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5 Key Tips for Protecting Your Art From Sunlight

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You’ve created or bought some beautiful artwork and now you’re wondering where to put it. You have the perfect spot on the wall, but notice that it’s always in direct afternoon sun. Is it ok to put your art in sunlight? How can you protect it?

To protect your art from sunlight, place your art in a spot that’s free from direct sunlight and it in frames that use conservation or museum glass, as this type of glass can block up to 99% of UV rays. You can also line your window with a UV film for an extra layer of protection.

It’s hard to block 100% of the impact of UV rays if you decide to put your art in sunlight. That said, you can go far in limiting the damage sunlight causes with a few simple tips. Let’s dive into why sun can have such a bad impact on paintings and the solutions you can use to limit it.

Why Does Art Fade in Sunlight?

When art is exposed to sunlight, it’s also being exposed to UV rays. These UV rays interact with the color molecules in the art and cause photolysis, which is when a compound is decomposed by light or other radiation (source). 

Basically, the color molecules are being broken down by the UV rays every time it’s in sunlight. Overtime, more and more color molecules will break down until your art is a dull version of what it once was. 

Sunlight can also cause photo oxidation, which is why photos and art can become yellow and delicate overtime.

This is a slow process that can really sneak up on you. I’ve had that awful experience of putting up a bright and vibrant painting on day one and then realizing how it lost its spark just a short time later. If you’ve had that experience too, here are some tips that can help keep your painting as beautiful as the day you bought it. 

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1) Stay Out of Sunlight if Possible, Even Indirect Sunlight

The best way to prevent the breakdown and damage of your art is to keep it out of the sun, direct and indirect. Look for other spots in your house where your art could be places that wouldn’t be as exposed to sunlight or, when possible, close the blinds when the sun in the strongest.

This is obvious, but it’s important to give it a second thought.

Even indirect sunlight can cause breakdown to your photos, paintings, and art in general, so try to avoid that as well. That said, indirect sunlight isn’t as damaging as direct sunlight so if your choice is between putting your painting in a spot with direct sun or indirect sun, choose the spot with the indirect sun.  

It’s also important to think about how important the piece of art is to you. I’ve decided to put paintings in direct sunlight because they weren’t paintings that were important to me and having the short-term decoration meant more to me than preserving the painting long-term. 

If you have a family heirloom or a painting that is really special to you, be more careful about putting it in direct sunlight. On the other hand, if it’s a painting that you don’t care as much about, accept the fact that it might end up with some sun damage and enjoy it while it lasts. Art is meant to be enjoyed, so if avoiding direct sunlight means putting your painting in your closet, that may not be worth it to you.

2) Know If Your Art Is Prone to Fading

Different types of art withstand sunlight better than others. Without protection, all art is going to fade in direct sunlight. There’s just no way around it. But, knowing the types of art that fair better in sunlight can give you an idea of what to expect if you decide to go ahead and put your art in your favorite spot, despite the sun exposure. 

Bare canvas is more vulnerable to the sun than canvas that has been painted on. Yes, paint will break down in the sun as well, but not as quickly as a canvas left on its own.

Think about canvas prints. They’re beautiful and I have quite a few myself. The problem is that they rarely come in glass frames, which eliminated the option of using UV blocking glass as a protectant, which we’ll talk about later. Without glass or a layer of paint,  they’re open to direct sunlight, which can make them vulnerable. 

Watercolor is also a very bad thing to put in direct sunlight, as they often fade more quickly than other types of paint. Watercolor washes are usually pretty  light, which makes them less robust against the threats of sunlight (source). Even with the protection we’re about to talk about, watercolors should be treated with extra care and kept out of the sun if possible.

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3) Get UV Blocking Glass for Your Frames

If you have a flat piece of artwork that you want to protect, you can get special UV blocking glass to use with your picture frames. This special UV blocking glass is known as conservation or museum glass. Given the name, you can tell that this is meant for those high value pieces of work. 

Food for thought: have you ever noticed that museums don’t have a lot of windows? No one wants to risk sun damage to the Mona Lisa!

This magical glass won’t block 100% of UV rays, but they get pretty close. A lot of companies, like Tru Vue, claim that their conservation/museum glass blocks anywhere from 97%-99% of UV rays.

Aside from blocking UV rays, this glass has another perk. Conservation/museum glass can come with a number of different types of coatings depending on what you need that can reduce glare, increase the clarity of the glass, or prevent shattering (source).

Icona Bay Heat-Strengthened Glass Replacement for Picture Frame

UV blocking conservation/museum glass can be a bit pricey, but if you have your heart set on putting your favorite painting in a sunny area, it may be worth the expense.

US Art Frames Five Sheets 11x14 Inches PETG Polystyrene Five Sheets Thermoforming UV Protection

Conservation/museum glass isn’t the easiest thing to find online. There are some Amazon options below, but checking with your local art or framing store is a great bet.

Skitement Ultra-Transparent UV Resistant Frame Grade Acrylic Plexiglass Clear Sheet Picture Frame Replacement

4) Get UV Blocking Film for Your Windows

If you have canvas paintings and frames aren’t an option, you can turn your windows into “UV blocking frames” of sorts. It’s actually really easy to find UV films for your windows that help block UV rays. Your artwork aside, who doesn’t want fewer UV rays in their home? 

Like the UV blocking glass, these films won’t block 100% of the UV rays coming through your windows. They can do a pretty good job though with most companies saying that their films can block up to 98% of rays (source).

GordonGlass Clear UV Protection Window Film

There are a few options on Amazon below, but you may want to pop into your Home Depot or local hardware store. 

BDF S2M Window Film Clear UV Blocking

5) For Paintings, Use Varnish

Varnish is a layer of film that works to protect your painting. It’s like putting plastic wrap over your leftover pizza. Varnish will protect your paintings from dust, dirt, scratches, humidity, and even UV rays. This makes varnish a great choice if you want to protect your art from sun damage.

When buying your varnish, look out for types that clearly address UV rays. These will be better suited to protect your paintings for the long-term. That said, varnish can’t block 100% of UV rays and it’s likely your painting will still fade a bit overtime if it’s in direct sunlight. A good layer of varnish can delay the process though and extend the lifespan of your painting. 

Another perk of varnish is that it will add a layer of gloss and shine to your painting. Even if it does fade a bit overtime, the varnish will boost the color to begin with and give you a headstart with an extra bright and vibrant painting.

Tips for Applying Your Varnish

–>Start with an isolation layer. An isolation layer goes in between your painting and your varnish and serves as an extra layer of protection. Varnishes are removable and sometimes need to be redone. An isolation layer will make sure that you don’t damage your painting when you remove your layer of varnish. Without an isolation layer, you’re likely to remove your paint along with your varnish (source).

–>Use a brush varnish if your painting is flat and doesn’t have any nooks and crannies. Using a brush on a textured work can cause the varnish to clump up and be uneven. For a textured work, it’s best to use a spray varnish to make sure you get an even coating (source).

–>Make sure your work space is very clean. Even though this seems obvious, you should give it extra attention. You don’t want to lock in any dirt or dust into your varnish. Make sure your work space, brushes, and other tools are as clean as can be. This is also a good time to kick the dogs and cats out of the room. I’ve accidentally locked in some pet hair after letting my furry friend watch my painting process.

Unless you keep your art in your basement, it’s impossible to prevent 100% of sun damage to your art. But, that’s ok. Art should be enjoyed and put in a place that makes you happy. By following these tips you’ll be ahead of the game in preserving the life of your art and making it last as long as possible. 

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