Light Damage – Protecting Framed Artwork, Photographs, and Collections

We recently came across some excellent examples of the significant threat caused by light damage. We’re sharing some of the photos we took of this light damage in the hope of preventing it from affecting your framed artwork, photographs, and collections.

light damage from fluorescent overhead lights
Note the vibrant colors of the “All America” athletic certificates on the right. Now compare them to those directly under the florescent light in the center: in these the reds have disappeared, the ink signatures have faded, even the brown simulated-wood frames have been dramatically affected – all due to light damage.

light damage

If the light damage affecting these All America certificates wasn’t enough, we also came across this recently:

Comparing stored print to displayed print to illustrate light damage and fading
These are identical reproductions of a painting entitled “Queen of Hearts” by artist Ramon Santiago. The “blue” version in the frame is suffering from extensive light damage caused by florescent lighting. The unframed “red” version of this same poster has been stored for decades in an archival storage box, and is as fresh and vibrant today as it was when these posters first came off the press in 1988.

Light damage is real and it’s not reversible. But it can be avoided!

Example of fading from light exposure
Even the once-bold ink signature and dedication on the framed “Queen of Hearts” poster has faded due to light damage. Using ultraviolet light-filtering picture frame glazing would have helped to mitigate this damage.

Preventing Light Damage: Causes & Solutions

The majority of light damage is caused by ultraviolet (UV) light.

UV light is present in sunlight (this is the cause of sun-damaged curtains and upholstery fabrics), and in florescent light.

Yet preventing this sort of damage is a relatively simple 2-step process.

Avoid Direct Ultraviolet and Fluorescent Lighting

Fluorescent lights damage photos and artwork
These two framed posters have been hung on a wall that is not exposed to direct sunlight. Instead, the real culprits in the destruction of these works are the florescent lights on the ceiling – the reflections of which can be seen as white bands in the glass of each framed work.

The first and easiest way to avoid UV light exposure is to keep your framed photographs, artwork or documents out of harm’s way by placing them on walls or shelves where they will not be exposed to sunlight through windows or skylights, or to overhead florescent lighting.

Use UV-Filtering Glass or Acrylic Glazing

To prevent light damage use UV-filtering glass or acrylic when framing your artwork
Optix UV-filtering acrylic glazing, with optional foam backing board.

Even if you are diligent about “avoiding the source,” it’s often a good idea to also use “filtration.”

While there are a number sleeves and diffusers that will filter UV light emitted by florescent bulbs, these are generally cumbersome and expensive. As an alternative, using a UV-filtering glazing such as Optix UV-Filtering Acrylic instead of glass will protect framed works by filtering out 98% of UV light.

Easy to assemble DIY metal frame kits
Metal Frames are easy to order and assemble.

Optix UV-Filtering Acrylic is available in precut sheets in many standard sizes, from 8 x 10″ up to 30 x 40″, and is perfect for protecting both vintage and contemporary artwork and artifacts from light damage.

If you don’t see the size you need you can order the next size up and we’ll cut the sheet down at no extra charge. During check out you can specify that you want board, paper, or acrylic sheets cut to a custom size under Special Instructions in the Payment section.

Wood frame kits come in natural maple, black, and white options
Gallery 12 Wood Frames.

Use UV-filtering acrylic glazing to prevent light damage

Optix UV-Filtering Acrylic is also included in all of the various easy-to-assemble Gallery 12 Wood Frames available from Archival Methods.

Recap & Other Resources

In closing, perhaps the best way to prevent light damage is to store your artwork, photographs and other such materials in a cool / dry / dark area or closet in your “living space” (i.e. not in your attic or basement) in appropriately-sized archival enclosures and boxes.

But if you want to display some of your materials, always use acid-free mats and the right picture frames. Avoid direct sunlight and exposure to florescent lighting. And consider using a UV-filtering glazing such as Optix UV-Filtering Acrylic.

Lastly, read a short summary on light damage from the Library of Congress.