How To: Guide on framing photography – Part 3

Common problems and how to rectify them including dry mounting and other techniques

There’s obviously going to be a cross over here, so to reduce the risk of repeating myself, it may be worth reading my previous blogs first (Introduction & Part 2).

As Framers, generally, the biggest problems we get are: photographic paper cockling, finger marks on the prints and damage, such as creases in the photo.  Some of these problems can be sorted out at the framing point and some just can’t (i.e. a re-print will be needed).

I’m sure there are huge amounts of hints, tips and processes and some methods will be preferred by different Framers.  The key thing to remember is that as long as you know what is available, you can make a pretty informed decision.  Normally, your Framer will go through options with you and guide you to your decision, based on the type of photograph you have brought in.

In the beginning ….

So, you get this lovely photograph printed whether it’s by a dedicated printing company, your photographer has got it printed for you or you’ve printed off an amazing blown up holiday snap from home.  You take it to be framed (obviously taking good care of it, per Photography blog Part 2 ).  So far so good …

You take it to a Picture Framers and they explain that your photo is or might cockle over time (term explained later).  You decide not to go with the optional advice.  The photo is fine at first but over a short or long period of time, it cockles.  Then basically, it looks rubbish and it begins to annoy the hell out of you.

Who’s fault is it?  Well, actually it’s not really anyone’s (although it can be down to quality of paper and inks) and sometimes paper is a funny unpredictable thing but we’ll go into that later.

In an ideal world, getting something mounted onto a fairly robust backing (basically kind of flattened) at the same place that you’ve had the prints done would be great.  It’s much less likely to get damaged that way.  But, unfortunately, that would make photos/prints hard to transport.  So, mostly they are rolled up in a tube for ease.  This is the stuff of nightmares for framers!

What the heck does cockling mean?

Cockling is a term used to describe paper that has “rippled”, gone “wavy” or puckled.  You may have seen in a public place, a poster or photograph that when the light catches it, it looks bumpy.

All paper can cockle and this can happen if the paper hasn’t been treated properly in the very beginning (e.g. a Watercolour artist has not stretched their paper before starting, so when it dries, it cockles or buckles.  I quite like this on Watercolours though, as it gives it a “real” feel.  However, some purists hate it!) or it could be down to the environment it has been stored in.

Paper is very susceptible to the environment, there’s not a great deal you do about this unless you are the British Museum archive rooms or something!  Yes, moisture and temperature can all affect paper of any kind.

Bad mounting practices can sometimes cause cockling too.  For example, if you mount a photo yourself and you’ve a) used a cheap tape and b) taped it all the way around, it’s bound to buckle and recoil … I will talk about mounting techniques at some point in the future!

If something is cockled it is nearly impossible to rectify this by just trying to flatten it out, even with heavy pressure.  Some people make the mistake of thinking that if you put the picture straight against glass (something we wouldn’t recommend anyway) it will sort itself out.  It won’t.  In fact, framing it just like that will not sort the problem out I’m afraid!

So, in an ideal world, the piece should have been treated properly from the outset and the paper and materials should be of good standard.  But we all know that life just isn’t like that, don’t we?  So, we have to find ways around the problems.

Sticky issues …

Another common problem that makes a Framer go grrrrr, is putting sticky labels on the back of photos.  Some “professional” photographers do this to advertise themselves.  Unfortunately, this negates being able to do any kind of pressing with a problem photo.  Quite simply the sticker leaves an “impression” which you can see from the front.  This is also the case if you have written on the back of a photo (e.g. with biro).  Please stop doing it!

So, aside from the sticky situation, how can we sort some of the common problems out?

If you’ve done all the obvious (as discussed previously) then there are four main options for rectifying the issues:

Stretching the paper

This is something that you should only let a professional do!  I can’t stress this enough.  A Paper Conserver is the person you need!  If it’s a sentimental or valuable piece, we would recommend this option.  It’s not as costly as you might think and most Framers will have a Paper Conserver they trust on their contacts list.  Of course in the case of a photograph, it’s probably best to either get it re-printed if there is extensive damage.  Or find someone who can scan & Photoshop it! In the case of an old photographer though, I would leave it.  It’s all part of the charm!

Self Adhesive Board

For photographs or posters that have little monetary value or you think it’s something that you are not going to keep forever, then this can be a cost effective option.

Ideally, this should only be done for photos of a certain size.  It’s one of those jobs that looks easy but there’s a knack to it!  If it gets stuck in the wrong place, you’ve had it!  It basically involves self adhesive board, a roller, patience and a steady hand!  Hmmm, well, I wouldn’t try it!  But a Framer usually has these skills!

Dry Mounting or Hotpress

Quite a few Framers use this method on photography.  Indeed it is an option we also sometimes use.  There are different definitions of this but I’m referring in particular to a machine, manufactured by Hotpress.

It’s a high temperature press, which uses mounting tissue to seal and press the item onto a board (usually mounting board).  It is not recommended for everything and some Framers just don’t like it.  There is a lot of debate about the harshness of this process.  However, it can be very good when used correctly.  We would never recommend it for anything with high value or original (or limited edition) artwork of any kind.

It’s not without it’s problems and some people are adamant it’s a method to be avoided.  If, for example, it’s pressed onto the wrong board it can produce a ripple effect across the picture, which I find can be unsightly.  The bed also has to be kept clean so that dust can’t get trapped in it.  Of course, there is dust in the air, so with any method you could, in theory get a rogue speck!

In my own personal experience, this method can sometimes spoil a nice glossy photo as it the finish seems to lose the lustre somewhat.

Light Jet or Jet Mounting

This is my preferred option.  Hope I’ve got the term right, that’s what I call it anyway!  (I’m checking with my Printer who does this for me, so there may be an update on this!)  Usually, a professional printers will have this or similar equipment.  You can look up on Google on all the techy side, how it works etc.  In my opinion, the finish looks far more professional.

For a start, you can choose your finish.  At a basic level you can choose from glossy, matt, silk or crystal.  This then gives you far more artistic input into the finished framed product.

From a framing point of view, it’s wonderful.  For example, recently, we had a photographic print done in this way and it was so easily handled.  You can touch it, wipe it, polish it, I love it!  It looks good behind glass or you can just have it done as it is and display it that way.  Much more flexibility as far as I’m concerned.

Having popped to the Weston Universities end of year Art Students Show, I noticed how many of them had used this option.  Many had displayed their work, frameless.  Pieces had been mounted onto 5mm foamboard to give it a 3D effect.  Simple and effective (although, I’d prefer a frame with that!).

There are, of course, differences in cost but whichever method you choose, find time to talk it over with your Framer.  If you are not happy with the options given, try another or ask your current Framer to investigate.  We love finding out about things we don’t know of!  After all, us Framers can’t know everything!  We are constantly learning, updating our skills and new methods come along all the time.

Next blog in this series is: General framing materials to use and conservation considerations.


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