If you are framing pictures or artwork for your walls, you will likely run across the option for conservation framing. Also known as archival framing, conservation framing seeks to preserve the work for a longer period of time by preventing acid from the framing materials from coming in contact with the work. Conservation framing can preserve a work of art for several decades, but the materials and process is significantly more expensive than traditional framing methods that do not maintain a conservation standard.
In most home framing situations, conservation framing is not actually necessary, because the standard methods and materials used in wall frames have progressed enough to keep your artwork or photos in good condition for a few decades. However, there are some times when you will want to pay extra for conservation framing.
You Are Framing a One-of-a-Kind Piece
Most types of prints are easily replaceable. If you are framing photos, you should keep the negatives or the original digital files. If you are ordering poster prints, chances are that they will be available for years to come. In these situations, it is often more cost-effective to use basic framing techniques and not worry about conservation framing. If the piece eventually fades, you can simply run off a new print at minimal cost.
However, there are some one-of-a-kind items that you will not be able to replace. Original artwork or older photos that do not have accompanying negatives or digital files should be preserved through conservation framing to ensure the longevity of the piece.
The Cost of the Piece Is More Than the Cost of Framing
Too often, people will frame an inexpensive piece of art using conservation framing. But this is rarely a worthwhile choice. Expensive art, even prints, should be framed with conservation methods because this will help ensure that you do not have to pay to replace the artwork any time soon. However, most cheap art or photos can be replaced.
Another thing to consider is whether the artwork was made with conservation methods. For example, maybe you want to frame your child's first drawing from kindergarten, and you want it to last forever. But since the artwork was probably not completed on acid-free paper, there is a chance that conservation framing will not be able to save the picture forever. It will only slow the natural process of degradation of the art materials, but not stop it.
The Appearance Is More Important Than the Value
Some methods of conservation framing actually devalue your art work. This is because the method makes permanent changes to the artwork by applying adhesive to the back of the piece. This will preserve the appearance of the piece, but it will actually decrease the value of the piece. If you have a significantly valuable work of art, you should look into climate-controlled storage and display as opposed to these methods of conservation framing.
You should also keep in mind that some methods of conservation framing do not use adhesives, so they will preserve both the appearance and the value of your piece. However, these framing options are often the most expensive.
Only you can decide if the cost of conservation framing is worth the cost. For some of your pieces, it may be your best option. However, there are likely some photos or pieces in your collection that will be fine with traditional framing methods rather than utilizing conservation methods. You should also keep in mind that if you re-use a conservation frame, you will need to clean it thoroughly and possibly replace some of the pieces, which you will not have to do with standard frames.