Art prints are collectors' items intended for archival, yet their delicate nature causes the fragile paper they are printed on to deteriorate with time. However, age should not be the sole reason for having wrinkled or yellow art prints. Art prints can now easily be restored to look almost like new: fresh, wrinkle-free, clean and whole. According to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), art prints are created on paper using ink and a variety of methods such as etching, lithography, screenprint or woodcut through a special transfer process. As a result, prints are detailed, clear and last longer than drawings.
Examine each art print and make note of the damage or overall "health" of the print. This will determine the steps which need to be taken to restore it. Look for tears, folds, yellowing of paper, damage due to humidity or heat, greasy spots or biological damage such as mould.
Wet the paper of the art print with or without a sponge to soften any wrinkles or folds, then press it between two sheets of blotting paper using a press or place it under two weighted boards. This form of dampening won't fully remove creases, but will definitely make them less visible.
Glue a small piece of paper (cut with a paper cutting knife) to the back of the art print in order to fix tears or rips. By gluing this piece of paper to the back of the two sides, the print should be whole again once dry. Cover any holes by gluing a piece of paper bigger than the hole to the back of the print. Again, use a press if accessible for drying. It is recommended to use thin paper and vegetable glue such as rice starch glue or wheat flour glue.
Remove ink marks using a solution composed of either oxalic acid or citric acid mixed with water. You can also use a fine brush dipped in these solutions, or use pure lime chlorate instead. The ink spot will then turn red but water will remove it. Pencil marks can be removed by using a soft eraser or compressed breadcrumbs. Since erasing one spot may lighten it, erasing the entire surface may be a necessity.
Remove oil or greasy spots by dipping the brush into alcohol or benzene. It is important to place the print between two sheets of blotting paper, which will help absorb excess liquid and prevent spotting.
Bleach the print using a mix of hydrogen peroxide and water (a ration of 1 to 1) with a few drops of ammonia if it has yellowed. Test an area of the print first to make sure it works well with the print. Yellowing of a print is typical; to avoid this, keep prints away from direct sunlight and only air them from time to time. Once the area is tested, immerse the print into the solution for about an hour and then rinse several times with cold water. Or if you prefer to bleach just a few spots, dip a brush into the solution and dab. To dry, place the print in a press between two sheets of blotting paper.
Clean an art print of smoke and dust by using compressed breadcrumbs on both sides of the paper since they absorb dust well. You can also erase these prints by gently using a soft eraser. A razor blade can also be used to scrape off any dust or dirt. Or, use the above steps to wash the print with water and lighten it with hydrogen peroxide or chlorine.
Disinfect the prints by placing them between two sheets of paper, preferably tissue paper, and applying fungicide. Another method is to vaporise any disinfectant, such as Thymol. These methods help to remove and prevent moulding, mushrooms and bacteria which develop when prints are tightly packed in a poorly aired or hot and humid environment.
Check the final restored state of the art prints and correct anything that needs to be corrected. Once the prints are completely dry, return them to their place of storage.
Remember to keep prints away from heat and direct sunlight by storing them appropriately--for example, in an art portfolio.
If unsure, have an expert check the health of the art prints and determine what needs to be done to restore them to avoid damage. Such experts can be found at art galleries, museums or even art stores.