How should I frame and display my photographs?

Decorative frames, available at many stores, are appropriate for everyday snapshots. However, these frames either do not come with a mat or spacers to keep the photo from contact with the glass, or they use a poor quality acidic paper mat. Unfortunately, many unmatted photos have been damaged or permanently stuck to glass when fluid seeped between the glass and photo after the glass had been sprayed with liquid cleaner or beverages were spilled near the frame. Never use spray cleaners around photographs and artwork. Many cleaners are corrosive and cause immediate fading and staining if they, or their vapors, come in contact with the photograph.

Important family photos or photographic artworks should be matted to museum standards using high quality matboard for the window mat and the back board. The matboard should pass the ANSI IT9.16 Photographic Activity Test (PAT). (The PAT was developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and is a test that determines whether or not a storage material will cause fading or staining in photographs.) The safest way to attach the photograph to the back board is with paper or plastic photo corners or paper or plastic edge strips. Edge strips are folded pieces of paper or plastic which secure the edge of the photograph to the back board--the edge of the photo is inserted into the fold and then the edge strip is adhered to the back board. Photo corners and edge strips are ideal in situations where the window mat will cover over the edges of the photo and hide the photo corner or edge strip. Photo corners should not be used on unmounted prints larger than 20 x 24 inches, or very fragile photos. These items should be attached to the back board with paper hinges adhered to the back top edge of the photo (then secured to the back board) or with edge strips along all four edges. Hinging should be left to a qualified framer or someone with training and the proper tools, hinging papers and adhesives.

Once a treasured photograph is properly matted and framed, it should not be displayed in direct sunlight, or under bright lamps, near heat sources or in damp locations such as basements, kitchens or bathrooms. Based on studies by Kodak, typical ambient (diffuse) home lighting is probably not harmful over the course of several years, but light slowly will cause fading and other irreversible damage that may not become objectionable for many years. Therefore, treasured photos which you intend to pass on to future generations should not be displayed excessively in your lifetime. Instead, a duplicate copy can be made and displayed while the original is kept safe with other family keepsakes.

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The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
1-86-NARA-NARA or 1-866-272-6272