Framing Recommendations for Matted Prints
January 11, 2004

When framing my original, matted color photographic prints, the following suggestions may prove useful. This document applies to pigmented inkjet prints including both types that I am currently making. The two types are image-specific, so only one type is offered for any given image.

1) Frame: Wood and metal are both OK. I avoid frames that overlap the mat by more than about 3/8", lest the mat look too small.

2) Backing material: "Acid-Free Fome-Cor", 3/16" thick, from International Paper is recommended. Only archival backing materials should be used, but especially avoid ordinary cardboard and brown paper, as they are highly unstable, becoming increasingly acid and presenting a danger to the long-term integrity of fine materials in contact with them.

3) Re-matting: For several reasons, I strongly recommend against rematting of any kind, however the addition or substitution of a new overmat only could prove harmless if done properly. It is neither necessary nor helpful to have more space between the print and the glazing than that afforded by the original 4- or 8-plies of overmat. More plies of space can simply increase any print bending if the acrylic glazing should draw the print to it from static electricity.

If you want a completely different size or style of mat or mounting, it may be best to consider the purchase of an unmounted print instead. I use a unique system of archival mounting and matting, which is carefully engineered and precisely executed, and the mat has my original certificate affixed to the reverse.

4) Glazing: Glass and acrylic sheet are both good choices. Acrylic sheet is safer for shipping and in earthquake-prone areas, etc., because glass breakage often ruins a print. Glass has the advantage that it is available in special types with anti-reflection coatings which make the glass nearly invisible when clean. Never use "non-glare" glass, which is merely microscopically bumpy glass, which creates a fog over the image. Special UV-absorbing types of acrylic ("plex") or glass do provide considerable added longevity on display and are therefore strongly recommended for the types of prints that I'm making now. Ordinary acrylic sheet absorbs half of the UV that ordinary glass lets through, but CYRO OP3 absorbs all of it, while imparting almost no yellow tint to the print, making it the best UV-filtering plex and my top choice for framing when breakage is a concern. OP3 is now also available at 3/16" thickness up to 72 x 96" for very large pieces. It might be best to use 3/16" for one of my 40 x 50' prints. They also make an OP2 material with the same spectral properties as OP3, but cast instead of continuously formed, which makes it more appropriate only for fabricating UV-proof display boxes for museums. My favorite standard acrylic sheet is CYRO Acrylite FF. Recently, CYRO has added a type FF-3, which is specifically for framing and has a guarantee of no defects in the surface -- something which I have not found to be a problem with FF. With any CYRO plex, the 3mm thickness is best (avoid their 2.5 mm thickness for any piece larger than one of my 11 x 14's).

My favorite framing glass is Tru Vue Museum Glass which is both anti-reflection coated and has complete UV protection but does cost the most of any readily available glazing material and will break as easily as ordinary glass. To still get excellent appearance in situations where reflections will be a problem, but with less protection against UV-induced fading that the Museum Glass, Tru Vue's AR Reflection-Free is the product to buy and costs less than the Museum Glass. These two AR-coated glasses are so clear that you might walk right through them if presented with a glassed-over doorway. Any glass which is not anti-reflection coated as these glasses are (like a camera lens) reflects the same amount of light as acrylic sheet (4% off each surface at zero degrees angle of incidence, i.e. perpendicular). The non-glare and related glass sheets reflect the same amount of light, but diffuse the reflection into a foggy pattern, which usually spoils the brilliance of the print.

Contrary to popular belief, visible light is a larger cause of print fading than UV light for most kinds of artwork displayed indoors, so protecting the artwork entirely from UV light will not stop its fading, rather just slow it down. The extent of the benefit of protection from UV depends on the artwork and the light source. The term "AR", when used to describe plex, means Abrasion Resistant, not Anti-Reflection. AR acrylic sheets are used where scratching by frequent handling would be expected, not for common framing. It's available on one or both sides of certain types of plex.

If reflections are not likely to be especially troubling, the best choices among types of glass are Tru Vue's TruGuard Clear and TruGuard Ultra Clear, which both absorb the UV, but reflect light the same way as ordinary glass in the former case, and with a mild non-glare effect in the second case.

Framing with some kind of glazing is necessary for all photographs (unless they are face mounted to the back of a sheet of plex or are laminted with a sheet of plastic, neither of which should be done to a fine print). Bare display of pigmented inkjet prints has the additional danger of exposing them to ozone (a pollutant at ground level, despite the fact that stratospheric ozone is necessary for our survival), which will cause accelerated fading of the image.

For years, the holy grail of glazing has been an effectively anti-reflection coated acrylic sheet with UV-filtering. The first AR-coated acrylic sheet material I have even seen was at a trade show for electronic displays and was far too expensive to ever be used for framing artwork. Recently, in July of 2003, CYRO Industries announced another AR-coated plex for use in displays that is made with single-or double-side coating (better) and up to 3 mm thickness and in 30 x 40" and 40 x 54"sheets. It cuts reflection by 75% and it's even abrasion resistant. It blocks UV a bit better than FF does (pretty well -- 378 nm cuttoff), but it's probably impossible to get at framing shops due to exhorbitant cost -- but there's hope! If this product were widely available and affordable, without having seen any yet, I'd simply recommend it in every case.

5) Your print is supplied with a duplicate certificate of authenticity in the form of a sticker, which is intended to be used on the back after framing, assuming the frame covers up the back of the mount. Please apply it carefully after peeling off all of the release paper. This keeps the print's provenance accessible.

6) Sealing the back of a frame provides useful protection against multiple threats to artwork, including insects, dust and air pollution, although such seals can interfere with the optimal placement of hanging hardware and result in the frame leaning out from the wall.

7) Dual wires and picture hooks keep prints from getting crooked on the wall and are therefore recommended.

8) Uninsulated exterior walls are apt to be damaging to photographs hung on them due to moisture buildup behind frames. Photographs should be kept away from damp or very dry conditions at all times if possible. Very intense illumination, such as direct sunlight, can dry out prints and will accelerate their fading in proportion to the light exposure. Direct sun is many, many times brighter than typical, indoor illumination (up to 100 times brigher).

9) My current media are Epson Premium Luster Photo Paper with Epson’s Archival pigmented inkset and Epson's UltraChrome pigmented inkset with the same paper (my choice of inksets is image dependent). The Wilhelm Imaging Research lightfastness rating of the Archival ink prints is 140 years of "predicted display life" when displayed under glass — an exceptionally high number, and I'm making an educated guess that the life under UV filtration will easily exceed 200 years, possibly reaching 300 years. The UltraChrome print display life behind glass is 71 years and with UV filtration over 150 years. By comparison, an ordinary color poster would have a rating of between two and three years.