Why Art Buckles in a Frame
As artists, we enjoy the process of putting our vision on paper. Inspired to tell a story with a camera, or to put paint, pen or pencil to paper. When the time comes to frame your masterpiece, the last thing you want is for the paper to buckle in the frame, tainting or even ruining all your hard work. But why does it happen and how do you prevent it?
If you’ve created a painting where there is a border of non-painted areas, the centre areas of the paper have fibres that have gotten wet, then expanded. The border areas conversely have not gotten wet. Thus, you have areas of the paper where fibres have expanded and contracted, and other areas where this has not occurred. If there is no border, buckling may have occurred because the paper fibres have gotten wet with different amounts of water, causing the sheet to dry at varying rates. To prevent buckling from occurring prior to starting a painting, we recommend soaking the entire sheet before you begin to put your actual paint/wet media down.
Why does paper art sometimes buckle even once it’s protected in a frame? Because temperature and humidity fluctuate, even indoors, and paper expands and contracts with the changes. Glass transfers heat faster than air does. When paper art is directly touching the glass within a frame, the paper will react to humidity changes around the edges before the middle of the paper, causing buckling. In addition, the backing of the frame and the paper of the artwork do not expand and contract at the same rate. When the backing shrinks, the paper buckles.
Ways to Prevent Buckling
With the glass and air quality seemingly working against your creation, what do you do? The main way to keep paper art from buckling is to not tape down all the edges of the paper, because the paper and the backing to which you tape it will not expand/contract at the same rate. So when the backing shrinks, the paper has no choice but to buckle. Instead, frame spacers and mat board can be used to help hold down the edges without tape. If you’re using a mat, mount the image with photo corners or T-hinge mounting so the paper is free to expand/contract independently of the mounting board. (If you’re not using a mat, the frame is already the same size as the image, so it doesn’t need to be mounted. However, if you want long-term archival framing, you should use frame spacers to keep the art off the glass.)
Using mat board and spacers allows air to circulate in the space between the art and the glass, helping keep a steady humidity level over the whole artwork. So as the art, mats and backing are expanding and contracting “freely,” buckling can be kept to a minimum. Sort of like how skyscrapers are constructed with some “sway” built in, so in high winds the building can shift without damaging the structural integrity.
Ways to Prevent Buckling – Dry Mounting
The preferred way to keep a photographic print from buckling is to dry mount the image before framing it. In this case, the image is permanently adhered to the backing board, which then forces them to expand and contract together.
By the way, dry mounting is considered semi-archival if you mount your work to archival backing board. However, it isn’t museum-archival because it can’t be removed from the backing board.