Framing with “acid free” mats can be hazardous to your artwork!

We have all heard the term “acid free” when thinking of framing. The vast majority of us believe this is a positive thing when we decide the frame things. When we go to frame shops, they tell us that the mats they use are “acid free” and will preserve our diplomas, art, memories, etc. for many years to come.

Nothing is further from the truth!

“Acid free mats” are made from WOOD! That’s right, it is milled wood pulp that is treated with chemicals to “Neutralize” the matboards. The problem is that this chemical treatment will react with the light, heat and humdity that our framed items are exposed to and breakdown the chemicals in the matting to cause bleeding.Diploma Framing The bleeding will leach onto your diploma, which will create a stain. This stain, in framing lingo, is called “mat burn.” As shown on the diploma on the left.

What is the best material to use? The only thing proven by leading conservators in the industry is 100% Cotton material. Cotton is a very stable and inert material, unlike wood pulp, which is ever changing and decomposing over time. Cotton is also a renewable, sustainable material that needs hardly any alterations when it comes to use as matting.

Hugh Phibbs, Director of Preservation Services for the National Gallery of Art, remarks The cotton used to make rag (mat)boards is lignin free,as it comes from the plant. When wood pulp is purified, it is impossible to prove that it is completely lig-free, since the lignin test is only effective down to 5%. Not good!

All too often, when I am asked to check artwork, be it framed recently or years ago, I rarely see any rag material used. The artwork should only come in contact with 100% cotton rag material and nothing else. As a matter of fact, I have seen artwork placed on foam core board, which has proven to be harmful in its applications. (This will be another story for later!)

Because our business has been involved with framing historical and important works of art, it was only reasonable that we use only museum grade materials. The biggest fallacy is cost. Actually true museum grade materials have very little marginal cost over their lower grade counterparts.

We even frame college diplomas with rag board. Don’t think it’s worth it? How much did you (or your parents) shel out to get that diploma?!

Customers need to insist on cotton rag matting. Whether the framing establishment provides it is another matter that is beyond this scope. As framers, I believe it is our purpose to not only frame items to maintain or enhance their appearance, but also to protect and preserve it for many years to come.

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