Can faded art prints be restored? The sad truth is that there is no way to easily restore faded inks used on art prints without making a copy and reprinting it or using hand restoration methods.
Keep in mind that faded art prints are permanently damaged and restoring faded colors and lines is a slippery slope for an inexperienced or amateur art restorer.
Have you ever had an art print that is so old that it has been exposed to too much light and has started to fade?
It can be heartbreaking to see something you love slowly losing its vibrancy with the original image barely visible and its colors fading back to white.
As I mentioned in the introduction, there are 2 ways to restore faded art prints.
When it comes to restoring faded art prints, the most important thing is to understand what kind of print you have.
Different types of prints require different methods for restoration.
Faded paper based art prints & lithographs
If you are trying to restore a faded paper art print or lithograph, then these can be restored by hand.
Restoring an art print by hand basically means you will be tracing over the lines with ink, pencil or paint and restoring faded colors will require either applying a coat of paint that best suits the print finish.
This can be either with using watercolors, light washes of ink or applying colored pencils in a fine manner.
Word of caution, when you start embarking on restoring faded colors you will be tempted to restore all the faded colors as you will see some sections are now more vibrant than others.
At what point do you stop? If you end up restoring all the faded colors, have you just turned a faded art print into a hand-embellished reproduction?
Food for thought…
Faded canvas art prints
If you have a canvas print, it likely has a protective coating of varnish or sealant that will make it difficult but not impossible to paint over.
Whether you cannot or you can get the protective coating off, a canvas print can be restored to its original condition by applying and layering acrylic paint.
Be careful not to totally repaint the whole canvas print as this defeats the purpose.
Can old prints be restored?
Yes, old prints can be restored, but the degree to which they can be rejuvenated depends on several factors:
- the extent of the damage
- the materials and methods originally used to produce the print
- the skill of the restorer.
Types of Damage Common to Old Prints:
Brownish-yellow spots caused by mold or metal impurities in the paper.
Discoloration or Yellowing
Often due to acids in the paper or exposure to UV light.
Tears, Creases, and Holes
Physical damages from mishandling, improper storage, or age.
Stains or waves in the paper from liquid exposure.
Loss of color due to light exposure or inherent instability of the inks.
Often from old tapes or glues.
Mold or Mildew
Usually from storing in damp conditions.
Methods for Restoring Old Prints:
- Cleaning – Gentle surface cleaning can remove accumulated dust and grime. More in-depth cleaning might involve carefully applied solvents or other cleaning agents suitable for the type of print.
- Deacidification – Neutralizes the acids in the paper, preventing further yellowing and deterioration.
- Mending Tears – This can be done using Japanese tissue paper and wheat or rice starch paste, which is both strong and reversible.
- Flattening – Humidity and pressure can be used to flatten rolled or folded prints.
- Removing Foxing and Stains – Specialized treatments can reduce or eliminate these marks.
- Re-inking – In cases of extreme fading, some restorers might use archival inks to touch up areas of lost color. This is controversial and is done very carefully to avoid over-restoration.
- Backing or Lining – A fragile print can be mounted on a support sheet for added stability.
Considerations for Restoring Old Prints:
- Value of the Print – Before restoring, consider the print’s monetary and historical value. Some interventions, especially if done badly by a novice restorer can decrease a print’s value.
- Reversibility – Restoration and conservation methods should, whenever possible, be reversible. This means that future conservators should be able to undo today’s interventions if needed.
- Professional Expertise – Always consult with or hire a professional art conservator for significant or valuable prints. They’ll have the knowledge and skills to restore the print with minimal risk of further damage.
- Ethical Restoration – Restoration should aim to bring the print closer to its original state without misrepresenting the artist’s intent. Over-restoration can be just as damaging as neglect.
- Preventive Care – After restoration, ensure that the print is stored and displayed under conditions that will prevent future damage: UV-protective glass, acid-free mats, controlled humidity, and away from direct sunlight.
So yes, while old prints can be restored, each piece should be approached individually, weighing the potential benefits of restoration against the risks and the print’s intrinsic value.
Should restored art prints be annotated that they are restored?
Not all restored art prints need to be annotated on the back.
Some restorers like to write a small note of the restoration date and a quick summary of the changes/fixes made and their name.
This is purely optional but does provide future owners of the art print a record of how much of the art print is still original.
Should you restore an art print in the first place?
I have linked to a great article that talks about the merits of restoring – https://www.invaluable.com/blog/the-science-behind-art-restoration/
I believe you should only restore an art print if it is indeed valuable, rare, or has a high degree of sentimental value.
Restoring Art Prints – A Guide To The Methods Used
I almost became an art restorer. Being colorblind prevented me from entering it as a field of study.
Restoring art prints is such a delicate and specialized process.
If an art print is damaged or has deteriorated over time, a great restoration can breathe new life into it, but it’s important to approach the task with care and knowledge.
If you have little prior knowledge on art restoration or someone has asked you to restore an artwork or print because you’re such a great artist, please see if you’re up to the task and do not be afraid to say no or refer the owner of the artwork to professionals.
Especially if the artwork or prints are deemed quite valuable.
Here’s a guide to the methods used in art print restoration:
1. Assessment and Documentation:
- Before any restoration begins, the print is thoroughly examined to determine the extent of the damage.
- Document the current state of the print. Take clear photographs from multiple angles and close-ups of damaged areas. This will serve as a reference for the restoration process and for before-and-after comparisons.
2. Surface Cleaning:
- Dust, dirt, and other loose contaminants are gently removed from the surface using soft brushes or specialized cleaning tools.
- For more stubborn surface grime, a soft sponge or cotton swab may be dampened with distilled water or a mild cleaning solution and used gently on the print.
3. Removing Foxing and Stains:
- Foxing, which refers to the small brownish spots found on older paper, can often be reduced or removed using specialized cleaning solutions.
- Stains may be treated using various methods depending on the cause of the stain. For instance, water stains might be treated differently than mold stains.
4. Mending Tears and Filling Losses:
- Small tears can be mended using wheat or rice starch paste, which is both strong and reversible.
- Larger tears or areas of loss might be addressed by attaching a piece of similar paper (often referred to as a “patch”) to fill the void. This patch is carefully matched in texture and tone.
- Art prints that have been rolled or folded can be flattened using a combination of humidity and pressure.
- The print may be placed between two pieces of acid-free blotting paper and weighted down or placed in a press.
- Over time, paper can become acidic, which makes it more prone to yellowing and deterioration.
- Deacidification sprays or immersion baths can neutralize the acids in the paper, prolonging its life.
7. Color Restoration:
- If the colors in the print have faded, they can sometimes be enhanced or restored. This is a very delicate process and must be done by professionals to avoid altering the original intent of the artist.
- Often, watercolor or pigment-based inks are used for color touch-ups.
8. Re-backing or Lining:
- If the print is fragile, it might be mounted onto another sheet of paper (or lined) for added support.
- This process must be done carefully to ensure that the print can be removed from the backing in the future if necessary.
9. Protective Measures Post-Restoration:
- Once restored, it’s essential to ensure the print is framed using acid-free, archival-quality materials and UV-protective glass or acrylic.
- Keep the restored print out of direct sunlight and in a controlled environment to ensure its longevity.
- Always consult a professional art conservator for valuable or historically significant prints.
- Not all damages can be fully restored, and in some cases, conservation (preventing further damage) might be more appropriate than restoration.
- Ethical considerations are paramount. Restoration should aim to respect the original intent of the artist and avoid over-restoration that might misrepresent the original work.
- If you think you lack the skills to perform the restoration, check your ego and refer to a specialist restorer.
Restoring art prints can be a rewarding process, revealing the original beauty of a piece that might have been marred by time or damage.
Restoring art and art prints requires patience, expertise, and a respect for the original work.
How do I keep my art prints from fading?
Protecting your art prints from fading involves considering various factors, including light exposure, environmental conditions, and the materials used in the artwork.
Here are some strategies and tips to help prolong the life of your art prints:
- UV Glass or Acrylic: When framing your prints, use UV-protective glass or acrylic. This helps in blocking harmful ultraviolet rays that can accelerate the fading of art.
- Avoid Direct Sunlight: Never hang art in direct sunlight, even if it’s behind UV-protective glass. Indirect or diffused light is always better for artwork.
Use Archival Materials
- Acid-Free Matting: If matting your print, ensure the mat is acid-free to prevent yellowing of the print or the mat over time.
- Archival Inks: If you’re producing the prints, use pigment-based archival inks. They tend to last much longer than dye-based inks.
Control the Environment
- Humidity: Keep the humidity consistent. High humidity can cause paper to buckle, while low humidity can make it brittle. Aim for a relative humidity between 40% and 60%.
- Temperature: Extreme temperatures can be harmful to artwork. Avoid hanging art near radiators, vents, or any other sources of heat or cold.
- Avoid Pollutants: Tobacco smoke, cooking fumes, and certain cleaning products can cause prints to fade or discolor.
Protect from Physical Contact
- Frame Your Prints: Keeping your prints behind glass or acrylic will protect them from dust, dirt, oils, and accidental touching.
- Handle with Care: When handling art prints, use clean cotton gloves to prevent oils and dirt from your fingers from transferring to the artwork.
Rotate Your Art
- Consider rotating the art on your walls every few months if you have a collection. This ensures that no single piece is exposed to light or environmental factors for an extended period continuously.
Use Protective Coatings
- If you’re producing the art prints, consider using a protective spray coating designed for artwork. It can offer additional protection against UV light and other environmental factors.
If you have prints that are not on display:
- Store them flat in archival sleeves or between acid-free paper.
- Keep them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
Remember, all prints will fade over time, especially if they are exposed to adverse conditions.
The best we can do is minimize the effects of aging by storing or displaying prints using the optimal methods we just described.
Joseph Colella (Joe Colella) is an Editor and Writer at WastedTalentInc. As a frustrated artist with over 40 years experience making art (who moonlights as a certified Business Analyst with over 20 years of experience in tech).
While Joseph holds a Diploma in Information Technology, in true wasted talent fashion he spent years applying for various Art degrees; from the Accademia di Belle Arti (Napoli), to failing to get into the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) at the University of Western Sydney.
While he jokes about his failures at gaining formal art qualifications, as a self-taught artist he has had a fruitful career in business, technology and the arts making Art his full time source of income from the age of 18 until 25.
His goal is to attend the Julian Ashton School of Art at The Rocks Sydney when he retires from full time work. Joseph’s art has been sold to private collectors all over the world from the USA, Europe and Australasia.
He is a trusted source for reliable art advice and tutorials to copyright/fair use advice and is committed to helping his readers make informed decisions about making them a better artist.