Works of art on paper—such as watercolors, prints, drawings, and photographs—are fragile and, unlike paintings which have been covered with a protective coating of varnish, need to be protected from dust, dirt, creases, sunlight, water damage, and other hazards. In most cases, glazing is the recommended solution for ensuring the safety of these vulnerable works.
Here are five things to look for when you assess the glazing for your work on paper:
1. Glass or Plastic?
Glass has been used to protect works on paper since the 17th century. Ordinary glass is relatively durable and inexpensive, but it is breakable and causes reflection and glare problems. Glass is not your only glazing choice, though. Since the 1970s, plastics have been used as a glazing alternative. Acrylic (e.g. plexiglas) is the most commonly known material and is considered superior to polystyrene and polycarbonate, which are also available under multiple brand names. Plexiglas is lighter than glass and is shatterproof, so it can be a good glazing solution for works that are large and/or need to be shipped. On the other hand, acrylic scratches easily and therefore might not be the best glazing option for a work that is frequently handled. Moreover, the high electrostatic tension of acrylic can draw loose particles from a charcoal or pastel off the artwork. Finally, large acrylic sheets are sensitive to temperature fluctuations, as these cause them to flex and bend and possibly to come into contact with the artworks.
2. Ultraviolet Protection
Protection from ultraviolet light is a crucial consideration in selecting a glazing product. Exposure to harmful UV rays can cause permanent fading or yellowing of art. Museums routinely rotate displays of sensitive framed works on paper so that the art is not exposed to light for long periods of time. In the home where this is not practical, UV protective glazing is the best solution. Some collectors even have a UV filter applied to their windows in addition to using UV glass or plexiglas on their art to get maximum protection. Standard recommended glazing products block over 96% of the UV rays. If an artwork does not have a label on the verso indicating the use of a UV filtering product, you should assume that one has not been used. Most UV filtering products should be replaced every 15-20 years.
Almost all glazing products have a visible color cast and some products have a tint that is strong enough to diminish clarity. It is therefore recommended to select the clearest glazing option available. Glass has a noticeable green cast, but water white low-iron glass provides good clarity and is a good option when selecting a glass. UV protective films can also add a slight tint, so it is important to compare the clarity of
Reflection and glare often affect the viewing of artworks that are covered with glazing. Proper lighting can help alleviate these issues, but reflection control glass may be desirable as well, especially if the artwork’s composition has large dark areas. Note that reflection control is different from the more common (and less expensive) non-glare products, which are etched and do not provide absolute clarity. Non-glare glass or plexiglas will look cloudy when viewed from an angle and distort the artwork. These products should not be used.
How resistant is the glazing to accidents? And if it is damaged, how does it crack or break? No glazing surface is breakage-proof, and both glass and acrylic may break in an unsafe manner under certain conditions. However, plexiglas is more resistant to breakage than glass. There are also laminated glass products that are shatter resistant if glass is preferred. Please note that proper framing reduces the threat of glazing breakage considerably. Of course, when you have a work on paper framed at Lowy, we will help you with your glazing selection.