Paper Conservation


When handling works on paper, you should touch the surface as little as possible. When you have to touch it, keep your fingers away from the image. Works executed in pastel and charcoal requires extra care as the medium can easily be smudged, damaging the image. As far as possible, keep works on paper framed with an acid-free mount that will minimize friction and static. Care should also be taken while handling prints, as their paper is easily stained with oils and moisture present in our skin



Some basic checks for the display wall:

Ensure that the wall is not damp
Also check that there is no direct sunlight falling on the wall


There should be some breathing space between the artwork and the wall; this will prevent the accumulation of dirt and moisture. This can be achieved by placing blocks on all four sides Ensure that the fittings of the frame are sturdy and will hold for a prolonged period of time


The most basic rule with lighting an artwork is to avoid displaying the artwork in direct sunlight. Exposure to strong artificial light for extended period is also not advisable as fixed lights over an artwork may cause localized heating. Lights should be placed a minimum of 10 feet from the artwork to avoid this. The recommended lighting for paintings is 50 lux. Light levels can be measured using a camera's light meter.


If the paperwork is faced with a glass or acrylic sheet, this will need to be cleaned regularly. To do so, spray glass cleaner onto a soft cloth and wipe the sheet with it. Never attempt to clean the paper surface, as the medium can often smudge. Cleaning on paper surface can be carried out by fully qualified, professional conservators.


Why do works of art on paper need protection?
Paper is highly sensitive to the environment and is adversely affected by light, humidity and temperature changes. Paper also reacts to any material with which it is in contact, including mounts, tape and dust. This kind of damage results in mount burns, foxing (small rust-like brown spots), fading of the medium and an increase in the brittleness of the surface.

Framing a work on paper

The frame comprises:
A mount that forms a protective boundary around the work and between the work and the glass or acrylic sheet. It is important that the mount is acid free which means it has archival qualities.
The frame around the mount traditionally made of wood and available in a variety of finishes. However, of late, fiber frames simulating wood finishes are also available. Since they are not of organic material they are less susceptible to attacks from natural elements and pests.

Acrylic is lighter and works well while displaying larger artworks, but is more prone to scratching. Glass can withstand minor scratches, but it can be heavier and the incidence of breakage is higher, increasing the risk to the artwork itself. Both are available in museum grade, non-reflective varieties.

It is important that works on paper be opened every couple of years to air the artwork, and clean any dust that might have accumulated inside the frame.


If you are not displaying your works on paper, the best way to store them is in a plain chest (used for architectural drawing and blueprints) or another specially designed case that protects them from humidity, light and dirt. Acid-free and inert folders or portfolios can also be used within such chests or cases, but must always be placed flat or horizontally. If you are storing several works in one drawer or folder, interleave them with acid-free tissue paper or glassine. Normal plastic sleeves are not recommended for storing paper works. A stable storage environment is very important and fluctuations in temperature and humidity, particularly in the short term, must be minimized. The best environment for the storage of artworks is a cool, dry one with good air circulation. Always seek professional advice for other storage requirements specific to your collection.

Causes of Damage

Works of art on paper can be damaged by excessive or bad lighting, extremes or fluctuations in temperature and humidity, environmental pollutants, insects and pests, and poor handling, storage and framing.

Light causes mediums like watercolours and ink to fade. Light also alters the structure of the paper, damaging the surface.

Heat is a catalyst that increases the speed of environmental chemical changes that deteriorate paper. This leads to brittleness and yellowing or darkening of the surface.

In high humidity, bacteria and other micro-organisms can grow on the surface, leading to 'foxing' or rust-like brown spots on the paper. Foxing is also encouraged by certain types of paper because of their content.

Heat and humidity also lead to insect damage, including holes in the paper and the growth of mould on the surface.

Atmospheric pollutants can speed up the deterioration of the surface and lead to changes in the colour of the medium used.

Acidic mounts can lead to 'mount burn' or the browning of the edges of the work in contact with the mount. Bad mounting and framing is the leading cause of damage to works of art on paper.

Cockling or undulation can distort, wrinkle and tear the surface of paper works. This can be caused if the surface is restrained and not allowed to change naturally with changes in temperature.

The adhesive used to fix the work to its mount can also lead to staining on the surface.