Handling Fine-Art Prints

Unlike resin-coated media which basically consists of coated polythene with some paper sandwiched in between for whiteness, fine-art papers have a much richer finish full of warmth and character. However as the finish is not plastic, they should to be handled with a little more care. The following are some guidelines for handling and looking after fine-art prints.

- avoid folding or rolling the paper if possible as the fibres in the paper can be stretched, stressed and may even break and the surface can be damaged by abrasion. Obviously if shipping larger prints you may have no choice but to roll. In this case try to use a wide diametre tube and interleave the print with sheets of a very smooth non abrasive tissue like glassine

- if stacked avoid letting prints rub against each other too much as surface abrasion can leave marks. Some tissue or smooth paper between the prints can be prevent this.

- Always wash your hands before touching a print and if possible wear clean white cotton gloves that are designed for handling art. Cotton gloves are excellent for handling prints as they prevent fingerprints and marks caused by fingernails. Avoid touching the printed surface if you can and generally try to handle the print by the border or edges. Print longevity can be affected by moisture and acid in your skin.

- When picking up a photograph always use both hands and for larger prints make sure they are supported at the back so that they does not bend or kink under their own weight.

- avoid getting saliva on the print surface as it can also cause long-term damage. Even as you talk very small amounts of saliva can end up on the surface of the print. If you are trying to blow something off the surface then make sure you do not accidentally spit on the print.

- it is usually best to store prints in a temperature range of 15-25°C and a relative humidity of 40-60%. Try to avoid extremes of heat and humidity. Of course you should try to keep prints away from fireplaces, radiators or other heating devices as well as air-conditioners and humidifiers.

- Even with archival prints, you should really try to avoid long-term exposure to bright sunlight or even strong indirect daylight as it will accelerate the natural aging process. Some artificial lights like flourescent and CFL energy saving bulbs emit a lot of UV light which can also greatly affect longevity.

- avoid contact with all solvent vapours and plasticisers. These can be present in paint, varnish and some oils as well as some household cleaning products.

- for long-term storage prints should be packaged in archival grade materials only. If there is any doubt about the storage material then it can not be considered safe. If using plastic bags or sleeves make sure they are made from biaxially oriented polypropylene. Avoid using any materials that contain polyethylene or plasticisers.

- It is important to allow a print sufficient time to dry before storing or framing to prevent outgassing. This phenomenon is directly responsible for the hazing that can be seen behind many framed prints if they are framed too soon after printing. The drying period can be anywhere from a day to several days depending on the paper and atmospheric humidity levels (matte papers usually outgas a lot faster than lustre finishes).

- Make sure you take your prints to a framer who has experience handling fine-art photographic prints and understands good archival framing. If they are not experienced, make sure that you stress to them the importance of proper handling and framing and make sure they know the value of your artwork so they will take extra care in framing and use materials and techniques suitable for conservation.