Fine art prints are printed on archival quality paper that
will last at least 100 years. The paper is tough and strong
and used by leading artists for their works on paper and
limited edition prints. Physical strength for the paper
is ensured by using a long, high quality fibre such as cotton
or flax. Paper of this type is often made using cotton rags,
and hence is called "rag paper".
The reason why the paper in good books from the mid 1800s
and earlier is not brittle or discoloured, while paper in
newspapers or books less than 20 years old is yellow and
brittle, is that the former are made with quality acid-free
rag/cotton paper while the latter are made with acid woodchip
Archival paper is specially made to have chemical and physical
properties that ensure it remains useable for long periods.
Acids damage paper and cause it to deteriorate. The environment
we live in is slightly acidic, so paper makers counter this
by making the paper pulp slightly alkaline rather than neutral.
Calcium carbonate, an alkaline buffer, is added for this
purpose; it also acts as a filler to make the paper more
There are also extraneous materials (such as sugars, starches
and gums) in the pulp that can cause discolouring and deterioration,
so these need to be carefully removed during paper making.
Arches and Rives papers, made in France, are some of the
best known printmaking papers. Most of the papers from this
company are acid-free and made of from natural flax, cotton
or esparto fibres; many are 100% cotton. All Arches papers
are manufactured on a cylinder mould, as they have been
for more than a hundred years. This process, in which the
pulp gradually settles and drains on a slowly rotating screen-covered
cylinder, results in a paper that has an attractive handmade
look and feel.
Once paper has been made to archival standards, it still
requires proper storage for permanence. Wrapping and packaging
materials should be acid-free, and acid-free storage boxes
are a good investment.