Definition of Print Flaws

Reproduced by permission of the author - Ron Flynn

Definitions of Print Flaws and Damage

By Ron Flynn

ACIDIC – The chemical base of a print has become highly acid mainly from: airborne pollutants, contact with improper matting and framing materials, and excessive handling without gloves. Acids will seep into the paper, discoloring it and weakening and deteriorating the paper fibers

CREASE – A sharp fold or crease in the paper. Could become a tear, or if in a corner, could result in paper loss.

CREASING or COCKLING – A wrinkled or puckered condition in a sheet of paper caused by non-uniform drying and shrinkage, or from excessive heat and humidity over time.

EMBRITTLED – a print that has become fragile or brittle due to excessive heat, dryness, acidity, or radiation from sunlight. This condition can so deteriorate the fibers of the paper that it would crack or crumble when handled.

FLACCID – A condition in which a print becomes limp or too flexible. It can be caused by excessive humidity, acidity or handling. The paper fibers can become so weakened or deteriorated that the print may simply fall apart upon handling.

FOXING – Foxing or fox marks are small round brownish spots that appear randomly on sheets of paper. They are most common on late 18th and 19th century papers. They look like the color of fox fur, thus the name. It is thought foxing originates with a fungus that reacts to the paper, or possible impurities incorporated in the paper during its manufacture. It is more prevalent in high humidity situations.

MAT BURN – Improper use of acidic wood based matting materials will cause a “burn” or discoloration of the print where the acidic mat material contacts it. The acids will leech into the print causing the paper to turn brown or gray and to deteriorate.

MATTING – A condition that develops when a matted print is exposed to the sun or other direct light for a period of time. The paper of the central matted image will yellow or darken, and the colors fade, while the portion of the print under the mat remains the same. See SUNNING.

MOLD and MILDEW - The same molds and mildews found around the home can attack prints when hung or stored in places with high moisture or humidity. They can appear in a variety of colors, but usually black, and sometimes off-white. They will appear somewhat furry or fuzzy and more blotchy than the hard brownish spots of foxing. They will root and feed on the fibers of the paper.

OFFSETTING – The inadvertent transfer of (printing) ink from one printed sheet or illustration to another sheet. Offsetting of this nature may occur during printing, in the printing warehouse storage area, during folding of the sheets, or during binding (pressing) before the ink is completely dry. Text transfer offsetting can also occur in a bound volume stored in a location with excessive heat and humidity.

OXIDATION -  Oxidation occurs, in high humidity conditions, when the oxygen in the atmosphere reacts with minute traces of iron in the paper. These iron deposits can appear naturally in the organic matter of the paper, or be imparted into the paper by the machinery used to make it. It appears as very tiny reddish or rust colored flecks.

PAPER LOSS – The loss of portions of paper from a print. Most common is the loss of a corner after it has been creased. Paper loss along an edge is also common. Careless handling is the usual cause. A hole in the image is a major flaw.

SMUDGES or SOILING – Finger smudges and soiling usually appear on the margins of sheets.  Page turning with unclean hands is the main cause. General soiling of a print can come from dirt and dust in the air landing on an unprotected print. This is probably the most common flaw in prints.

STAINS – An irregular stain mark will be very noticeable when a print has dried, after water or any other liquid has dampened or wetted the paper.

SUNNING – A condition that develops when a print, or part of it, is exposed to direct sunlight for a period of time. Exposed unpainted paper will generally darken, while painted colors will fade or lighten.

TEARS – A rip or tear of the paper. They usually occur along the edges due to careless page turning, and mostly are confined to the margin. The tear is stopped by tape repair on the reverse. The image side of a tear can now be repaired with paper fiberfill and weaving methods.

TONING – Toning is the darkening or aging of paper over time, and exposure to humidity and the pollutants in the atmosphere. The toned area is surely acidic, and an indication that the rest of the sheet is probably becoming acidic. Toning appears even on pages or plates in bound books. It starts usually along the 3 unbound edges of a sheet, and slowly creeps inward.

Portions excerpted from – 
Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books, A Dictionary of Descriptive & Terminology by Matt T. Roberts and Don Etherington
Curatorial Care of Works of Art on Paper by Anne E. Clapp

Virtually all of the above print damage and flaws can be satisfactorily repaired or corrected by a professional paper restorer or conservationist.  However, each of the processes to correct or repair a flaw or damage, are very time consuming and expensive. If you are thinking of buying a print with some damage or flaw that would need repairing, perhaps you should consider buying the same print in better condition. Most damage or flaws are hidden when a print is matted and framed, and collectors seem content with that. However, covering damage or flaws does not make them go away, or stop their progression. 

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