How to take care of art prints: A care guide

How to take care of art prints: A care guide

Discolouration on an art print. Mould in the frame’s inner corner. Tiny holes in the artwork. A crack in the frame. Oh no! These and many other doom scenarios can happen when art is not taken care of properly.

Of course you don’t want any of this to happen to your art print. You have paid good money for it and want to keep it in pristine condition.

But how should you best take care of your art on paper?

Paper is made of cellulose: finely broken down plant fibres, often from wood. Cellulose is very durable, but several factors can cause damage to paper and make it weak over time, such as light, humidity and temperature.

There are several stages in the process of caring for your art print. From handling the print, to finding the perfect spot, hanging it and continuous care.

Art print paper held up by customer

Handling your art print with care

You received your print, yay! Be careful to handle your print on paper very gently

First of all, wash your hands and dry them well. Your skin retains oils and moisture, which can easily transfer from your hands to the paper and leave smudges.

If you want to take it further, you could wear white cotton gloves. Generally this is not necessary, unless you’re dealing with very old, valuable prints.

Although your hands are clean, try to touch the paper as little as possible. The image area should be avoided entirely.

Did you receive a print in a tube? Be careful when you pull out the print and don’t be too eager.

Prints from Tones Gallery come wrapped around a tube, instead of in a tube, so you don’t have to pull the print. This prevents any crimps, dents or tears in the paper.

After you unrolled your print, lay it for rest on a table. Ensure the table is clean and lay down a clean piece of blotter paper or similar, so the back of the print won’t get any stains or smudges. Obviously, keep any food and drinks away from the print.

If you must handle your print, use both hands and hold it gently at opposite corners. So you’re holding the print diagonally. Hold it from the edges and support the back of the print.

The best protection for a print comes from a good frame. Did you buy your print without one? Find more information here about framing your own art prints.

The environment: finding the perfect spot for your art

It’s crucial for the preservation of your print art, to hang it somewhere where it won’t get damaged by its environment.

Print hanging on a wall behind chair

Keep the following points in mind when you’re looking for a spot to hang your print.

Light

The ultimate rule is to keep your print out of direct sunlight. Daylight and even bright artificial (fluorescent) light have serious effects on prints. If possible, hang your prints (and any artworks) in shadier spots.

Too much light exposure can cause colour fading. Light damage is cumulative and irreversible and it can even cause damage to the paper’s structure itself.
When using a frame, you can consider replacing the glass with UV-protected glass, such as UF3 plexiglass. This will reduce light damage.

Temperature

Ever wondered why museums keep a constant temperature in their exhibition rooms?

Extreme temperature fluctuations can cause the paper’s fibres to expand and contract and make the image surface uneven.

Furthermore, warm surroundings can accelerate deterioration of the paper, leading to brittleness and darkening of the paper, mould growth and insect activity.

Keep your prints in a temperature-stable environment, preferable within the range of 16-22°C (60-72 °F).

Avoid areas that get too hot or cold, like radiators, fireplaces and air conditioners. Be careful with hanging artwork in the kitchen as well.

Humidity

Similar to temperature, high fluctuations in humidity are detrimental to paper and artworks.

High humidity can cause mildew, mould and “foxing” (brown spots). It also attracts insects, such as silverfish, that like to eat paper.

On the other hand, if it’s too dry, the paper will dry out too and become brittle.

A relative humidity between 35-55% is best for art preservation. Museums keep it around 40% (and 18°C/64°F if you’re curious).

Avoid places like bathrooms or next to a humidifier and maintain good ventilation. Are you really keen on hanging art in the bathroom or can’t maintain the recommended relative humidity? A professional framer might help you properly seal the frames to prevent moisture from getting close to the paper.

Pollution

Pollution comes in different forms, such as dust, grime and smoke. Some frames have no glass. In that case you should be extra mindful of where you hang it.

Pollutants can leave a discolouring residue. Amongst others, avoid hanging your print close to:

  • smoke from fireplaces or cigarettes
  • airborne oil and grime from cooking hobs
  • an open window

Hanging your art

Now that you found the perfect spot for your print, it’s time to hang it up on the wall.

Check which fixtures have been provided with the frame to determine the best way to hang it.

Additionally, also consider the weight of the artwork and the strength of the wall. Is the wall supportive enough to carry your frame?

For moderately-sized pieces, 2 nails or screws are often enough. For large or heavy works, you need more fixing points.

When in doubt about how to hang your artwork, it’s best to ask a handyman or framer.

Hanging an art print on a wall

Cleaning and caring for your art print

When your artwork is on the wall, the hard work is over. It’s now essential to keep taking care of your art piece, to preserve it for years to come.

Dust regularly

As mentioned earlier, dust and other pollutants are not good for your art. Dust off your art regularly to prevent any damage.
Use a dry, soft cloth to gently wipe dust off frames with glass. For a frame without glass, it’s best to use a soft brush or rag. Use this gently as well.

Never use chemicals

Don’t use wet cloths and never, ever use any chemical cleaning products. These can be detrimental to the materials and damage the artwork.
If your art needs a thorough cleaning, always contact a specialist to avoid causing any (irreversible) damage.

Check regularly for damp

You should periodically check for any signs of dampness and mildew on your artwork. That way you can detect any irregularities early on.
Discolourations, brown marks and other signs are most likely to appear on the back of the artwork initially.

Consider rotating your prints

You could consider rotating your prints to give them some “rest” from environmental influences. Either store them temporarily or switch places.

Enjoy your artwork

Now that you're all set up and know how to take care of your paper art, you can sit back, relax and enjoy it. If you haven't bought a piece yet and are still looking for inspiration you will find some great works here. Wondering how to go about buying art, we wrote an article about that as well!
'How to buy art, a guide'