Somehow, you acquired a print, a photo, a graphite image, or in general, artwork on paper. Whether you bought it, received it as a gift, or inherited it, it's yours and you think it's good enough to display. Most people will go out to to their local big box store or dollar store to get it into a frame and call it good. Depending on the value of the print...you might want to think twice about how you frame that print.
Now a print can be a reproduction from a commercial based printer, or it could be a hand carved image printed with ink onto paper. In both cases, it's on paper. Paper has a tendency to do this thing over time called...breaking down. It become yellow and brittle and decomposes because lets face it...everything has a shelf life.
To make it last longer you want to protect it from the elements and that means putting it in a frame but as I stated earlier, not just any frame. Here is a list of things you'll want to know before getting your artwork framed:
1. The frame:
Wood: Excellent choice. Hardwoods like oak and maple will be better at withstanding scratches and dents than softwoods cherry or cedar.
Metal: another good choice but if it gets gets scratched, it's not as easy to fix.
Plastic: a horrible choice! Don't every get plastic. Plastic will get brittle and break at the corners faster than wood. Wood atleast is easier to fix than plastic. In my day as a framer, we had to use volatile glues for the corners before underpinning them together and it was just so nasty. Furthermore, if you want to get a new frame in the future, that darn plastic is now in out landfills! Please avoid this frame at all costs!
2: The glass:
Normal glass: This is fine and an inexpensive option BUT, the glare will make it difficult to see your image and doesn't keep harmal UV rays from altering the colors of your print. Yep, over time, that sunshine or UV rays from certain lights will fade you art.
Anit-glare and Anti-UV glass. This glass has special coating to achieve more of a museum quality protection and display. Fairly expensive but worth it.
Plexi-glass. This is an acrylic or "plastic" glass. I know, I know....I just ranted about plastics! This option has it's pros and cons. It's benefits are that it is naturally fairly non-reflective so it displays the work well. It's lightweight and easy to hang and transport. It doesn't break as easily, and it's price is mid-range. It's downfall is that...it's plastic. And it can scratch more easily than glass, and it has more static than glass and therefore attracts more dust to the surface making you clean it more often.
Those aren't all the options but are the main three that will be offered when you step into a framing shop. If you purchase frames online, or a framed print online, you'll notice that you have the option of getting plexi-glass, or no glass and that's simply for transport reasons. The chances of glass breaking in shipping is quite high.
3: The Matboard:
This is an important aspect to framing paper artwork. If you're thinking of getting a pre-assembled frame with no matboard - just stop right there. Letting your paper touch the glass is a big no-no. Moisture goes up and down in our homes and offices and can create moisture within the frame too. Without the matboard to absorb that moisture, your paper can stick to the glass, potentially ruining it. So matboard isn't there just for visual pleasantries, it has a purpose.
Now, there are all different kinds of mats but it comes down to it being acid free. I don't know how much matboard is not acid free these days, but I sure don't want to take my chances. Look for a core that is NOT yellow or beige or brown or grey on the inside of the matboard. It should be white. There are some cores that are black but have been acid-neutralized. If you see anything but white or black, it means it is not acid free and has the potential to "burn" (turn yellow or brown, and brittle) your artwork where the art touches the mat.
4: The backing:
When you get a pre-assembled frame, it often comes with a wood back, like hardboard. This isn't good. remember the acidic matboards? Those matboards were made with wood and wood has something in it called lignin. It's a fibrous substance that creates acid as it breaks down. So you want to avoid that, obviously. Professional framers will use acid-free foam core and acid-free adhesives to stick you artwork to the matboard before you sandwich that with the backing.
This kind of brings you back to the frame. Why would I use a wooden frame if it has lignin? You're artwork will not get acid burned if it does not touch the wood. Hence the purpose of the mat and backing keeping it from touching anything else.
5: Sealing the back:
The last part of framing that print is sealing the back. It's not only to avoid air pollutants from getting in and slowly killing your print or artwork, but it helps to keep those nasty bugs out too! Yep, I won't even mention what kinds of dead bugs I've seen fall out of old frames-yuck!
So with a wood frame, the framer will glue paper, usually brown craft paper or butcher paper to the back with a full seal of glue - no gaps!
For a metal frame, after the frame and the whole artwork sandwich is assembled, the framer has these awesome "springs" that slip between inside of the back of the frame and the backing, creating a a nice, tight seal.