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Care Instructions for Fine Art Prints

29th May 2019 Printing

Inkjet-based pigment prints on archival rag papers can be quite vulnerable to damage, even from relatively subtle contact, so they need to be handled carefully.

The following are simple instructions for making sure that your investment in a quality print isn't wasted!

(Artwork pictured by the wonderful Alissa Lonergan)

Rule #1: Don't Touch The Printed Area

It's pretty simple: wherever possible do not touch any area on the page where pigment ink has been laid down (yes, even when wearing gloves!).

This is true across all paper and print types, but especially pertinent to matte papers printed with areas of high ink density (i.e. dark areas) and areas with smooth tonality (i.e. blue sky in a photo or flat colour in a digital illustration).

This is because matte papers achieve their matte finish by dispersing light with fine velvet-like fibres. And just like velvet, if you touch/rub/scuff it, traces of the contact will be left visible. Unlike velvet, though, you cannot reverse this by running your hand back the other way - the damage is permanent and very obvious in dark and/or smooth areas of your prints. In lighter and more scattered/patterned prints you may never notice any scuffing or finger marks from contact, but always best to play it safe.

On a side note - if you're printing at home the same rules apply for handling your paper even before you print.  It's not uncommon for example to make a print on a seemingly unblemished sheet, only to find ghostly finger prints or scuffs revealed in the denser areas. This means those fine velvet-like fibres discussed above have been imprinted from physical contact prior to printing.

Crystal Clear Archival Bags for Prints
Crystal clear bags in A5, A4, A3, A3+, A2 and A1 for archival print packaging.
More info

This really just goes to helping with Rule #1: don't touch the inked area of your print.

If you set up your print with little to no room around the edges it becomes more likely that you (or your customer) will accidentally break rule number 1 at some point. This is a major reason why we advise against printing borderless too.

In general the fine art market prefers prints with borders. These are more obviously art objects, less like posters, allowing the viewer's eye a bit of relief from the image while also giving a sense of the quality and physicality of the paper itself.

Handle With Gloves

As discussed in Rule #1 wearing gloves while handling your print won't save it from damage if you still touch the printed area, this is a non-negotiable particularly with dense matte prints. Though in fact even touching the non-printed area will leave impressions in the fine surface fibres of matte papers, though as these are not visible to the eye (unless printed on) it's generally nothing to worry about.

Wearing gloves is still a good idea though, even if you're careful to only handle your prints at the margins with no pigment on them. They can prevent oils or dirt on your hands transferring onto the paper, not to mention finger prints on glossy papers.

Standard white cotton art handling gloves are a simple, practical option for handling your prints as they provide basic protection against the transfer of oils, moisture and dirt from hand to print. They also become visibly grubby over time, clearly indicating when they need replacing. The draw back of cotton gloves is that they can potentially 'wick' moisture/sweat oils from your hands to the prints.

With clean hands in a cool, dry environment cotton shouldn't prove much of an issue - though for more protection you might like to try powder-free nitrile gloves. Like cotton gloves these won't leave finger prints on gloss prints, but they won't wick moisture or oils from the skin either. Nor will they shed any pesky lint on handled prints like cotton can. The downside to using nitrile gloves is the potential for sweaty hands - particularly in warmer, more humid environments.

Use Archival Sleeves And Sheeting

When storing and sending prints, your first layer of protection should be archival plastic or tissue to protect from scuffing and rubbing, particularly if you're stacking multiples together. We use and recommend Crystal Clear Archival Bags with adhesive on the bag - not the flap - to prevent the glue from coming into contact with your print on insertion/removal from the bag.  Whilst environmentally we'd prefer to use tissue papers, you must make sure that the tissue paper is truly acid free and archival in its own right, and unfortunately some tissue papers have enough texture to them they can scuff the print.  So overall inert plastic is the safer choice, and of course it leaves your prints visible too - a bonus if you're selling prints!

See further info here for safe packaging and posting ideas.

Keep It Cool, Dry & Shady

Despite the surface fragility, with correct handling the longevity of pigment ink prints on archival papers is truly outstanding. Indeed that's exactly what they're designed for: potential centuries of stability, ensuring that many generations can enjoy a given artwork - maintained visually just as the artist prepared it.

Your best chance at achieving a long life for your print is keeping it dry, cool and out of direct sunlight. Big swings in temperature and humidity aren't good so avoid them if you can.

Spray Prints For Extra Protection

For extra protection you can also spray your prints with a clear protective spray such as Hahnemuhle Protective Spray.  This is super easy to apply, invisible on almost all prints (except high gloss prints) - and seals the printed surface and gives at least some extra protection against dirt, fingerprints, moisture and UV light.

Ensure Archival Framing

Framing behind glass (or perspex) is the ideal destination for your print and provides the ultimate physical protection for it. But be sure to discuss archival options with your framer before doing so, as cheaper quality frames often include non archival glue/acids that can damage your print over time. It's also advisable for gloss and semi-gloss prints to allow time for outgassing before framing, particularly in colder climates, where the evaporation of glycol in the inks can occur quite slowly and leave a slight oily fog on the glass inside the frame.

Hahnemühle Protective Spray
Protective spray for use on inkjet prints - fast drying and non yellowing.
N.B. Item can't be shipped & needs to be picked up from Image Science.
More info