Guest Author - Michele G. Desmoulins
What does it mean?
The term archival quality has a somewhat malleable definition. In
general though, it can be considered to be a term used to describe materials
that retain their original characteristics, without a great loss of quality, over
an indefinite period of time.
The phrase is not quantifiable and no legal or ethical standards are in place
to determine how long items of archival quality will last. Archival quality
can be used in reference to a material's resistance to deterioration or the
storage conditions to which an item is housed.
Often times, the words acid free are linked to materials of archival quality.
This means the paper or glue was made with a pH balance of 7.0 or higher.
It is important to note that not all acid free products are of archival quality.
There are other chemicals that go into the making of glues and papers that
can have a deteriorating effect. These must be eliminated or reduced to
ensure archival quality. In general though, when a manufacturer uses the
term acid free, you can be reasonably certain the product will stand up over
Another term often associated with archival quality is lignin. Basically,
lignin is the substance in wood that makes it hard. The more lignin, the
harder the wood. However, when left in during the papermaking process,
lignin makes it deteriorate. Think how badly yellowed and brittle
newspaper becomes. This is an example of a type of paper where the lignin
has been left in.
It is important also, to consider all the items you will be using in your
project and not just the paper and glue, as these may contain acid and
lignin as well. Any pens, highlighters, pencils, charcoal, pastels, chalk,
stickers etc. must have the words acid free, photo safe or archival
safe to ensure your artwork will last.
Another term that is less used but, contributes to archival quality is
buffered. It means an alkaline substance has been added to the process of
making paper to neutralize the effects of the acid.
When paper has been buffered it has a higher resistance to acid seepage or
migration from neighboring materials. It can also neutralize acid from
direct contact with acidic items.
However, there are some types of color photos and textiles that do not
do well against buffered paper over time. Most paper though is made without
a buffering agent added, so they are sold most places and are easy to find.
Many people prefer non-buffered paper in their artwork, as well as, for
storage purposes. So if you are concerned with the quality of your paper art
withstanding the test of time, be sure to use archival quality materials in