Professional Portfolios | How to Mount Your Artwork

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I’m using an “illuminated” page (click here for a definition) from a “Book of Hours” printed in 1496 to illustrate this how-to blog post.

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Once you have your newly—and PERFECTLY—cut mat in hand (go here to find out how to get there), Archival Methods offers a variety of museum-quality mounting solutions for your artwork and photographs (and collectibles / family artifacts, too!).

Archival Mounting: The Basic Rules (follow ’em!)

Before we start, it’s important to note that correct, professional, museum-quality mounting involves two basic principles: First, all materials you use should be archival, including mat boardsmounting corners, mounting strips, tapes (usually reserved for mat hinging), etc.; and second, everything you do, including mounting your piece, should be “reversible,” allowing your piece to be easily removed from its mount without any adhesive residue on the piece itself.

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Yessiree, folks, this is the real McCoy! It’s a hand-decorated (painted / “illuminated”) printed page on vellum from a Book of Hours from the late 1400s. As it’s a book page, there are images and text on BOTH sides, so while I plan on mounting / matting this piece I want to be able to easily REMOVE it from its mount whenever I want to see the other side of the page (that concept would apply even if there wasn’t anything on the back!). It has survived in fantastic condition for over 520 years, and the LAST thing I want to do now is mess it up with a crappy mounting job! The same philosophy applies to YOUR artwork and photographs, whether they’re 500 years old or ya made ’em this morning.

“Removable” Does NOT Equal “Reversible”

As an example, using my original hand-illuminated printed book page from 1496 as a stand-in for YOUR stuff, my goal is to archivally mount it in an acid-free mat in a way that is completely reversible.

Now, a quick definition: “reversible” is fancy art history / conservation speak for “removable,” but it goes way beyond just “removable” by merit of the fact that NO ADHESIVE RESIDUE should come into contact with the image or remain on the print when it is removed.

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Yeah, um…NO! Don’t use duct tape (or glue sticks or cellophane tape or school paste, etc.) to mount yer art and photographs. ‘Nuff said. (Don’t worry, this was Photoshopped, as while I might be dumb I’m not stoopid.)

As an example, I could use freakin’ duct tape to mount this page and I could still “remove it” from its mat, but never in a zillion years could I remove—or “reverse”—the duct tape on the page itself without either spending gobs of money with a trained conservator (click here for our full blog on Conservators / Pros You Should Know), or wrecking it completely.

See where I’m goin’ with this, folks?

“Removable” does NOT equal “reversible.”

To take it to its logical conclusion, EVERYTHING I do with this print must be “reversible” to the degree that you would never know I even touched it. “Reversible” is therefore a much larger concept, as by extension it also implies that once I have archivally matted / mounted / framed this piece I’m NOT going to hang it near a window, as that would put it at risk for permanent fading from “light damage” (click here for our fully-illustrated blog on Light Damage / Protecting Your Collections from Harm). Nor am I going to hang it or store it anyplace where it might inadvertently get wet = no attics / no basements (click here to read about our Archival Disaster Horror Story Contest “winners”).

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I’m also NOT gonna have a greasy piece of pizza or a soda (or any other food / drinks) ANYWHERE NEAR my work area while I’m matting and mounting (just try to “reverse” pizza grease, folks). Instead, I’m going to make sure my work area is clean, dry, accessible to me but not to the cat / dog / pet flying monkey, and the final piece is stored away from light and moisture (and dopes with pizzas or sodas).

Procedures for Archival Mounting with Standard Corners

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When closed, my (YOUR!) hinged window mat completely covers the archival mounting corners that are being used to hold this page in place.

So now that we have our definitions straight (those definitions are real conversation starters at dinner parties, folks), to correctly mount this piece in its acid-free museum board mat (see above) I’m going to use self-adhesive archival Standard Mounting Corners. These corners are made of safe, inert polypropylene. “Inert” in this case means that there will be no “acid migration” (there isn’t any acid to migrate, as they’re not the cheap paper corners you find around), nor any harmful “out-gassing” (that noticeable “plastic” stink that accompanies cheaply made vinyl products).

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In the pix directly above, a square sheet of paper was inserted into each Standard Mounting Corner the same way the corner of YOUR print or photograph would be inserted. Using these corners is safe, secure, and REVERSIBLE, as the corner of your artwork or photograph can be easily removed by gently flexing the piece. Please Note: These corners were manipulated slightly in order to be visible in the photograph (hey, YOU try and photograph clear stuff). This is why some of the corners (especially the 75mm corner on the far right) look a bit “wavy.” In reality these corners lay almost perfectly flat – see top pix. (Please click on the image for more information.)

These archival self-adhesive Standard Mounting Corners are available in 4 different sizes, offering you the ability to mount everything in your portfolio or collection from the smallest images to the largest poster-size formats.

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Each of the 4 corners of MY piece fit into these self-adhesive archival mounting corners (see pix above) the same way YOUR piece would. While securely attached to the mat’s backing board, this design prevents any adhesive from coming into contact with the piece itself. When closed, the hinged window mat completely covers these corners.

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While talking about YOUR piece but using MY piece as an example (see pix above), to determine just WHERE the piece and its corners need to be placed, take your finished mat and open it up on your clean (i.e. soda-free) work area. Place your piece on the backing board and close the mat.

Next, lift the top window mat slightly so that you can get your clean (i.e. pizza grease-free) fingers into the space between the top and bottom of your mat. Carefully move your photograph or artwork around a bit by its edges until it looks “sorta where it should be” through the window mat, and then carefully pull your fingers out and close the mat to check your window’s alignment with the piece. Fine tune this placement (up/down/left/right) until the piece is exactly where it needs to be in its window.

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Once this image placement has been set, gently lift the mat’s window—being careful not to move your piece—and make VERY SMALL, VERY LIGHT pencil marks (NO PENS!) where the corners of your piece should be (see photo above). I often do this only for the BOTTOM of the image, then put my artwork off to the side (out of the way / safe) and use those marks to go ahead and place my BOTTOM corners (without the artwork). I then nestle my piece in these two bottom corners and the TOP corners become very easy to place.

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If doing it this way, nestle your piece in the two bottom mounting corners as mentioned above. Close the mat to check your alignment one more time, then open your mat and gently lift the top of your image with the bottom still nestled in the bottom corners (see photo above). While still holding the top of your piece, place mounting corners on each top corner of the image. Slowly and gently lower the top of your piece until the top mounting corners come into contact with your mat’s backing board. Place a sheet of clean paper over each corner and gently push down with your fingers to insure adhesion and VOILA – you’re done! Practice this a few times with a scrap mat / print and you’ll quickly get the hang of it!

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Boom! My (YOUR!) piece is archivally mounted into its acid-free mat. It looks great, and everything is completely reversible.

Procedures for Archival Mounting with Cut-Back Corners

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In addition to Standard Mounting Corners, Archival Methods also offers 2 sizes of self-adhesive Cut-Back Corners. This type of corner provides secure support while allowing you to show more of your piece in your window mat by merit of the fact that they are, indeed, “cut back” (see pix, above). These low-profile corners are also perfect for “floating” your piece in the center of a larger window mat (see below).

To use Cut-Back Corners, follow the same procedures as those described for Standard Mounting Corners, above. As always, I recommend that you practice with a scrap print / mat to get the hang of these procedures and you’ll soon be a complete pro.

Procedures for Archival Mounting by “Floating” an Image

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Let’s return for a moment to the photograph of the Enterprise from our Matting blog (see pix above, click here to get there), as I’m gonna use this image as an example of the two common ways you can mat and mount an artwork or photograph:

   1. The image on the left shows the Enterprise in a “standard” window mat (it was cropped in tight on purpose).

   2. The image on the right depicts the way you can show an entire piece by “floating” it in a mat window that is larger than the piece itself.

To float the image on the right, the Enterprise photo was measured in its entirety—from top to bottom and from left to right—and then 1/2-inch of additional space (on all 4 sides) was added to these measurements when determining the interior mat window size on my Custom Mat Cutting template. (Click here to go directly to this handy easy-to-use template / click here to read our fully-illustrated blog that goes into detail about what every step in our Custom Mat Cutting template is all about.)

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The mat was cut to these larger specs, hinged, and the photograph was then mounted to the exact center of the mat’s backing board using small 10mm / 3/8″ Standard Mounting Corners (see red boxes, above). The result is that the photograph “floats” on the backing board with a window mat surrounding it in a way that allows one to see the ENTIRE piece.

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While “small” (10mm / 3/8″) Standard Mounting Corners were used in the floated image of the Enterprise so that each corner’s diagonal edge would not overlap the actual image area of the photograph, Cut-Back Corners could also be used in this instance (see photo above). The choice is yours, as it’s a personal preference. Either way, the option to “float” an artwork or photograph works well when you’re matting a piece that has no border at all, or when you really want to be able to see the entire artwork / photo / artifact.

Procedures for Archival Mounting with Clear Print Mounting Strips

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Should you have a large format image in your portfolio or collection, consider using our self-adhesive Clear Print Mount Strips.

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These strips come in 10-inch lengths and are easily cut to any size you may need.

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They can be used INSTEAD of mounting corners, or IN ADDITION to them for added support of larger works.

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Clear Mounting Corner (left) used in conjunction with a Clear Print Mounting Strip (center) to mount a large poster-sized antique map. (A black museum board backing was used to accentuate the clear corner and strip.)

To use these Clear Print Mounting Strips, position your artwork or photograph in your open mat as described above in the section on Clear Mounting Corners. Close your mat and check the alignment of your piece. When you’re sure it’s in it’s correct position, open your mat and repeat the procedures used for corners, as described above, by making VERY SMALL, VERY LIGHT pencil marks (NO PENS!) where the edges of your piece should be.

Again, as described above, I often do this only for the BOTTOM of the image, then put my artwork off to the side (out of the way / safe) and use those marks to go ahead and place my BOTTOM print mounting strips (without the artwork). I then nestle my piece in the bottom mounting strips (use more than one for large pieces), and the TOP and SIDE edges become very easy to place. Be sure not to let your print move during this process, and close your mat frequently to check positioning and alignment. Once you’ve placed your mounting strips on the sides and top, you’re done!

These Clear Print Mounting Strips offer secure, archival, completely reversible mounting, while their low profile, like that of the Standard Mounting Corners discussed above, allows them to be completely hidden by your window mat.

Contact Us

If you have additional questions on mounting, or you would like more information on any of our museum-quality archival storage and presentation materials, please contact us here at Archival Methods. We’re always there to help with any archiving, storage, or presentation questions you may have.