Whether it’s a favorite print or original work, for many first-time homebuyers, hanging their favorite artwork is the final touch that makes a new house feel like home. But when selecting where in the home to display your prized pieces, most of us tend to focus on what looks good without considering how to protect our artwork from sunlight and damaging ultraviolet rays.
Over time, all artwork — from oil or acrylic paintings to prints, watercolors, sketches, or photography — that is regularly exposed to UV rays will eventually experience photolysis, a chemical decomposition of color molecules that effectively bleaches the pigment from the work, causing a muted, dull appearance.
Repeated exposure to sunlight will also degrade the exposed cotton fibers of a raw canvas, watercolor paper, or other papers used for prints. Photographs exposed to light will undergo photo oxidation, which weakens the paper it’s printed on, creating a faded, yellow appearance.
To ensure your art pieces remain vibrant for a lifetime of enjoyment, consider taking precautions to protect them from sunlight and other damaging UV rays, including fluorescent lighting.
This might be easier said than done for homeowners in places like Florida or other naturally sunny states, but do your best to choose an area out of direct, or even indirect, sunlight to display your artwork. Pay attention to light filtering into a room through skylights, and note the quantity and intensity of sun exposure that the area you’re considering receives throughout the day. Is it a corner that receives a limited amount of gentle morning sun? Or a south-facing wall that receives several hours of intense midday exposure?
Oil and acrylic paintings tend to withstand sunlight exposure better than more delicate mediums such as watercolors, original drawings, or photography. While oil and acrylic paintings may do fine in indirect light, more sensitive pieces like watercolors or textiles should be displayed with a minimum of sun exposure, like in a hallway or shaded corner to prevent their original colors from fading.
While you can’t prevent the sun from moving across a room throughout the day, close shades or blinds when possible when the sun is at its highest and more likely to do the most damage. You might consider installing smart home features that allow you to pre-program timers to control the lights and blinds at various times throughout the day.
Premade frames typically come with a standard glass panel, which will protect your artworks from dust and scratches but does virtually nothing to protect them from harmful UV rays. Not to mention, standard glass poses a safety hazard should the artwork fall and the glass shatter.
Instead, opt to have your pictures framed with UV-filtering panels which can block up to 97% to 99% of the UV light that fades or yellows your artwork over time.
Conservation or museum glass is a good investment to protect high-value pieces of work for many years to come. In addition, conservation glass comes with a variety of coatings to reduce glare, increase clarity, or prevent shattering. Museum glass can be pricey and sometimes hard to find — but worth it if you’re protecting an investment. Consult with a professional framer to source the best conservation glass for your piece.
Acrylic or plexiglass panels are lightweight and shatterproof, making them a good choice for filtering out UV light. Less expensive than conservation glass, you can generally find acrylic and plexiglass filters in precut sheets online or in stores in standard sizes from 8×10 up to 30×40, but a specialty frame shop can custom cut a sheet to fit your specifications if necessary.
To be most effective, museum glass or acrylic plexiglass panels should be kept clean with a microfiber cloth and ammonia-free cleaner.
What about artworks like oil and acrylic paintings that are not typically displayed with a protective panel?
Oil and acrylic artworks can be coated with a protective varnish that helps to protect the work from UV rays as well as dust, scratches, and humidity.
Varnish can be found at most art stores in liquid, spray, or brush-on formulas in a glossy or matte finish. Look for a varnish specifically formulated to address UV rays. While varnish can’t block 100% of UV rays, it can extend the life of your painting for many years. Depending on the artwork, you may choose to apply the varnish yourself. For high-value pieces, it’s usually best left to professionals.
Never clean an oil or acrylic painting with solvent. Instead use a soft feather duster or sable brush on occasion to lightly remove dust from the frame and surface.
Another affordable option for protecting your artwork is using thin, clear UV-blocking film that you can apply to your windows. When applied correctly, most window films can deflect 99% of UV rays in visible light away from your artwork without disrupting or altering the quality of the light.
Window films can be cut to fit a window of any size or shape, including arches, semicircles, or other irregular shapes, and they can be used for several years without signs of wear or damage.
Ultimately, artwork is meant to be enjoyed. Taking steps for its care and preservation will allow you and future generations to enjoy it for years to come.