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. It consists of a thick inner core (from 1/8″ to 3/16″ thick) composed of polystyrene with clay coated papers. It is considered ideal for the mounting and backing of artwork. More than 90% of frame jobs today have foam board in them.
Regular vs Acid Free
Until the early 1980’s corrugated card board was the backing of choice for most picture framing. But corrugated cardboard is highly acidic, making it a potential threat to valuable artwork. In the mid-eighties foam board came along. Regular foam board, the less expensive alternative, is not completely archival. There is still some potential acidity in the surface papers of regular foam board, albeit not nearly as much as in corrugated cardboard. The minor 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. 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, so use it only for easily reproducible artwork, such as posters, digital prints, or open-ended editions.
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 favored in presentations where the foam board can be seen. Use it for easily reproducible artwork, such as posters, digital prints, or open-ended editions.
Off Gassing from Foam Board
The off gassing from foam board (the slow release of gas that was trapped in the material during manufacture) can be a concern for museums and others who are framing extremely valuable art. However, it is not generally considered a significant enough threat to art which is 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 board can be difficult to cut without the proper tools. Cutting foam board with a hand held box cutter or utility knife can result in tearing and gouging of the foam center. 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.