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Making Prints Last: Preservation Tips for Artists

As an artist, you invest your time, creativity, and passion into each piece you create. To ensure your artwork retains its beauty and value throughout the years, it's essential to focus on proper preservation techniques. 

At Breathing Color, we specialize in traditional artists' canvas and archival inkjet media, and we understand the importance of protecting your investment in your art.

In this in-depth and comprehensive guide, we will discuss various methods, tools, and techniques to help you preserve your artwork, ensuring its longevity and maintaining its appearance for years to come. Discover how to make your prints last and create a lasting legacy with your art.

1. Choosing the Right Materials

Nightmare Dreamrunner by R. Carnie Littlefield

”Nightmare Dreamrunner by R. Carnie Littlefield - acrylics on Vibrance Metallic photo paper”

The first step in preserving your artwork begins with the materials you use, from the inks and papers to the canvases and coatings. Quality materials lay the groundwork for a long-lasting piece. The ideal choices for prints that stand the test of time are archival or acid-free media and pigment-based inks.

What to look for in inks and media:

  • Pigment-based inks: These inks offer superior color vibrancy, longevity, and resistance to fading compared to their dye-based counterparts.
  • Archival paper: Acid-free and lignin-free papers ensure that the artwork doesn't yellow or become brittle over time.
  • Archival canvas: A high-quality canvas with a smoothly woven structure and no optical brighteners will provide a sturdy and long-lasting foundation for your artwork.

2. Proper Handling of Artwork

One often-overlooked aspect of artwork preservation is the proper handling of the prints themselves. Handle prints with clean hands—preferably using gloves—to minimize the risk of transferring oils and dirt onto the print surface.

Handling tips:

  • Wear white cotton gloves: These gloves protect your artwork from the oils and dirt on your hands that can cause damage and discoloration over time.
  • Hold prints by the edges: Avoid touching the front or back of the print. Instead, hold prints by the edges or corners to minimize direct contact with the print surface.
  • Avoid excessive bending: Handle prints gently and avoid bending or rolling them; doing so can cause creases and damage to the print.

3. Archival Storage Conditions

The environment in which you store your artwork has a significant impact on its longevity. External factors such as temperature, humidity, and light exposure can cause fading, yellowing, and mold growth if not carefully managed.

Ideal storage conditions include:

  • Temperature: Maintain a stable temperature between 60-70°F (16-21°C); fluctuations in temperature can cause materials to expand and contract, potentially damaging the artwork.
  • Humidity: Aim for a relative humidity of 40-50%; high humidity can lead to mold growth and deterioration, while low humidity can cause brittleness.
  • Avoid direct sunlight: Ultraviolet (UV) light can cause fading and discoloration; keep your artwork out of direct sunlight and use UV-protective glass or acrylic in frames to further protect the piece.

4. Framing and Displaying Your Art

Visions of an Elk

”Visions of an Elk - by R. Carnie Littlefield - Acrylics on BC Belgian Linen” 

Framing not only enhances the visual appeal of your artwork but also offers an additional layer of protection. Keep the following considerations in mind when framing and displaying your pieces:

Guidelines for framing and displaying:

  • Use acid-free materials: Ensure that all materials used in the framing process—such as mat boards, backing boards, and adhesives—are acid-free to prevent discoloration and deterioration.
  • Utilize UV-protective glazing: Choose a UV-protective glass or acrylic glazing to shield your artwork from harmful UV rays and minimize fading.
  • Spacing between the artwork and glazing: Use spacers or matting to create space between the glazing and the artwork; direct contact between the artwork and glazing can lead to condensation and mold growth.

If you don't have a framing solution, take a look at a few of ours! First, For the DIYer or just-getting-started, our EasyWrappe systems are great and just as they say: EASY! Check them out here. Second, for those hardcore printmakers, did you know we offer volume stretcher length moulding? Head on over to our stretcher bar page for more info.

5. Maintaining and Cleaning Your Artwork

An essential part of preserving your artwork is regular maintenance and cleaning. Proper cleaning techniques will ensure your artwork remains in good condition throughout the years.

Maintenance and cleaning tips:

  • Dust regularly: Use a soft, non-abrasive cloth or feather duster to gently remove dust from the artwork's surface.
  • Avoid using chemicals: Refrain from using cleaning solutions or solvents as they can cause damage to the artwork; in most cases, a soft dry cloth is sufficient to clean prints carefully.
  • Inspect for pests and mold: Regularly inspect your artwork for signs of pests or mold growth; if you discover any issues, address them promptly to prevent further damage.

6. The Role of Coatings and Varnishes

Coatings and varnishes play a vital role in the preservation of your artwork, enhancing its durability and longevity. When applied to fine art prints, they can offer several advantages, such as increased UV protection, protection against physical damages, and improved color vibrancy.

Role of Coatings and Varnishes

They also allow for easier cleaning and maintenance while retaining your prints' original beauty.

Benefits of coatings and varnishes:

  • UV protection: Coatings and varnishes can contain UV inhibitors that help reduce the adverse effects of direct sunlight, such as fading and discoloration.
  • Physical protection: Applying a coating or varnish creates a barrier that helps guard your prints against scratches, scuffing, and other physical damages.
  • Enhanced color vibrancy: Coatings and varnishes can amplify the colors in your prints, creating richer and more striking pieces.
  • Easier maintenance: With a protective layer in place, your artwork becomes more resistant to dust and dirt accumulation, making cleaning and maintenance significantly more manageable.

For the perfect water-based varnish that meets all FOUR of these necessary features, check out our Timeless varnish that's ready-to-use and comes in three finishes.

7. Breathing Color's Archival Inkjet Media

At Breathing Color, our commitment to quality starts with the materials we manufacture and extends to the support and education we provide for artists. Our inkjet media, traditional artists' canvas, and archival papers are designed to meet the highest quality standards, ensuring your prints have a solid foundation for a lasting legacy.

Breathing Color's offerings include:

  • Archival fine art paper: Our range of acid-free and lignin-free fine art papers are designed to meet the highest archival standards, providing a sturdy and long-lasting substrate for your prints.
  • Archival canvas: Our smoothly woven canvases, made without the use of optical brighteners and crafted in the USA, provide a superior foundation for your artwork.
  • Pigment-based inks: We believe in the importance of using pigment-based inks to offer superior longevity and color vibrancy for your prints.

In Conclusion

Invest in materials that will give your masterpieces the lasting impression they deserve. Browse our extensive selection of archival inkjet media products and elevate your artwork to new heights.

Preserving your artwork takes careful planning and consideration, from selecting the right materials to maintaining the proper storage conditions and display. By following these tips and guidelines, you can ensure that your prints remain as vibrant and visually appealing as the day you created them. 

Lean on the expertise and offerings of Breathing Color to make the right choices for your prints, and together, we can create a lasting legacy for your art.


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