When it comes to choosing materials to frame
your artwork, you will undoubtedly be bombarded with a lot of "buzz" words like acid-free, archival, and
Let's talk briefly about what some of these terms mean, and more importantly what
they mean to your artwork. While I hope you choose ColorWorks as your framer, I think it important
to note that if the company or framer you ultimately do choose will not disclose the specific type of mat
board and other materials they are using, I would be concerned.
When in doubt, ask. Your framer should be proud of the materials they use, and happy to share this information with
The most common type of matboard is simply called decorative or regular mat board.
These types of matboards are made from wood pulp, and wood by its nature is
acidic. What the manufacturer does is to add a buffering agent, (typically calcium carbonate) to neutralize the
acid, and actually make the matboards slightly alkaline. The board actually needs to absorb some acid before it
would even be neutral PH. This board is sometimes refered to as "buffered" for this reason. While the
core of this material is in fact "acid-free" or as mentioned even a little alkaline, the paper covering is not.
Even conservation grade glass is not going to protect the mat from fading, although it will help your artwork from
fading. This type of mat board is generally identified by a cream-colored core, although sometimes the core is
bleached or made from recycled materials. Strictly speaking this is not an archival product at all. It is
unfortunately the most common type of mat board being used today, particularly by chain craft stores.
The second type of
board is called Alpha/Select. This type mat board has been chemically treated to purify the board core, the face
sheet, and the backing. This treatment also neutralizes the acid causing agents in the raw material. Alpha/Select
type mat boards are acceptable for some conservation framing because they are considered acid free. One of the
biggest differences here, is the entire board has been chemically treated not just the core, so they're much more
fade resistant. These are slightly more expensive than the standard decorative mats, but have been certified as
archival or conservation grade. These represent a good value for most projects, and is what I use here at the shop.
These come in about 400 different colors, and I stock 95% of them.
100% Cotton mats:
The last of the matboards are 100% cotton or simply called rag boards or rag
mats. 100% cotton papers have been used for quite some time for
artist watercolor stock, and it's something I have been using on my fine art Giclee' reproductions for about the
past eight years. These boards are solid color all the way through. Cotton is much softer than wood pulp, so
despite its great archival quality, it does not cut quite as crisp and cleanly as wood pulp does. It's downside is
it's quite expensive. Many photographers choose rag mats in white, as do quite a few museums. This type of board is
generally combined with other archival material such as museum glass, hand torn Japanese hinging papers that
use wheat starch paste as an adhesive, and then acid-free backing and dust covers. For the true "purist"
interested in the highest quality conservation methods, this is the mat of choice.
In addition to paper mats, ColorWorks also offers a hand wrapped fabric mat
featuring linen, cotton, silks, as well as suede. I start with an acid-free mat, and then hand wrap these
using a modified PVA (polyvinyl acetate) glue that is pH neutral and acid-free. This type of glue has been used in
bookbinding for literally centuries. It's also the same type of glue that I used to adhere my canvas Giclee' prints
Backing & Hinging:
The backing board that is used to adhere the artwork to is also
acid-free, although for posters that are not an archival product to begin with, I use a standard foamcore. Most of
the dust covers I use are standard kraft paper, which is acidic. Since the artwork is isolated to a
large degree from this backing, most framers do not use an acid-free dust cover material, although I do have
them available at an additional cost. These are generally identified by a blue-color vs. the standard brown kraft
paper. I also use and acid-free ATG glue to adhere my dust covers to the frame, although sometimes I do use a PVA
glue as well.
I'm not going to get into specific hinging techniques here, but
suffice to say I use Japanese paper hinges that are archival, and also acid-free. Hand torn Japanese papers
and wheat starch paste are also available for the
ultimate in conservation and strength. Various
drymounting and cold mounting are also available.