Paper

Paper is a fascinating material. A favourite material used by artists, it can endure for centuries if properly made, handled and preserved. It can also be quickly destroyed by accident or through carelessness.

The process of making paper today is remarkably similar to methods used seven hundred years ago. Of course, modern machinery has increased manufacturing capacity and technology allows us to control quality, cost, longevity and other characteristics. Consistency and variety are our modern advantages but paper is still much the same as it has been all along.

A well-trained and experienced custom picture framer can help you preserve as well as present valuable paper items. However, some picture framers are not qualified in matters of preservation and may unwittingly cause damage or destruction. You must learn enough to judge the skill, knowledge, and integrity of your framer and others who handle your paper treasures. We, at Atelier Daniel, have over 30 years of experience with paper and have followed several courses on paper handling and conservation.

If your valuable paper item is already damaged, perhaps it can be repaired. Bring it to us and we will consult a qualified paper conservator (an educated specialist who knows the chemistry of papers, inks, and other related substances) to see what can be done to restore the work to its original condition.

Most of us handle paper every day, but know relatively little about its care and preservation. Paper has more “enemies” now than at any time in history. This brief overview is intended to improve your awareness of potential hazards and help you prevent their harmful effects.

Choose good quality paper. Paper made of 100% rag is intended for permanence and is recommended for artworks. Good quality alpha-cellulose papers, with chemical buffers against acids, are also suitable.

Avoid most copier papers, Kraft papers, newsprint, construction papers, recycled papers, and others of questionable content and longevity. Generally, inherent faults cannot be corrected, although the effects of acid can be slowed by addition of chemical buffers during manufacture, or later by a qualified conservator.

How to Minimize Them

 

 

Choose good quality paper. Paper made of 100% rag is intended for permanence and is recommended for artworks. Good quality alpha-cellulose papers, with chemical buffers against acids, are also suitable.

Avoid most copier papers, Kraft papers, newsprint, construction papers, recycled papers, and others of questionable content and longevity. Generally, inherent faults cannot be corrected, although the effects of acid can be slowed by addition of chemical buffers during manufacture, or later by a qualified conservator.

Store in acid free packaging that provides a barrier against acid migration.

Frame with non-acidic materials. NOTE: Standard mat board available today is called “acid-free” by virtue of calcium carbonate or other chemical buffers. It is still wood pulp paper and will eventually turn acidic when the buffer is exhausted.

If acidic materials must be used for framing or storage, provide a barrier of at least two-ply 100% rag or alpha-cellulose paper; four-ply is preferred.

The acid content of most papers can be neutralized even after manufacture by addition of chemical buffers (usually applied by soaking) by a qualified conservator.

Acid damage is irreversible.

Generally, 50% relative humidity is considered ideal, regardless of temperature.

Paper is hygroscopic – that is, it absorbs moisture like a sponge. When humidity changes, it tries to maintain its equilibrium moisture content (EMC). The slower the rate of change, the better.

Slow down the rate-of-change of humidity by insulating the paper in proper framing or other packaging.

Keep in an area of constant humidity, if possible.

Keep in a closed container with silica gel, an inert desiccant material that can be conditioned to maintain a certain range of relative humidity (RH).

 

Low temperatures are generally not a problem.

Cold storage is best (with 50% RH); organic reactions are slower, and insects are less likely to invade.

Keep temperatures stable; avoid rapid changes, such as might occur during transport in seasonal extremes.

“Insulate” with proper framing or packaging, to slow the rate of change (especially during transportation).

Keep in a clean, dry (50% RH ideal) area with good air circulation, in tight packaging. Inspect often.

Avoid dark, damp, warm areas. Also avoid areas near food, food waste, or other pest attractions.

Note that most pests prefer the dark, but light is harmful to paper, too. This paradox should be handled according to the situation, to minimize exposure to harmful elements. There is no perfect answer.

Minimize exposure to possible pollutants:

  • Keep out of garage, furnace room and other areas where combustion and its by-products exist.
  • Keep in a properly-closed picture frame.
  • Keep in tight packaging of acid-free material.
  • Encapsulate.
  • Use filtered air

Airborne pollutants go where the air goes, generally. Filtering is an obvious advantage, but equipment must be maintained. Also, some pollutants will probably get through.

Display or storage in a closed room with filtered, conditioned air is better than exposure to outdoor air.

Damage from pollutants can continue after exposure is stopped. Conservators can clean away most of these, halting damage. However, damage done is usually irreversible.

Avoid by keeping temperature and relative humidity under control, and keep air circulating.

Avoid dust and dirty areas.

If mould occurs, it can usually be killed and residue removed by a qualified paper conservator. However, some discoloration may remain.

UV light and alcohol are effective mould killers.

  • Prevent. Prevent. Prevent.
  • Handle as little as possible.
  • If you must handle paper, use both hands, and use supports over and under the sheet.
  • Rolling is somewhat harmful, but it is better than attempting to transport flat and unsupported.
  • Frame it or store it as soon as possible.
  • Most physical damage is permanent. However, some harm can be repaired and /or cosmetic treatment can help and can prevent further damage. Consult a qualified paper conservator.