Works of art on paper are beautiful but inherently fragile. Prints can age not only from the condition of the paper and the materials used, but also from exposure to light, heat, humidity and air pollution. Poor framing can also add to the stress on art prints. To protect art prints, it's important that they be stored in ways that minimize both physical damage (e.g., tears, creases, holes) and environmental damage (e.g., fading, bleeding, running colors, insect damage).
Protecting Your Art Prints
Store your prints flat, never rolled. Use a special flat file cabinet (metal or wood) big enough to store large-sized prints. Prints may also be stored in acid-free cardboard boxes with reinforced corners. Cabinets, however, provide more protection from physical damage and from light and dust. Store art prints horizontally.
Handle prints with cotton gloves. Much of the damage to art prints is caused by a reaction from the body oil from your fingers that comes into contact with the print. Wash and dry your hands before handling prints, then use cotton gloves to protect your prints from any residual oil, dirt and chemicals.
Separate your prints in the storage drawer; prints may react, smudge or yellow if they come into contact with one another. Each print can be individually stored in a 4-mil. Mylar sleeve with a cardboard backing board to keep prints from creasing. The backing board must be acid free and buffered with calcium to neutralize acid in the print. An alternative to Mylar sleeves are acid-free-paper folders.
Control the heat and humidity in the area where your prints are stored. Prints should be stored between 50 degrees and 80 degrees Fahrenheit and at a relative humidity of 40 percent to 80 percent. Beware of heated rooms in the winter, which are often too dry, and direct sunlight in the summer, which can bake prints in their cabinets.
- Flat-file cabinets
- Archival cardboard boxes
- Cotton gloves
- Mylar sleeves
- Acid-free-paper backing board
- Acid-free-paper folders
Direct sunlight falling on a print can fade it through ultraviolet light (artificial lights are better but can still damage prints).
Examine your prints from time to time for insect damage. Wormholes caused by silverfish can destroy your prints.
Acidic air pollution is also a problem in some cities and can cause color to bleach out of paper. Valuable prints should be moved to a location with clean air.