To make the right choice when using foam board as a backing in picture framing, consider your options.
What is foam board?
Foam board is a lightweight foam-centered board consisting of a thick inner core (from ⅛” to 3/16” thick) composed of polystyrene with clay-coated papers.
It is considered ideal for the mounting and backing of artwork, and more than 90% of frame jobs today have foam boards in them.
Types of foam board
Regular vs. Acid-Free
Until the early 1980s, corrugated card board was the backing of choice for most picture framing. But corrugated cardboard is highly acidic, which makes it a potential threat to valuable artwork.
In the mid-eighties, foam board came along. Regular foam board, the less expensive alternative, has far less potential acidity than corrugated foam board. The slight acidity of regular foam board is not considered an issue in most frame jobs involving easily reproducible art such as posters, digital prints, or open-ended editions of any kind.
However, regular foam board may be considered inadequate for limited edition prints, originals, or one-of-a-kind art. For limited editions, originals, or one-of-a-kind art, choose acid-free foam board instead.
Indeed, for any art for which the maintenance of long-term value is a goal, acid-free foam board is called for. More on conservation and archival framing.
Self-Adhesive Foam Board
Self-adhesive foam board consists of a thick inner core composed of polystyrene with a peel-and-stick surface on one side. Using this type of foam board, artwork can be mounted firmly with light pressure.
From a conservation perspective, it is materially the same as regular foam board. However, the adhesive is permanent and irreversible, and it should only be used for easily reproducible artwork (posters, digital prints, open-ended editions, etc.).
Black on Black Foam Board
Black on black foam board is materially the same as regular foam board but consists of black surface papers on a black inner core. It is preferred in presentations where in which viewers can see the foam board.
It should be used for easily reproducible artwork, such as posters, digital prints, or open-ended editions.
Off-Gassing from Foam Board
Off-gassing from foam board is the slow release of gas that was trapped in the material during manufacturing. It can be a significant concern for museums and others who are framing precious art.
However, it is not generally considered a significant enough threat to art designed to be hung for just a few generations. Those opting for a safer alternative to foam board can go with stacks of museum-grade mat board.
How to Cut Foam Board
Foam boards can be difficult to cut without the proper tools.
Cutting foam board with a handheld box cutter or a utility knife can tear and gouge the foam center. Instead, handheld foam board cutters perform well, as do mat cutters that include foamboard cutting capability.
For more complicated bevelling, notching, and shaping of foam board, use the Foamwerks Foamboard Cutting Tools.