The unhealthy Effects of Poor Picture Framing Choices

The unhealthy Effects of Poor Picture Framing Choices

What are the unhealthy effects of poor picture framing?

Choices made when selecting a picture frame or a method to frame a picture can dramatically affect the lasting qualities of the framed picture. It is usually in hindsight that we regret poor framing decisions made in haste or pressured into by a custom picture frame consultant.

The damage that occurs to pictures over time includes:

Acid Burn

Acid burns on artworks are usually caused because the artwork has come into contact with non acid-free mat boards or mounting boards. Yellowish-brown burn lines are caused by acids released as the lignin in wood pulp products breaks down. Alum, an acidic binding agent often used in board manufacture, accelerates the breakdown of the matting. The acids released cause artwork to discolour and become brittle over time.


Air-borne pollutants combine with moisture and produce acids freely absorbed by the artwork. Pictures hung above fireplaces or in the kitchen are exposed to greater levels of pollution from cooking or burning. The pollutants will cause organic changes in some paint pigments and mediums causing long-term damage.

Mounting Damage

Pressure sensitive tapes contain solvent. If they are used for framing, the solvent will soak into the artwork. Some tapes lift from the artwork causing it to fall from the mount. Other tapes permanently bond causing damage if they ever have to be removed. Picture framers use a variety of tapes including double-sided tapes for affixing mat boards together, hinging tapes for holding pictures to the backing or matting and various adhesive tapes for sealing the backing of the frame.


Foxing is the name give to the reddish-brown patches caused by a combination of metallic salts, mould, high humidity and high temperatures. They appear little by little over time and are an early warning sign that the picture is slowly deteriorating.

Condensation And Bleed

Moisture from condensation behind the glass contributes mould growth and can cause colours to bleed. When pictures are displayed where they may get some direct sunlight the inside of the framed work will heat up and draw moisture into the frame which then condenses as the air cools.

What Damages Artwork?

Works of art are prone to damage and it is the picture framer’s duty to minimise the risk of damaging any artwork by the choice of framing materials and how those materials are used.

Artworks can be damaged by the following:

• light

• temperature

• acids

• humidity

• inherent faults

• physical damage

• insects

• pollution


Exposure to light causes chemical responses and structural breakdowns in organic materials. The visible light spectrum causes fading of certain dyes, bleaching of paper and colour changes in some organic pigments. The greatest damage is done by exposure to the ultra-violet light spectrum. Incandescent light bulbs present a threat by heat but with the move towards fluorescent lights the damage is more likely to occur from the Ultra-Violet frequencies. For valuable works of art, lighting must be controlled to minimise exposure to these risks. Works of art framed under glass should be glazed with an ultra-violet filtering product like Conservation or Museum Glass.


Temperature plays a vital role in the destruction of artwork. Humidity is also directly affected by the temperature. The atmospheric temperature of the room where the artwork is to be stored or displayed should be controlled with the temperature being preferably between 20 – 21 degrees Centigrade. With higher temperatures humidity rises and chemical responses increase. Another area of concern is the sudden fluctuation of temperature usually caused by air-conditioning being turned on and off. The picture expands and contracts with changes in temperature causing cracking and flaking over time.


Acids damage artworks by attacking their structure internally, weakening their sustain and causing discolouration. Acids are released from materials picture framers have used or sometimes by the supports the artist has chosen to use.


The main danger of excessive humidity is the encouragement of mould growth. Mold grows when humidity rises above 65%. Mold attacks the sizing in paper and weakens the sheet. Low humidity causes the drying out of artworks and will cause them to become brittle. Most artworks should be stored with the humidity between 45 – 55%.

Inherent Faults

Many artworks are damaged by their own construction. Papers that have been poorly sized. Artists using speculate pigments or bad medium choices.Using a poor sustain that has high acidity or lignins or by poor surface preparation.When artists continue to use inferior products to make their works, the preservation of the art is a difficult course of action.

Physical Damage

Physical damage by poor handling is an area where picture framers can help to minimise the damage to artworks.Types of physical damage that occur by poor handling are abrasions, creases, tears, fingerprints and dents.


Insects often go unnoticed and little by little cause damage over time. Some of the shared insects that cause damage to pictures are, cockroaches, termites, wood-worm and silverfish.


Atmospheric pollution can cause fibre breakdown in paper and textiles. It can cause soiling and discoloration of surfaces. A build up of surface dust traps moisture and contributes mould growth. The shared pollutants are Sulphur dioxide, ozone, hydrogen sulphide, nitrogen oxides, air-borne particles or dust.

To prevent damage to your pictures please choose quality framing materials and clean the front and back of the frame regularly paying close attention to whether there are any perceptible changes that you notice. If you notice any minor damage probe further and if required seek specialized help from a custom picture framer or art conservator.

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