Why Art Buckles in a Frame — And How to Prevent It

Written by Mark Rogers

As artists, we enjoy the process of putting our vision on paper. Inspired by the striking architecture of a city, photographers capture angles and textures, telling a story with a camera. Or maybe the butterflies and botanicals in your own back yard stir you to put paint, pen or pencil to paper. Either way you’re in the zone, doing what you were made to do.

When the time comes to frame your masterpiece, the last thing you want is for the paper to buckle in the frame, tainting or even ruining all your hard work. But how do you prevent it?

The big buckling bummer

Why does paper art sometimes buckle even once it’s protected in a frame? Because temperature and humidity fluctuate, even indoors, and paper expands and contracts with the changes. Glass transfers heat faster than air does. When paper art is directly touching the glass within a frame, the paper will react to humidity changes around the edges before the middle of the paper, causing buckling.

 

In addition, the backing of the frame and the paper of the artwork do not expand and contract at the same rate. When the backing shrinks, the paper buckles.

Preventive tips for artists

With the glass and air quality seemingly working against your creation, what’s an artist to do? The main way to keep paper art from buckling is to not tape down all the edges of the paper, because the paper and the backing to which you tape it will not expand/contract at the same rate. So when the backing shrinks, the paper has no choice but to buckle. Instead, frame spacers and mat board can be used to help hold down the edges without tape. If you’re using a mat, mount the image with photo corners or T-hinge mounting so the paper is free to expand/contract independently of the mounting board.

(If you’re not using a mat, the frame is the same is already the same size as the image, so it doesn’t need to be mounted. However, if you want long-term archival framing you should use frame spacers to keep the art off the glass.)

Using mat board and spacers allows air to circulate in the space between the art and the glass, helping keep a steady humidity level over the whole artwork. So as the art, mats and backing are expanding and contracting “freely,” buckling can be kept to a minimum. Sort of like how skyscrapers are constructed with some “sway” built in, so in high winds the building can shift without damaging the structural integrity. But I digress.

Preventive tips for photographers

For photographers, the preferred way to keep a print from buckling is to dry mount the image before framing it. In this case, the image is permanently adhered to the backing board, which then forces them to expand and contract together.

By the way, dry mounting is semi-archival if you mount your work to archival backing board. However, it isn’t museum-archival because it obviously can’t be removed from the backing board.

Paper choice can help

Using specific types of paper can also deter buckling, according to Drew Hendrix, President of Red River Paper.

“Resin-coated photo papers, like UltraPro Satin and Polar Gloss Metallic, tend to resist warping better than other paper types,” Drew says. “Heavier, thicker papers also tend to stay flat. Matte papers and papers with no coating on the back can absorb and release moisture readily, and they are more pron e to warp. If you use these types of paper, dry mounting is recommended.”

Go forth and create

Now you know how to stop unsightly buckling, you can get out there and make something beautiful.

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2 thoughts on “Why Art Buckles in a Frame — And How to Prevent It”

  • ed glortz

    mark, "preventative" is not a word. do your credibility a favor and say "preventive".

    Reply
  • Mark Rogers

    Comment from Jerry one of our customers:

    I've always dry mounted my black and white photographs (double weight unferrotyped glossy paper finish) to the chosen white mount board (currently Artcare) and used a self-cut window mat of the same mount board. The window mat provides a gap between the photograph and the glazing (prolonged contact between the photograph and the glazing can cause the contact area to produce glossy spots). The backing behind the mount board is 3/16" foamboard (currently ArtCare). It looks very professional, and I've never experienced buckling of the artwork. My framed prints, some of which were done fifty years ago, look as good today as when I framed them. I'm not interested in museum archival concerns, since I want to maintain access to pertinent stamped information on the back of the mount board (on sold prints). My only lament is that dry mounting tissue is not offered by Frame Destination, which forces me to buy elsewhere.

    Reply
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