Dry Mounting

Mounting methods for artwork are usually an interesting topic because people always seem to be asking what is the best way, or best method, etc, etc. While I don’t claim to know the best way, I can tell you that I have experimented with quite a few and ultimately decided upon dry mounting as my standard method. So I thought I would write a little about what is dry mounting and the reasons I ended up here.

When mounting photographs, quite often you will see references to something called T-hinge or hinge mounting. This involves laying a photograph face up on a backing board, placing a couple pieces of archival type tape sticky side up so that half of the tape is behind the print and the other half exposed. Then another piece of tape (sticky side down) is placed over that exposed piece to ultimately resemble the shape of a “T”. The image is said to be able to float and ‘breathe’ to changing humidity conditions this way. It is also considered a conservation mounting method because no damage is done to the original piece and it is removable from the backing board. It is considered one of the best methods for one-of-a-kind pieces of art.

I used this method many, many years ago until I got burned with some prints that I had sold on commission to a gallery in Northern Michigan. I thought I was doing the “right thing” by the art conservationists way of things. Well, some of these prints ended up developing some slight waviness to them and looked terrible depending on the angle they were viewed at. It was quite embarrassing and I vowed I never wanted to see that look again. Now, this could have been the particular paper the prints were on, could have been particular environmental conditions they were in, etc – and not just due to using a hinge mount. But it had me thinking about the things I could or couldn’t control once the print left my hands. I have read many people that claim to have no issues with this method, perhaps only with thicker papers and smaller prints. But how can you be certain because you don’t have continuous feedback from everywhere they are displayed?

 

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So I played a little with adhesive peel offs, which were a pain for air bubbles and positioning, and also few seemed to use an acid-free adhesive. Sprays were too messy. A photographer friend of mine had a dry mount press and I began to learn a little about those. Dry mounting involves a rather heavy piece of equipment called a press (appx. 80-90 lbs), heat, and some thin tissue paper that becomes adhesive at certain temperatures. By sandwiching the tissue between the print and a backing board (acid free all around of course) and placing it in the press – the print becomes permanently mounted to the board and is completely flat. The nice part – it stays this way. These presses can be found on Ebay, which is where I bought mine and you save quite a bit by buying them used. Here is the process:

1. The mounting tissue is cut from a roll to the size of the print

2. Using a “Tacking Iron” (shown in the foreground of the pic here) – you tack the tissue to the back of the print in a couple of places to prevent it from moving (it is rather smooth, slippery stuff). You use Release Paper between the iron and the tissue to keep the tissue from sticking to the iron.

3. You flip the print face up on the backing board where it now slides around because of the piece of slippery tissue on the back. You can take a cut mat and position the print properly within the window to make sure everything lines up. Using the Tacking iron again, you now tack down using the release paper again on the face of the print in some small spots to keep the print from sliding around on the backing board. You have to be careful with the heat of the iron to not damage the print – only 10 seconds or so is required to get the materials to stick.

4. Now the print and board are ready to go into the press. The press has a big top platen that heats up to whatever temperature you set it at. Temperature can vary by the type of tissue you are using. Mine is set around 180 deg F. You lay the print/board/tissue combo in there (already fixed by the tacking iron to keep things from moving) – and close the press. This clamps the whole thing down quite hard and applies the heat to melt the rest of the tissue. You only need to leave it in for enough time to create a good bond across the entire surface. I use 50 seconds to 1 minute (Good to have a clock nearby) – so not too much time at all.

5. Open the press and take the print out to cool. Depending on the board you mount to, some recommend you place a heavy metal plate on top of it while it cools to prevent warping. I have never had an issue mounting to 3/16″ foamcore with warping, so I have never used the plate idea.

Dry mounting is held in some disregard by some art conservationists because it generally isn’t reversible. If something isn’t reversible, it is said to decrease its long term value if an original piece of art is mounted this way. I can understand this completely.

For photographs however, a digital print is never a one-of-a-kind original piece of work like a painting or collage might be. As long as the backing board is never damaged significantly, there should never be a reason to need to change it. The top mat can of course be changed, just not the print/backing board combination. In worst case situations, the print / board can be replaced. There are now some products on the market for dry mounting, like ArtCare Restore board, if reversibility is a major concern. Some sites also publish misinformation regarding dry mounting inkjet prints, stating the heat will ruin them. I can only say that having mounted hundreds of prints on a variety of papers, using a variety of inksets, it has never been an issue at the temperatures I am using.

For me, this is a small tradeoff in exchange for knowing the print will never develop the waviness I have seen once framed. If a gallery curator should ever object, I know that there are alternatives like the Artcare board that address both concerns. With heavier fine art papers and smaller size prints – perhaps some success can be had with t-hinging alone. But how do you know for sure? How do you know the environment a sold print will be displayed in? I just know that once you have been burned, it is hard to gain the confidence back that your print will never experience the wavies again. For me, dry mounting is the solution.

28 Comments

  1. Mark, we used the presses alot at the old art and design company I worked at and the final appearance of the art is much better usually as comared to the T-mount. Some conservationists decry the heat used for mounting but the look is worth the trade-off. Some of the prints I mounted were up to 60″ and a chore to get into the press without wrinkles forming! Canvas transfers were even worse!!! Great article.

  2. Great post Mark. I put this thought off in the back of my mind while I start to research a new printer. What is your experience with this method and very large prints?

  3. Jim, for large prints – definitely some type of permanent mounting is needed, just because of the sheer weight of the print and the difficulty keeping the entire surface flat. And of course, the larger it is, the more obvious any slight surface imperfection becomes.

    I can do up to a 16×24 size print myself, but larger than that would require a much larger press, or a large vacuum press.

  4. Boyd, I agree with you 100%, it does provide a much more professional appearance. Thanks for your comments.

  5. Thanks for the answer Mark. I’ll have to look into this a little more… once I line up my next printer.

  6. Although it’s not my field, this was a very informative post. Down here almost everything MUST be under glass. 90% humidity is brutal on papery materials.

  7. Great post Mark, this sounds like a really great idea, do the framers usually do this for you if asked or is it something they don’t adhere to much. I don’t have much to choose from where I live and I don’t think this is something they do at all !!

  8. Good question Bernie. Every framer I have ever dealt with has dry or vacuum mounted photographs for the same reasons I mentioned – to keep them perfectly flat. However, I don’t know if it is ‘common practice.’

  9. Mark, thanks so much for sharing this. I would have stuck to the old hinged way and never considered dry mounting even though I’ve heard of it. (Lovely image of the blue flowers against the dry leaves in your masthead!)

  10. I used to live over by Focus Gallery (Polk & Union streets) http://www.focusgallerysf.org/, where you could rent time on their dry mount presses. I’ve been hinge-mounting ever since I left that neighborhood, but I agree dry mounting is the way to go. I believe it’s only recently that photographers did anything *other than* dry mounting.

  11. I have been searching for days for this information. I was recently in a gallery and I believe that they used this method for mounting their digital photos to a foam core board .. but I did notice that the photos had a texture to them , it looked like a canvas texture and some looked like a painted picture although they were not. I asked the gallery owner how he created the look , he was not very open to share it.. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.. Cheryl

  12. Cheryl, there are dry mount tissues that have texture to them that can come through the print depending on the print paper used. Also a variety of papers have texture, like Epson’s Fine Art Velvet and Watercolor papers. Either one could have been used to create that look.

  13. Thank you for your quick response! That makes sense!

  14. Hi, Mark –

    Great article, as always! I have to prepare a number of prints for an upcoming show and found this while searching for better mounting methods – I’ve had problems with wavy prints using t-hinges, too. I’ve been trying to do things archivally, but I like your point that these are not one-of-a-kind pieces of art – I can always print another if needed.

    – Jack
    ======================
    Jack Johnson
    http://www.jackjohnsonphoto.com

  15. Thank you for the help. I am not off to see if Dublin’s (Ireland) Gallery of Photography has a dry mount press for members.
    Carole

  16. I read your article with keen interest. Great and very useful information. I have just one question for you – how long after printing do you dry mount your prints? Do you keep them for a few days to dry out moisture before dry mounting?

    Again, great article.

  17. Mark thanks for the great article and I just picked up a press a week ago. With it came some old sheets and do you think they can go bad over time? The other question I have I am looking to buy some sheets or roll and wonder if you have suggestion as brand. Thanks again for the great article.
    Dennis

  18. Dennis, thank you. The Seal ColorMount tissue I have been using from a roll is at least 5 years old now and works fine. I do not think it goes bad. Seal is the brand I have used, I don’t have much experience with others. Generally you want a tissue that doesn’t require too high of a mounting temperature. Usually around 180 deg F for about a minute should be enough.

  19. Thanks for the helpful information. We’re in the photography business and recently bought out a framer in town who was retiring. Our hope was to add value to our product by adding framing. I had no idea how to use the vaccuum press, so this is a great help.

  20. Hi Mark! great post… very informational. I have just learned of dry mounting photographs and came across your page on Google. I am interested in dry mounting some of my photographs onto mdf board (half inch thick) and was wanting to know if you knew anything about doing that. any info. would be greatly appreciated!

    • Hi Andrew, I don’t think the process is much different – although the thicker board might absorb more heat, and you might need to leave the print in the press a bit longer. You might also need some adjustments of the stops on the press to account for the extra thickness.

  21. Hi Mark:

    I have a question for you – when you dry mount your photograph on a foam core, if you decide to float it in a frame, how do you adhere it to the mat? What material do you use as adhesion? And does it stand up over time?

    • Eric – what do you mean by “float it” in a frame? To me – that means mounting the print to say a mat board underneath that is smaller than the print itself, and then that mat board is mounted to the foam core. In that case, dry mount tissue is used both behind the print, and then behind the mat board to the foam core. I have a few pieces that were mounted this way back in 2001 with deckled edge paper, and so far, no issues.

  22. Let me explain a little. The photograph is 16″x20″. It is dry mounted on a 3/16 foam core, then cut with a reverse bevel. Framing it, I want it to sit on a mat, the mat being a decorative background, with borders of about 4″ on each side of the image. I guess what I am trying to find out is what is the best method to hinge this image in the frame. Would the standard “T” mount be sufficient given the size and weight of the image? Or should it be adhered in some other way? What is your experience?

    Thanks for your quick response.

  23. Hmmm, I would think that a 3/16″ 16×20 is a bit heavy for a t-hinge – and I imagine you want to make sure the mat board is completely flat against the foam core. The only way I know to do this effectively is with a dry mount (hot or cold pressed). Perhaps a strong t-hinge would work, but you are really relying on those two surfaces to remain perfectly flat against each other.

    I suppose you could also use a ATG Tape Gun and use it to apply tape strips down the back of the foam core.

  24. I am new to photography and would like to try this technique without making a big investment in a press. I read that instead of a press you could use a household iron set on the dry setting. Would this work?

  25. Hi, Diane –

    I’ve read of people using the dry iron method, but I’ve never tried it myself. Depending on your budget for trying this out, you might want to look on ebay for a used press – that’s how I got mine, for a fraction of the price of a new press.

    Good luck, either way!

    – Jack

  26. An iron technically will work to melt the adhesive, but I would be concerned about the evenness of the heat application and pressure. Very hard to do with an iron. This might result in variance in the surface “sheen” or evenness of the print, which could show pretty badly in certain light conditions. One of the advantages of the press is that it applies heat across the surface evenly, with even pressure at a controlled temperature.

    Perhaps an iron might work for a small print – (8×10 inches or smaller) – where you didn’t have to cover much area. I would be impressed if someone had the control to do larger ones.

    As Jack mentioned – Ebay is a great place to keep an eye out for a press. That is also how I got mine.

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