifically designed to be acid-free and help protect your art from airborne pollutants. They can be used to safely store any paper-based item you want to preserve in good condition, such as photos, prints, documents, comic books, magazines, newspapers, and more.
To further protect your photos and other keepsakes, place a piece of acid-free tissue paper between each item. This is particularly important when storing old photos or paper documents, prints, magazines, newspapers, and comic books as these items likely weren’t printed on acid-free paper.
Keep Your Photos from Turning Yellow
While a picture frame alone won’t protect your art and photos from discoloring, understanding the process and investing in high-quality, archival framing materials and supplies will protect your memories over time.