At some point you’ll probably have some photographs you’ve shot that you want to frame. How you go about the framing–the decisions you make–will have a big impact upon the impact that your images ultimately have. I’ve spent most of today framing and here are a few thoughts about the process.
Archival vs. Non-Archival Printing
Now that archival digital prints are inexpensive and easy to make, you’d be crazy to NOT create an archival workflow for your to-be-framed prints. Before the advent of archival pigment prints, creating archival prints—prints that will last well in excess of 100 years—was an expensive and laborious process: the prints had to be printed on a rag-type printing paper, run through multiple washes in an archival washer, then dried on fiberglass screening. The same results or better are now available from the current generation of Epson professional printers like the R1900 or better; or you can simply get a lab using such a printer to make your prints for you.
Archival Framing Considerations
You’ll need acid-free storage for those archival prints you’ve created, because acid is the enemy of archival prints. I use the inexpensive archival prints boxes available from Dick Blick Art Supply, although there are lots of others sources out there as well. Keep your prints loose in these boxes until you get around to making your framing decisions. The boxes are the second step, after your printing, in this archival workflow.
What You Need to Know about Mat Board
Now that you’ve made archival prints and have them safely stored in acid-free boxes, you’ll need to decide about the makeup of your framing itself. The first thing to consider is that almost ALL of the mat board that you see in those racks at the art supply or hobby store are NOT acid free product: put that in front of your archival print and you’ve just ruined the entire process. The acid in the mat board will eventually leach into your print, damaging it beyond repair. What you’ll want to find is acid-free mat board, frequently described as ‘museum board,’ since it’s the only product that an art museum will use to frame prints. Two good brands of acid-free mat board are Strathmore and Crescent. I’ved used both with good results.
Behind your mat board and your acid-free print, what sort of material do you want in contact with the back of your print? Acid-free, of course! So ordinary foamcore won’t do: you’ll need acid-free foamcore to back up your print. I buy this from Blick as well, whenever I place an order for mat board.
Metal Frames or Wood?
Photographs used to almost always be housed in aluminum frames, either silver or black. This is still a perfectly acceptable (and cheap) way to frame your images, but I prefer a wood frame for my photographs. I suppose I simply got tired of the metal frames, and the wood frames just look more substantial. A simple, tailored wood frame can’t be beat for showing off your best work. I use both black and a clear pickled finish for my wood frames, depending upon the tones in the image itself. A lot of my split-toned black and white images seem to work better in a pickled frame; you’ll have to figure out for yourself what best sets off your work.
Two more minor, but important tips for your archival workflow; if you’re doing the framing yourself (and I frame all of my images myself), you’ll want to wear white cotton gloves while framing and use linen tape to afix your images to the backing board and to assemble the mat itself.
The white cotton gloves will keep oil from your fingers from attaching itself to your print or mat board, potentially ruining your archival print. I buy these from Dick Blick as well (and no, I’m not getting a kickback from Blick!).
Linen tape is acid-free and the best way to attach your print into position on its backing board when framing. You don’t want your print detaching itself from the backing board and slipping down inside your frame! (It can happen, trust me.) Regular masking tape is not acid-free and will cause problems for you in the long run.
Whether you frame with regular glass material or plexiglass is up to you, both can provide an archival environment for you print. I use plex because it’s required for shipping artwork to any non-local shows and because it’s much lighter, reducing the overall weight of your piece signficantly.
So there you have it: my quick-and-dirty guide to archival print framing. I’m sure I’ve missed some things here, so if you have questions about any of this, ask in the Comments below and I’ll try to answer them.
Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Or subscribe to our Facebook page or our Twitter feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog