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.

Ways to Prevent Buckling - 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 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.

Ways to Prevent Buckling - 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 prone to warp. If you use these types of paper, dry mounting is recommended.”

Go Forth and Create

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

Last Updated October 15, 2020

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

  • Mary lee

    I am looking for a frame source that can provide in “float frame“ for my monotypes. I was purchasing a black metal frame it was essentially a box. You mounted the mono tape on the back mat and then slipped it behind. Do you have anything similar to that description? I work in 22 x 30, 15 x 22 and small standard sizes. Thank you

    Reply
    • Heather

      Good afternoon Mary! You can choose from any of our frames and select customize, where you can select your sizing and frame contents. We don't handle any artwork ourselves, but you can order a full mat in your frame with no window (under advanced options after clicking on customize) and that way you can float your image.
      Let us know if you have any further questions! You can call us at 972-479-1188 or email us at [email protected]

      Thank you and have a wonderful day!
      Heather

      Reply
  • Jan Husák

    Hello, I now solve a problem with buckles in frame. It happened during two days transport to customer.
    I used printed quality 265g satin photo paper between Nielsen frame and glass. As you recomended there must be a space between glass and photo, it looks this can solve a thicker passe-partout (2,3 mm thick card-board with cutted window for photo). Can you say this will prevent problem with buckles?
    And can I prevent it when I mount lamination film to back side of photo and don't use any spacer or passe-partout? I expect lamination film can fix it...

    Ragards Jan Husak from Czech republic :)

    Reply
  • Wendy

    Let's not forget that putting paint on paper without letting it dry under weight makes it "buckle"

    And photo corners only support the corners....the middle of the print will "belly out" and bend paper

    Reply
  • Alex Castillo

    Is the a way to fix small bucles or not?
    I really font want to print it again just for a small bucle.

    Reply
    • Laura W

      It really depends on how the artwork is mounted as to whether or not you'd be able to correct the buckles without harming the artwork.

      Reply
  • Eric

    Thanks for the info. I've had trouble with framed artwork getting moisture inside the glass when left inside my tent overnight at a weekend festival. I quickly learned to take any pieces home that I felt would develop that problem, which creates more work. Is there a better way to prevent condensation on the inside of your framed artwork? Thanks beforehand for your input.

    Reply
    • Laura W

      Hi Eric - Usually, there's not a great way to keep it out once it's framed since the air is trapped into the frame during the framing process. You could try a sealing tape, but it might not help too much once it's already framed.

      Reply
  • Susan

    I’m framing limited editions so I don’t want to dry mount. Also looks wrong w a mat. Using acrylic glazing, not glass. Is there a non permanent archival adhesive you recommend?

    Reply
  • BARBARA SUNNY RUSSELL
    BARBARA SUNNY RUSSELL July 18, 2020 at 1:17 pm

    Very informative article. I'm a collage/mixed-media artist, so I use many types of paper, each having different characteristics. Matting and framing properly are critical.

    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
  • ed glortz

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

    Reply

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