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?
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.