I hate seeing the reflections of bright lights on my framed prints. (Actually, anybody's prints!) I'm about to frame this season's work for the gallery and I'm considering leaving off the glass. I can hold a matted print in my hand and say wow, but once I put the glass on it, I also see the reflections of the room lights or windows.

It is obvious that the glass protects the print, but from what? I have oil paintings (but not watercolors) hanging in my house that are not covered with glass. Is a photo more fragile than a painting?

I don't print giclee, so I'm not worried about ink running. Shoot, I don't even know if that is a problem with giclee.

One obvious solution is to use the special anti-reflective glass, like Tru-Vue, but that will increase the cost of my prints in an already down economy.

What issues am I facing? What other solutions are available?

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Paul Cézanne, if the oil paintings that you refer to are yours I recommend to frame them very well, and a very good alarm system too would be a nice addiction. By the way, it is very nice and a honour to have a master of Picasso and Matisse among us. :-) (sorry for the stupid joke) \$\endgroup\$
    – Francesco
    Apr 24, 2012 at 8:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, it is kinda odd sometimes sharing a name with the old dead french guy... \$\endgroup\$ Apr 24, 2012 at 11:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fine Art America frames using "Premium Clear Acrylic" which is also non glaring and something like 92% UV protection. (Not sure if this is the same stuff True-Vue offers)Personally, if I want a decent framing job I can't do it cheaper then FAA. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 24, 2012 at 18:03

5 Answers 5


Oil paintings (and acrylics on canvas) are normally varnished for protection, and require periodic cleaning. (Traditionally, oils were varnished with Damar varnish, but over the past few decades a non-yellowing synthetic such as Liquitex Soluvar has become the standard; such varnishes can be removed with solvents that have little or no effect on the underlying painting. Synthetics are also available in matte formulations that don't have the problems of matte natural varnishes—they get their matte effect from waxes.) The cleaning process itself usually involves water in one way or another, which can be a problem for any water-soluble inks, dyes or grounds (such as, say, gelatine in a traditional photo emulsion).

Room air isn't just a collection of gasses; there are normally any number of aerosols (liquids and particles) suspended in it. If the picture is hung in a house, it's hung in a place where minute traces of every cooked meal are wandering around the place looking for a nice spot for a nap. There's vehicle exhaust, etc., wandering in off of the street. Dust abounds. Anything you've sprayed to clean or polish something else (including yourself) has overspray. There might not be anything that's visible or even particularly appreciable at any given moment, but over the years it all adds up. Eventually, your pictures will be covered in a film of schmutz that detracts from their appearance. So, by the way, will the matte.

Then there's the whole moisture moderation thing to consider. When pictures are framed properly, they form a package that significantly damps out fluctuations in the humidity of the surrounding air. Expansion and contraction (in absolute terms) depend, of course, on the size of the picture—a 20x30 inch picture on a natural paper ground will be a couple of millimeters larger overall at 90% humidity than it will be at, say 40%, while a 4x6 won't seem to change much at all. But the front of the picture is open to the environment without glass, while the back is protected by the mounting board. Even a small unglazed watercolor will begin to wrinkle visibly if it's not in a humidity-controlled environment. Depending on the ground (some papers are coated on both sides with a synthetic material that acts as a moisture barrier) you might see the same thing happening with your prints.

You can try alternatives, like varnishing or lamination, both of which can be had in less-glossy formulations (although I have to warn you that lamination tends to decrease the perceived "art value" among patrons). Neither, though, is a conservationally sound practice since they are irreversible. Whether or not that matters depends on the expectations of your patrons; are they buying pretty pictures with a limited decoration life, or are they buying heirloom works of art?

To sum up: there are good reason for framing works of art on paper behind glass. There are alternatives, but those alternatives also have their drawbacks. Your market; you decide.


Stan Rogers and floqui covered problems of framing without glass - but I want to offer another alternative - frame without glass anyway, let me explain.

If those prints are one-of-a-kind or in any way can't be reproduced (or can't be reproduced without a lot of darkroom work) than this is irrelevant but if those can just be re-printed than you can trade print lifetime length for better looking prints.

There are 3 different places the prints can be displayed and each of those has it's own considerations:

  1. The gallery - the gallery is a more-or-less controlled environment (mostly less, but better than the average home) and the prints won't stay there for long - so you can display unprotected prints in the gallery without and measurable degradation.

    of course, this has the added benefit of making your prints look better at the exact time someone is considering buying them.

  2. Your home/office - the prints won't last in this environment without protection, but if you can re-print them anytime you can just replace them every few months/years (actual time will depend on the exact conditions in your home and the specification of the paper and ink, but I expect the prints to last a small number of years).

    You may want to keep a copy framed with glass in storage just in case you lose the ability to print new copies.

  3. Customers - when someone buys a print add the glass before giving it to them, because they can't reproduce the print any time it will be a disservice to them to give them the prints without glass.

    if you want, you can offer un-glassed prints as an option and a offer to replace the prints when they degrade for some fee (enough to cover shipping, printing and framing - but be fair).


Glass framing will protect your print from various effect

  • First of all UV (which are present in the sunlight but also in smaller amount in most of the modern lightning). with time UV alter the print color but they are also aging the paper itself

  • Stain from the environment (You know this black spot from the fly or the little drop of saliva when your old anut is complimenting your work) and the finger marks when you are moving the print around : you can clean the glass not your print!

  • In a less measure: Oxygen which may oxyde some of the pigments


I love unglassed prints. It is all I would buy. I have asked photographers to reprint and not charge me for the glass, the clunky frame, etc. Some did, some refused. I love staring into the depth of a completely matte image printed on rag with no resin coating placed in a dark thin wooden frame. Sure, some pieces in my collection have a little accumulation of dust or whatever, but a little blast of air every couple of years fixes that. As for how long they'll last, they only have to last until I die, and I bet most will.

  • \$\begingroup\$ So, your answer to the question is "there aren't any downsides?" \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Dec 9, 2013 at 19:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm his answer seems to be "it looks prettier so it must be better". It's a non-answer. He infers that the prints will last long enough he won't be there when they fade, which to me indicates that he must be either really old or thinks he's going to die really young as in my experience unprotected prints will fade within a few months to years. \$\endgroup\$
    – jwenting
    Dec 10, 2013 at 8:20

I get the prints onto a quality fine art paper (Hahnemühle). I then give them a couple of coats of Windsor and Newton matt varnish this seems to be working so far


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