How oxygen and light affect paper over time

The research team at the Tate Galleries has been working for a considerable period of time on the effect of oxygen on paper. Their work is not wholly altruistic of course – what they are trying to do is to understand the way in which art works on paper are affected by the atmosphere and what we can do about it.

And they have been having considerable success in their endeavours. What’s more, their work has had an interesting input into the commercial storage of paper.

Works of art that are displayed in galleries are generally displayed in the normal atmosphere of the planet – which includes 21% oxygen.

This exposure to oxygen leads to oxidation and hydrolysis – two processes which mean that the paper on which the art is created will deteriorate. And of course this is not just an issue for works of art, it also affects anything that is written on paper.

One of the biggest problems is light exposure, which seriously affects everything that is written or drawn on paper negatively. This is why storage facilities such as that offered by Admiral are so vital for more run-of-the-mill documents such as legal papers.  In our storage systems they are not exposed to light, and therefore will last in their pristine condition much longer.

The Tate organisation however has been taking this further by investigating anoxic display and storage, as it has been shown that the fading of colours can be slowed in low-oxygen conditions.

Obviously most legal documents do not need to go this far – but this research does remind us that the less we use colour in documents the longer those documents are going to stay in good condition. A good argument against the unnecessary use of colour in documents that we want to keep.

Between September 2006 and the summer of 2009 researchers at the Tate also studied the degradation of paper and the fading rate of pigments in different circumstances and as a result the way in which the galleries treat their precious works of art is changing.

For those of us who simply need our paper to be there and be readable at some undefined point in the future, matters are simpler.  We need to know that the paper will be readable (a lack of exposure to light helps) and will be available when we want them. We are also reminded above to cut the use of colour.

And these basic points explain why we built the Admiral Storage Facility – to ensure that some of these negative effects don’t happen. Of course we can’t tell you what colour to print in, but we can ensure that no one has access to your paperwork except your nominated staff, and we do all we can to ensure that the paper is stored in the best possible condition while balancing the options against the cost.

For more details have a look at our website or give us a call on 0800 783 9516.

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