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Articles by Chris A. Paschke, CPF GCF

"There Are No Bad Adhesives...Only Bad Judgments"

March 2003

There are no bad adhesives, or mounting techniques for that matter, only bad judgements in the selection of the adhesive, technique, or misidentification of the image in any given mounting project. I am not going to say there is no such thing as a mounting disaster, as mistakes do happen. Webster defines disaster as a noun for "a calamitous event causing great damage or hardship, a tragedy or catastrophe". A true disaster probably cannot be repaired, and the customer will hear about that!

Disasters vs. Mistakes

A mistake, on the other hand, is "an error caused by lack of skill, attention, knowledge, or a wrong judgement." Granted a mounting mistake may result in a degree of upset, frustration and anger...but tragedy and catastrophe sound a tad extreme. In January I had the privilege of teaching a newly revised edition of "Mounting Disasters" at the West Coast Art and Frame show in Las Vegas. The challenge was to create and repair a series of common mounting mistakes and then show how to correct them.

Anytime a mistake has been made and a correction been instigated the purity and integrity of the project has been tarnished. We have all made tiny mistakes that have ultimately ended up turning into horrific issues. For some reason mistakes usually do. I recall a small glass scuff (yes, one carelessly made) on the top edge of a white museum mat that showed up once framed. The piece was taken apart, and the scuff was lightly burnished to flatten it in an attempt to blend it back into the now was a shiny burnished spot. From there on it seems everything you do to try to improve the damage only succeeds in making it worse.

Then after an hour of shop time, frustration, and the anger mentioned above...I simply cut a new mat blank and begin anew. Alas, the problem was resolved. In the past, honest mounting mistakes could often be corrected, if not too serious in the first place. But with the advent of digital images true mounting mistakes are generally disasters that need to be replaced.

A Disaster Waiting to Happen

In order to ward off potential mistakes asking the right questions at the design counter will help. Besides what is the color of your room and the style of your furniture, we need to better identify the source of the image, particularly photographs. Digital photos will no doubt be the biggest source of headaches and mounting disasters. Most mistakes made with digitals will not be fixable.

I have listed a few of the most common questions and a brief explanation for you to consider adding to your design table dialogue. Keep in mind the first step to controlling mounting mistakes is at the front counter and not with the technician completing the project.

Is this a traditional photo or digital photo?

A traditional photo is one shot with a camera using a roll of film that requires developing to produce the image. A digital photo is one shot with a digital camera using no film and requiring no developing. All images are in turn electronically transported into a computer and printed on an accompanying printer.

Did you modify this traditional 35mm photo in PhotoShop before printing?

A photo may be shot using a traditional film camera and the resulting print may then have been scanned into a home computer, manipulated in PhotoShop, and printed with a desktop printer. The resulting photo is now a digital photo and may be of either piezoelectric technology which may tolerate heat or thermal inkjet which may not.

Was this image modified local at a local 1-hour photo lab kiosk?

A traditional film print may be scanned into a machine to crop, enlarge, and manipulate take the red eye out, then print. This is a different technology from home scanned images of piezo or thermal bubblejet in that the resulting photo image is a digital using a thermal transfer method. This technology may or may not be heat sensitive. Thermal transfer technology encompasses dye sublimation, dye transfer, and dye diffusion processes. I have tested images that have been both sensitive and not sensitive to heat. There is additional information on this in The Mounting And Laminating Handbook, Second Edition, pages 63-65.

What type of camera was used?

This is not a manufacturer question as in Canon, Kodak or Minolta, but rather to determine traditional vs. digital print. Sometimes the above questions will negate the need for this question at all, the point is to get the basic information. If it was shot with a digital camera, obviously ensuing questions will be better targeted.

Did you print this digital photo yourself?

If the image was printed by the customer then a second copy should be readily available. Even though the cost of printing your own photos on the best digital photo paper can be pricey, that expense should be one the customer needs to understand is part of digital framing. By letting you have a second image to test, you can ensure the best possible mounting to make that image look its most perfect for them.

How long ago was this image printed?

Since the dry down time of a digital image can take up to a week, image colors can change during that time making mat matching as issue. Moreover the heat sensitivity of a newly printed image is greater than that of one even just 24 hours dry. The safest position for mounting and framing would be after a week.

Do you know the type of printer this was printed on?

Knowing the actual brand manufacturer of the printer, or location so you can call, will help determine the technology and its sensitivities. An Epson will be a piezo inkjet, a Hewlett Packard will be bubblejet inkjet. As mentioned above one tolerates more heat than the other. A Kodak kiosk will probably be a dye sublimation thermal transfer image. By the way, this one will look so much like a traditional photo you may not be able to tell otherwise. Check the writing on the back of the paper.

We would like a duplicate to test prior to framing?

The request for a duplicate should be stressed not because of a potential disaster, but rather to test to prevent that disaster. This new technology is creating learning situations for everyone...note the following case history.

Recent Case History

A framer in California recently had an issue concerning the mounting of a large digital photo for a long term fine art photographic customer of his. This photographer revered him as the framing expert, and vowed to take all his artwork to. The framer realized his traditional photo mounting techniques may not be suitable for this image, so he called me for moral support and advise.

As we attempted to track down the technology, printer et al, the photographer verbalized that after years of traditional shooting and film developing, the new aspects of learning how to handle this animal called a digital photo was a struggle for him too. He totally understood the framers apprehension and need to know all the details prior to attempting to heat mount this valuable art photo for him. It only confirmed the framer's professionalism and expertise.

I advised the framer to obtain the printing information from the photographer and call the printing lab directly to help attain any available info, and to request a small tester photo from the photographer. Long story short, it was dry mounted using a tissue adhesive at the lowest temperature available while being covered with Tullis Russell Hot Press Overlay Foil to protect the high gloss surface from the release paper silicone. After 4 minutes of breath holding, the mounting turned out perfect.

Other Digital Mistakes

Digital technology began with light sensitive water based dyes as ink. That makes them water sensitive, and although many publishers are coating their images with a sealer the inks are still sensitive. As technology improves, inks are becoming more pigmented, lightfast and water resistant...but they remain dominantly water based. Wet glues and sprays may saturate, run, or fuzz ink edges; dry mounting may heat damage the surface gloss; the safe alternatives are pressure-sensitive adhesives and hinging.

More Familiar Mistakes

I am not saying that digitals are the bane of our existence, but rather they are the most recent segment of images that, although may be open editions applicable to wet, spray, p-s or dry mounting, are the most likely to not fit into traditional molds. They just need to be better understood as I mentioned in January's "Trends 2003" article.

There are mounting mistakes involving numerous other materials we framers have been making for years. Newspapers being mounted wrong side up; warped mount boards; adhesive saturation; and ghosting, to name a few. Many of these mistakes could have been avoided if thought through first. Mounting is very much a study in common sense. The point is to think first, then act. It is far easier to change the plan of attack than to try to remove, regroup and remount.

Here are a few common mistakes with possible remedies.

Wrong Side Down

No doubt a snotty thing to say, but there is little excuse for mounting a clipping wrong side down other than not paying attention. Though we would like to blame the front counter designer or the equipment, 99% of the time the mistake is operator error. The quickest solution to this dilemma is obtain a new clipping and start again. If it were an irreplaceable clipping it should have been placed between Mylar or sleeved in a recto/verso mat in the first place.


Warped mounting boards are the result of surface tension. The only way to compensate for fiber expansion on the surface of the mount board is to apply the same degree of tension or expansion to the back of the mount board. Countermounting is the technique of applying a mounted paper or photo to the verso side of the substrate to counter the tension created by the front mounting. This simple solution should have been considered when pricing the original project rather than as a corrective afterthought.

Adhesive Saturation

All adhesives saturate porous mountings. When applying wet glues controlling the amount of adhesive during application as well as the pressure or weight applied during drying will heavily impact the saturation. If a wet glue is applied too thick and/or wet it could saturate a porous or very thin mounting. This is most often experienced when mounting thin rice papers or sheer fabrics, and dominantly very absorbent fabrics such as cottons, linens, or wools.

Spray adhesives as with wet glues can soak through when overly applied. In a mounting press the heat source is the platen or glass top. As the mounting package is heated to required bonding activation the adhesive is drawn toward that heat source up into a porous paper mounting. The longer a porous project remains in the press the more it will continue to saturate the paper.

To correct an over saturated material is difficult. The adhesive has soaked into the project making is somewhat translucent. Often the removal technique with a water soluble glue and a thin rice paper will do additional damage to the art. Sprays might be removable with heat application as will thermoplastic dry mount tissues, but even with safe removal the saturation damage my not be correctable.

Ghosting and Bleeding

Unlike the above adhesive saturation, ghosting or bleeding many times may be repaired. Ghosting is the undesirable bleeding through of text or pictures from the verso side of a mounting. The most commonly framed source of ghosting comes from newspaper clippings or magazine articles.

The paper used for printing is inexpensive, porous and thin enough to readily see the printing from the back side through to the front. The solution is to remove and remount with a clear adhesive onto the same color surface as the dominant color on the back of the clipping, usually black.

Removal Techniques

Though this article could have easily illustrated actual removal techniques, it was important to first explain that most mounting problems can be avoided if thought through prior to attempting the mounting technique. Disasters are most likely just that, a ruined project that needs to begin from a replacement image. A correctable mistake is mostly carelessness that needs to be pulled back into check. Not to rag on digitals, but these images are where we framers will no doubt take the most risks and make the most mistakes. And it usually will be by assuming a print is something is may not be. Identifying what is being framed when at the design counter is half the battle and the very best way to deter mounting disasters.

Perhaps next month we will look at actual removal techniques.

Copyright © 2003 Chris A Paschke

For more articles on mounting basics look under the mounting section in Articles by Subject.
Additional information on all types of mounting is found in:
The Mounting and Laminating Handbook, Second Edition, 2002,
The Mounting And Laminating Handbook, Third Edition, 2008 and
Creative Mounting, Wrapping, And Laminating, 2000 will teach you everything you need to know about getting the most from your dry mount equipment and materials as an innovative frame designer.

All books are available from Designs Ink Publishing through this website.

Chris A Paschke, CPF GCF
Designs Ink
Designs Ink Publishing
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Tehachapi, CA 93561
P 661-821-2188