Photo collages: the sticky and the permanent
February 25, 2008 10:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm starting a series of collages where I'm attaching bits of photos to other photos, and I'm curious about the best adhesives and sealants for archival purposes.

The photos in question are C-prints, not inkjets. Some will be digital C-prints from a lab, and some might be from a darkroom -- but they'll all be on Fuji Crystal Archive paper.

My goal is to have the adhesive be as permanent as possible and for the sealant to dry clear and stay clear over the years (and not alter the colors of the photos).

I'm new to collage, so I'm learning as I go along. I've done some Googling and looked at various web forums (like this and this), but none seem to deal specifically with photos on photos. I guess I've got it easier than some collagists (sp?), as I'm dealing with relatively thick photos and not thin old newsprint, but of course photos have issues of their own.

I've done a few test runs with Crafter's Pick brand "Decoupage and Collage Gel," which says it's archival; it dries clear and seems fine. But I know there's a ton of stuff out there.

Bonus: If I mount these collages on wood or aluminum or cintra, what's the best permanent adhesive for that? I've previously had some C-prints professionally mounted on cintra, and a few are beginning to unstick at the corners after only a few years. Though maybe it was just a bad mounting job. I'm not sure what adhesive they used.

thanks for any help!
posted by lisa g to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I agree with the folks in the forum about using rubber cement, but not just any. The best archival cement I've found is Best Test.

Can't help with the sealant, I'm afraid.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:52 AM on February 25, 2008

I have no idea about the archival-ness of it, but acrylic medium can be used to stick paper to just about anything, plus it comes in a variety of densities and even with mixed in textures. Since it's designed for painting, I imagine it would last a long time without discoloration or separation, but I can't vouch for it.
posted by beerbajay at 10:53 AM on February 25, 2008

Best answer: Use something like Colormount dry-mounting tissues. That is exactly what they are for.
posted by JJ86 at 11:24 AM on February 25, 2008

Rubber Cement. But the "use rubber cement because you can reposition it if you have to" line is only vaguely true. If you slap rubber cement on something and then stick it to something else before it is dry then, yes, you can reposition. But you'll never get a good bond.

Rubber cement is freaking MAGIC when you use it like contact cement. Light coat on both pieces, let it dry, and then put it exactly where you want it. It will never ever move. rub off any excess cement boogers and you are good to go.
posted by dirtdirt at 11:42 AM on February 25, 2008

Best answer: Rubber cement is wonderful for ephemeral graphic composition work -- you couldn't lay out a magazine without it in the pre-computer age -- but it's as far from "archival" as an adhesive could possibly be. After four or five years it begins to turn brown -- it'll look like caramel is leaking through the paper. A few years later it gets brittle and loses all adhesiveness and the composition falls apart.

Professional photographers and museums seeking a permanent archival bond use drymount papers like the ones JJ86 suggested.
posted by gum at 12:44 PM on February 25, 2008

Best answer: Permanent and archival are somewhat contradictory since true archival mounts are generally meant to be reversable when necessary. That said, if you don't want to use drymount tissue because you don't have convenient access to a press I would recommend PVA which is a good bookbinder's adhesive. Acrylic will also work just fine and is considered to be archival. You'll want to weight your piece after you've mounted it with whatever adhesive you use.

This is one well-regarded varnish. I haven't used it myself but numerous members of the digital artists group I belong to speak well of it.

This to that is a very useful site when trying to determine what adhesive to use.
posted by leslies at 3:17 PM on February 25, 2008

I was going to say PVA or any other book binding glue is probably fine. Most say they're archival on the bottle.
posted by bradbane at 3:50 PM on February 25, 2008

Best answer: A lot of folks here are giving you advice here that may be useful for digitally printed photographs or other paper media, but could be disastrous (depending on your expectations) used with the old-fashioned emulsion photographic paper you say you're using.

Here's a discussion on that goes into adhesives for photographic paper. PVA, wheat paste, and acrylic glues are not appropriate for photographic paper (unless you're embracing various bubbling and curling "effects" as they dry and as they react to humidity changes over the years). There are some spray adhesives that will work for photographic paper, but they're messy enough when you're just mounting a single print on a board -- they might be a nightmare to use depending on the complexity of the collaging you're contemplating and the degree to which you're trying to avoid visible adhesive marks or smears.

Drymount tissue has its own labor costs, and it's expensive, but it's the one adhesion method that holds photographic paper down, stays under the print, and has an impressive archival track record. You can get away with applying it using a household iron instead of a big dedicated press (for collage, that might even be the preferable technique).
posted by gum at 7:19 PM on February 25, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers so far. To clarify, I'm looking for three different things: 1.) Something to stick bits of C-prints onto one single "background" C-print, to make the actual collage; 2.) Something to adhere the main C-print to a backing board of cintra or wood or aluminum, and 3.) some sort of varnish or sealant to spray or paint over the whole thing, to give it a "finished" (yet handmade) laminated look, protect from fingerprints, etc.

I'll look into drymount paper for both 1 and 2. (I imagine drymounting was the method used when I've previously had C-prints mounted on cintra.) But if anyone's still reading this question now that it's off the front page of AskMe, I'm still curious about 3. A lot of what I'm reading about sealants for photos seems to be aimed at inkjet or giclee prints, not C-prints. (Often when C-prints are exhibited professionally, they've got a single sheet of lamination over them, or they're adhered face-first to a big block of acrylic ... that's not what I'm going for here. I'd like these to look more like the textured surface of a painting.)

As I said, my main concern is long-term quality. Not that I'm really imagining my great-grandkids will bequeath these to MoMA in 2108 ... but if I sell or give away a few, I'd like to promise that they won't look radically aged or fragile after eight years hanging up in a semi-sunny room.

posted by lisa g at 9:22 PM on February 26, 2008

Response by poster: Just in case anyone comes across this question later, here's what I've been doing:

1.) First, I find pieces of wood to put the collages on.

2.) To attach my background photograph to the wood, I'm using Liquetex matte gel medium. It's a little messy, but gives a great bond.

3.) To attach the little cut-up collage pieces to the background photo, I'm using Therm O Web brand Sticky Dots Die-Cut acid-free adhesive. This is an easy, not-so-messy method, and the bond seems pretty permanent.

4.) Then I cover the collage with a sheet of wax paper and burnish the finished collage with a roller, to make sure everything's really stuck down.

5.) Then, to provide UV protection, I brush a coat of Golden brand glossy UV-protective varnish. (I'm not sure this is ideal, but the only other UV-protective coatings I can find are sprays, which I don't want to use in my current workspace. I'm still researching this.)

6.) After the UV varnish dries, I pour on a coat of Golden brand Self-Leveling Gel; I like how it gives a smooth finish while not completely hiding the contours of the collage.

This method is still evolving, but it seems to work for now. Thanks again for your suggestions.
posted by lisa g at 10:36 AM on April 21, 2008

« Older Making a handy phone sheet for a small business   |   Should I Eat This Website? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.