Quality: Understanding the Terms

When it comes to the Quality and Permanence of Photographic Art, there are a few terms that the industry uses, and these can sometimes be confusing. This short article should help to guide anyone buying Fine Art Photography. The purpose here is not to get too technical.

Sometimes quality materials are easy to identify when compared with the inexpensive versions, but since there are chemical processes that aren't visible to the naked eye, we need to know more to be able to identify which materials are high quality, and which will not degrade over time. The goal is to produce Art that looks the same in 100 years, 200 years, etc. The term that defines this kind of quality is Archival.

Let's look at what actually goes into a Matted and Framed Photograph?

If for example any of these materials are not acid free, the degradation of one component may bleed into others. It's important that each component is made to Archival standards.


Archival is the gold standard that must be met. This is not a Fine Art term. It is the standard used in the Library of Congress, or any historical archives where important documents or photos are being stored and protected. (Libraries, Churches, etc.)

Rather than produce a list of technical requirements for Archival, the idea is that the material being used can last for hundreds of years. If not, it wouldn't be reliable for Archival purposes. In regards to Fine Art and the materials listed above, each component (paper, mat, corners, foamboard, etc.) must meet the requirements to be called Archival. They can not cause degradation, color fading, yellowing, etc. This can be measured by chemical analysis. It's not a mystery. We know what the materials can contain or not contain. Manufacturers can create the materials we need to qualify as Archival. Browse any Art supply store and you can find labels on packaged materials that will say Archival. They are more expensive than non-Archival quality materials.


This is fairly self-explanitory. Most paper comes from wood pulp. Wood contains natural chemicals that are acidic, and if not removed, cause the paper to yellow and deteriorate over time. (like an old family photo) When these chemicals are removed and the pH made neutral, a paper-based product is called Acid-free. Meeting the standard of Acid-free is the critical criteria to qualify it as Archival paper.

Of course the other route is to make paper from cotton rag, which is already acid-free. Either one is ok as long as it's acid-free.


The term Conservation Grade is sometimes used to describe an intermediate grade of materials that are better than non-Archival, but somehow not up to full Archival. This may be splitting hairs as many modern wood-based papers are said to be Archival.


The term Museum Grade is in a way synonomous with Archival. If something is said to be of Museum Grade, then it must be Archival, since Museums are very concerned about degradation of rare and expensive Fine Art. Our goal then is to use the same materials a Museum would use. They cost a lot more, but we know they will last.

Our Process

All materials used to create our Matted and Framed Fine Art prints are purchased using the guidelines described here. If it's not Archival, we won't use it. We have a Lifetime Fade-Free Warranty because we have confidence in the materials we use.