Acid Free, Overused?


PFG, Picture Framing God
Founding Member
Aug 12, 2000
San Diego, CA
Buddy made a comment on another thread that the term " Acid Free " was "the most" overused term to describe a type of mat. This makes me wonder, if the term is overused, does that not make it an accepted standard term to describe a type of matting?

If it is overused, then it seems to me it is an industry standard.

John, you sly dog, you!

I'm sure what Buddy meant was "most ABUSED term." Yes, I'm sure that's it. It was a typo.

"Acid-free" is used to describe everything from 3M Micropore Surgical Tape to spray adhesives.

As previously mentioned, the good stuff will forever more be known, in my shop, at least, as the good stuff and the bad stuff won't be mentioned at all.

And I plan to call myself a framer and let Hugh Phibbs be the Preservator.

Will I keep working for FACTS? Sure, and I'll spend some time studying the FATG standards and the PPFA guidelines, 'cause I actually think this stuff is interesting.

But I won't expect my customers to share my enthusiasm for the finer details.
John, Perhaps "Mis-Used" is more appropriate. The phrase had been appropriated by any number of manufacturers and used to market their products that are either "basic" (pH7+) or "not currently acidic, but give it a little time...", like buffered pulpwood mat boards.
Like many terms and catch phrases it has been mis-used to the point of having lost any real meaning in the overall quality of the framed product. Kind of like the term "limited edition" pertaining to any marketable object that has a finite number; it just doesn't hold water any more.
A more accurate term for the kind of framing that doesn't have any negative effect on the artwork would be "non-donor", to steal a phrase from the conservators lexicon. But that too will get twisted to mean things it is not.
Nope, Wally, that won't work.

"Non-donor" sounds like the person who won't put the little sticker on his driver's license and plans to take all his organs to the grave with him.
Hey, that IS a good article!

So when someone calls the decorative buffered boards "acid-free," could we say they are guilty of "Pulp Fiction?"

"Lignin-free?" I'll have to think about that one.

Hey Ellen, I've got a new one for ya. Lye is acid-free.
All I'm saying is, even though it is an incorrect descriptive term, if the bulk of the industry is using it to describe a protective matting, is it not a common accepted term in our industry?

You can say that your lawn is green, however I am sure there will be a lot of artists and purists who will claim that is not so, your lawn is not green, it is a multitude of colors and shadows, etc. Yet, surprisingly, the most commonly accepted term to describe the color of your lawn

Based on that one, of many possible and logical analogies, does it not make sense to accept "acid free" as a commonly accepted term, therefor, a correct term, to describe a type of protective matting? If a group of "experts" determines that the sky is not blue, are we all wrong for referring to it as blue?

And Ron, I could not agree with you more, keep it a simple as possible when explaining it to your customers.

This leads me to another question, why on earth do we want it to be complicated among ourselves?

Is this fun or what?

John, discussing this with you is fun. Discussing it with *** ******** over on ** is not fun, so I don't think I'll do it any more.

The problem with "acid-free" as a generally accepted term to describe purified lignin-free alpha cellulose mat board is that it is also frequently misused to describe every other type of buffered wood pulp board (the BAD boards, as I like to call 'em.)

In order for "acid-free" mat board to be a meaningful concept, we would need some acidic board to compare them with.
John I now you have realy confused me. Do accept every word i say as gospel? Or do as many have said before, understand what I mean,despite my poor writeing ability?

In my poor way of understanding when something is "OVERUSED" it may indeed be used when it shouldn't be. Hence When the term doesn't fit or when the term doesn't meet the definition.

However if you have suddenly given me the right to establish what words will or won't be used and why,won't you need to check with ME before you make any asumptions? That is unless my use is derived from some other group like say the dictionary and I happen to be just inserting my own opinion at the time( which given my historty and writeing skills may well be the case).As Captain English has proven many times before.

But on a more serious note what I was trying to say(all beit ineffectively) is ACID FREE is even applied to things that ACID has no bareing on .

But thanks John I have never had my words been given such weight before and probaly never will again.
PS when I consulted the Dictionary it said that "OVERUSED" meant used to excess,and that excess meant:Being more than is usual, required, or permitted.So maybe it isn't too bad a usage. It might mean bing used more than is permitted.

[ 04-14-2004, 09:32 PM: Message edited by: BUDDY ]
Buddy, your post brought it to my attention, that is all.

We have been using the term, "Acid Free" as long as I have been in this industry ( 1964 )and I am sure, much longer. It has always meant, to us and our customers that it is an acid free, or protective, mat board, mounting board, glue, foam core, hinges, paste, etc.

The term has been used to describe any materials that would not be harmful to a customers art work. We have also referred to this type of matting as a " Rag" mat as well. These terms are synonymous with any type of archival mat boards, as far as our customers and most framers are concerned.

The terms are applied loosely I am sure, but generally, if a customer comes into our store and asks for these items, we will know to what they are referring. It does not matter where you are in the country, or world for that matter.

When a customer requests acid free matting, we do not correct them with the proper terminology, we just show them mating that will protect their picture, because we understand what they want.

That being the case, then since the term is understood just about everywhere in the world to mean that the customer wants their art work protected, the term "Acid Free" is a commonly used descriptive term that is totally valid.

"Acid Free" is a commonly used, and accepted, descriptive term in our industry.

If the nice folks over on HH and FACTS can not grasp this bizarre, but correct concept, well, they can just continue on in their little la la lands.

These articles offer a simple description of the terms Acid Free and Lignin Free…...with a little tweaking the descriptions could easily be used to describe Mount/Mat Board…

Certainly in my mind, I think that these articles along with Jim Miller's article for the most part should give us the tools to explain things to our customers in a simple manner.



These descriptions are possible in the FACTS documentation.

Acid Free
Acid-Free - the acidity occurring in most papers causes a slow deterioration of both the paper itself, and often, the images (such as photos or lithographs) mounted or printed upon them. This aging process is slowed significantly when special precautions are taken during the manufacturing process. Theoretically, in the manufacturing process of "acid-free paper," volatile acids are neutralized in the pulp, bringing the finished product to a pH level of "7", considered "neutral". After the papermaking process, acid may re-enter the paper often as a result of environmental exposure to a harmful substance such as sulfur dioxide often found in the atmosphere. If the paper is remain acid-free, it is often necessary to add a buffer, or reserve, of an alkaline substance to the paper during the manufacturing process for the purpose of counteracting any acid which may be introduced into it in the future.

Acid-free paper is commonly used by artists, printers, and publishers who wish to extend the life of materials used for fine art, limited-edition printing, and permanent records where contact with the print or document could be harmful. Consideration of a paper's acidity is an important factor when doing archival work. When controlled from the beginning, working with acid-free paper helps preserve the product, and it's value, considerably.
see also: acid free and lignin free

Acid Free and Lignin Free
All scrapbook supplies should be acid free and lignin free including album, paper, stickers, pens and adhesives because acid and lignin destroy photographs over time causing them to fade, turn yellow, and/or become brittle.
The paper industry has test procedures and standards related to pH, alkalinity, and lignin content for both coated and uncoated papers to be used for archival purposes. The relevant standard for such applications is ANSI Z39.48, "Permanence of Paper for Publications and Documents in Libraries and Archives."
One problem with the term "acid-free" is its not
addressing enough of the problems that bad materials represent. As lignin breaks down, it
produces peroxides, in addition to acids, and
the peroxides may be a major contributor to the
discoloration that has been called "acid-burning".
Calling a material "conservation quality" informs
the listener that it has been designed and produced to meet standards accepted in the conservation community. Such a material should not have components like lignin that can donate or give off harmful gases. If that material does
have additives such as adhesives that can become
acid donors, over time, then it should also have
an alkaline reserve to take up those acids and
the acids that atmospheric pollution can create.

When a customer asks for "acid free" materials, I am quick to offer corrective information as necessary. And it usually is necessary, one way or another. Most consumers still are misinformed about what is, and is not "acid free".

The framing boards labeled "Acid Free", which still have lignins in them, certainly are not the best boards we have. They are not long-term protective, and will eventually become acidic.

I believe it is unwise to leave misinformed customers with the mistaken understanding that "acid free" boards are the best, when they clearly are not.

Our best boards are "lignin free", and most of those are also buffered. Customers have a right to know the truth, I think.
The issue here is not the technicalities of what a conservation quality mat board consists of, or the technical description of what non conservation quality board will do to paper artwork, the issue is the term "Acid Free" and how it is perceived by our customers and our industry.

The term is perhaps technically wrong, so what? It is commonly used as a method to convey a meaning to us, the picture framers, from our customers. It is also commonly used by us, the picture framers, to simplify our sales presentation to our customers.

I am making a case for the validity of the term. Due to it's usage over a prolonged period of time in our industry, it has become a standard way for our customers, and us, the framers, to convey a particular meaning to a type of matting or framing.

I am sure that those who feel that since this is not an accurate term, it should not be used, and they are right in that assumption. That is all it is though, an assumption. The term is being used throughout our industry by thousands of people, it is not going to go away, no matter who thinks it should.

It is now a standard term in our industry, therefor, it is a CORRECT term, as long as it is used to convey a meaning.

When a customer comes into your store and asks for "Acid Free" matting and framing, you know what they are really asking for, you understand their request. There is no need to make them feel foolish by giving them a long winded explanation on the various mattings available to them. You simply understand that they are asking for the best materials to frame their picture, so that is what you give them. It's not rocket science, it's simple.

"A word means just what I wish it to mean – neither more nor less!" – Humpty Dumpty
John i think you are doing a marvelous job of explaining just what Bob was looking for when he started this thred. at first i saw post that gave me suspicions that either i or some others didn't understand .
I don't think he meant LIES just words that weren't broken down into everyday langauge and caused consumers to THINK they uderstood what they were asking for until they went to another framer who spoke a differnt langauge.(one that had many if not all the same words they just meant differnt things,which made it almost impossiple to communicate).
However in his own world Humpy Dumot was understood just fine,or is that that he thought he understood what everyone else wanted?)
PS I was once told that COMMON KNOWLEDGE isn't what is correct it is just what is commonly held by the masses .So if the wrong concept is commonly held it becomes the Norm,but it is still WRONG.
Yes, it is wrong, again so what?

The Humpty Dumpty analogy, though cute and witty, falls apart because it is in the singular. Humpty says the word is valid because, he an individual says it is so.

My argument is based on the FACT that thousands of people in our industry are commonly using the term, although it is wrong, they are still using it. Now to top this off, I usually use the term "archival quality" when I am trying to convey my meaning to my customers. If however, they are using the term "acid free" I do not correct them, I go with it. We all know what they mean. Buddy, you get it yet?

John I think I and a lot of others got it longg ago but I'm not sure abou others but i still don't agree.
Originally posted by JRB:
Yet, surprisingly, the most commonly accepted term to describe the color of your lawn

Not mine it's Brown with bunches of little yellow flower like things.

And I do agree when a customer comes in and asks for Acid Free I know what they want, that is until I price it for them, then they decide that those decorative mats are just fine.
John, I'll give you this much.

If a customer asks for acid-free matboard, I won't correct them. I think it's bad manners and bad business to correct the one who's paying the bills if I can understand what they mean.

I had someone ask for "that opaque glass" when they were looking for reflection-control. I not only didn't correct them - I didn't even snicker.

The quickest way to lose a sale and a customer is to make them feel stupid or misinformed.
Against my better judgment, I just took a peak at HH to get a feel for the latest crisis.

My friend Nona, who I agree with about 99% of the time, has taken issue with the use of the term "rag" to describe boards made primarily from cotton. Her point is that these boards are not made from rags, so they shouldn't be called rag.

I think this is a case, John, where the term has gained general acceptance by our industry and our customers and we are pretty-much ALL in agreement about what it means. I use Crescent Rag, Bainbridge AlphaRag (my personal favorite) and, sometimes, Rising Rag.

Any other terms we might use to describe these boards would only serve to enhance confusion.
Well, using the term "rag" to describe the cotton based boards we use is alot more familiar to our customers than telling them we use "linter" boards.

Ron in all fairness, Nona (as usual) made a very indepth explanation of why the term RAG could be misleading (since they are no longer used by any manufactorer) .
However her explanation is a bit long so I will just give the answer Merrill gave to it (but i will gladly cut and paste it on request):

Date: Thu, 15 Apr 2004 17:12:57 -0500
From: "Merrill E. Grayson, MCPF" <>
Subject: RE: FACTS and PPFA

I would like to clarify the MCPF Exam criteria, as it is either that
exam or the FATG. I have included her quote at the bottom. Her post,
to me, seems to indicate that the material included only "rag" because
she goes on to describe other materials that would be suitable.

Here is what the MCPF Exam criteria actual says.

E) Matting
1) All matting materials either 100% cotton (rag) or lignin
free alpha cellulose composition, buffered or unbuffered as
appropriate for the artwork.

Ok, yes we used rag in parentheses, but the alpha-cellulose material
was also included, not ignored. Yes we use the term (rag) because that
is a term that as Nona mentions has become synonymous with 100%
cotton. The use of (rag) does not change the criteria from what it
would be if we did not include the now almost generic term.


Merrill E. Grayson, MCPF(TM)
M & L Framing, Inc./Indy Installations
Indianapolis, IN 46260

So while it would seem that the MCPF used a single arcahic term it appears it attempted to use all terms that might mean the same thing so as not to cause anyone to misunderstand their intent,and there by be unfair to those who still use the old terminology.
To me that seems as though they gave due consideration to all options and authorities( FACTS,Vendors) .
PS I have never seen the exam ,thePPFA guidelines ,and don't as many others do know FACTS by heart. So if this is inaccurate please don't shoot the messanger. But I thought it would be nice to hear all sides before makeing any decisions aboutwho was being fair or polite.
Thank you everyone, I was beginning to think I did not know how to communicate my thoughts any more. I was just going to let it go and forget about it.

FACTS is a good thing to have in our arsenal, but getting so caught up in it that we are turning our profession into something so complicated it's beyond most of us, is just not the right thing.

I personally can not fathom what the big ta doo is about anyway, rag, shmag, who really cares if the term is not an exact description. Our job is to frame the pictures, using the appropriate materials for the job. We are going to reach for our archival mats, our acid free mats, our rag mats, our paper mats, whatever is required.

In Florida, if you want to be a florist, you have to take and pass a next to impossible test. This keeps every Tom Dick and Harry from claiming they are florists. The reason the test is impossible to pass is because it is administered by existing florists, who do not take kindly to new competition popping up everywhere. I saw this on TV about a week ago, 60 minutes I think.

I hope that this is not the direction we are headed. Thank God I am retiring, hopefully soon.

Hi guys,
My point was that industry tests and instructors should use definitive terms and expressions, not commercial ones. The reason I dislike the separation of the words RAG and ALPHA CELLULOSE to describe two different pulps used to make mat boards is they are the same thing and it creates confusion for new framers. They think that somehow rag is better than purified wood pulp and it is generally agreed that if made correctly they are interchangeable in use. I agree John that embarrassing customers is not a good idea, but I also like to say things like acid and lignin free because it shows professionalism. but I don't go into long explanations, although from the length of my posts and this sentence I'm sure no one believes me. I truly try to say it in 10 words or less, but darn, just can't make it.
Nona Powers
Nona I hope no offense was taken by my posting Merrill's reply .But more importantly not posting yours. I was just trying to show that while the MCPF exam and other PPFA guidlines may have some outdated terms in it they do consider other phrases that others may use that mean the same.I feel this is as it should be in a professional setting so as to not cause anyone to miss a question for misunderstanding the terminology.

I totaly agree that unified TERMS would go a long way towards solveing this ,but in the mean time in "PROFESSSIONAL" settings I think this is a fair compromise.

In referance to what John is saying ,I agree it is in poor taste to embarass a customer by pointing out their lack of understanding professional terms. However it is exactly that, that makes me think that useing PROFESSIONAL BUZZ WORDS that we know are wrong is confuseing to the public and to not use the simplist layman terms we can think of to inquire if what they are asking for is what they really want and then in the same simple terms explain the differance. This is what I would consider "EDUCATEING" the public. Not allowing them to think they know Professional speak when actually what they want may be something less expensive. When we ccommunicate amongst ourselves these terms need to be as prcice and technically correct as we cam make them ,not to mention that they be the same in every organization. But then that is just my opinion ,and I am learning that that isn't worth very much.
PS Thanks for your very accurate and indepth explanation of RAG on HH
Crescents current Product Information Guide for 2004, which I just received in the mail says the following;

Cotton Matboard "Best"

"Matboard made of cotton fibers, which are naturally acid-free and lignin-free. Cotton is time-tested and naturally free of any chemicals or pollutants that would degrade matboard or artwork. Cotton is also an anually renewable resource, making it more environmentally friendly. Cotton rag matboard is the natural choice when the highest levels of matting are required for the display, protection and preservation of art work."

(Meets museum conservation standards as set by F.A.C.T.S. and F.A.T.G.)

then it goes to Alpha Cellulose board which it calls "Conservation Matboard BETTER"

Matboard made of alpha-cellulose (wood pulp) fibers that have been chemically treated to eliminate the acids and lignins that can degrade the matboard and the art work. Alpha-cellulose based matboards are suitable for minimum levels of conservation framing and as an alternative to non-conservation matting."

(Meets conservation standards as set by F.A.C.T.S. and F.A.T.G.)

As you and I have discussed in the past isn't Alpha cellulose, alpha-cellulose? Is it the difference between chemically treated and non-chemically treated?

As John said, our customers do not need to take a class in our shops when they bring an item to be framed. I have to admit that with the continuing debate over preservation, acid-free, lignin free, Good, Better, Best or Good Framing Bad Framing, I'm getting a headache.

To me its got to be up to the ethics of the Framer. The ethical framer should know whats Good, Beter, Best and know when to use which one.

D*** are you sure it isn't Miller Time?
Jerry, you've just touched on an issue that nearly killed FACTS before it got back off the ground in 2002.

Crescent, and the FATG, contend that alpha-cellulose boards made from cotton linters are superior to those made from purified wood pulp. That would justify the existence of two, largely overlapping lines of matboard in the Crescent Rag (sorry, but that's what they call it) and the Crescent Select.)

Bainbridge, and most conservators (I think) would say that alpha-cellulose is alpha-cellulose, whether it's made from cotton linters or purified wood pulp. If the lignins are gone, they ain't coming back.

Ironically, I believe that the Bainbridge ArtCare AlphaRag is the largest line of cotton linter boards available anywhere, and it is my preference. I like the way it looks and cuts, but I don't believe it's more "pure" than the AlphaMats or the other purified wood pulp boards.

So why don't I save some money and buy Crescent Select? I don't know.
Ron and Jerry,

Don't you think there is a dig at the quality of Bainbridge Alpha-mats buried in that Crescent specification (promotional) brochure?

Pat :D
Pat, I would say it's not buried too deeply.

Hey, marketing is marketing and everybody does what they have to do. We just don't want to confuse marketing with standards.

There is much to love about both Crescent and Bainbridge, but sitting in a meeting with the two companies across the table from one another makes one wonder if this town is big enough for both of 'em.

Was that cryptic enough?
I was going to say it has to be marketing, but then with FATG in there.......
FATG has always held that Cotton based AC is better than purified AC. Let's talk chemistry, AC is AC if it comes from cotton linters or anyother pulp type. I get pretty irritated when someone says that product "X" is not as good as "Y" because chemicals were used in it's manufacture.
Cotton Linters are dirty little beasts too, they are cleaned before use too and I bet they don't use just soap and water.

I use Crescent AC boards as well as the "Rag" boards and Bainbridge boards too.

I'll go off on a tangent now............

Ever wonder why they call some produce organically grown? Isn't all of it? Besides even if they do use pesticides and herbicides they're STILL organic!
I believe the FATG also distinguishes between colored and uncolored "rag," with only the latter being suitable for the highest levels of "preservation."

Stock up on white rag.
You guys are so great.

Both cotton and wood pulp are alpha cellulose and it has nothing to do with any company saying it is or not, it has to do with chemistry.

The Rising Company used to have a display in their booth showing cotton linter pulp and it's brown, not white. It has to be bleached also. It doesn't need as much work to be purified as wood pulp, but it is not pure snowy white to start with.

Mat board can be colored but it should not rub off or bleed when wet or fade within a reasonable amount of time. In other words it has to pass tests to be considered safe and those tests are set indepandant of the framing industry. Most of the pure cotton pulp boards are made of soft colors because to get them colorful enough would cost a fortune because of the amount of pigment it would take for the depth of color and because the color goes all the way through the board not just on a surface paper and the boards then might not meet the standards. IF the colors do meet the standards, they are safe to use even though some framing purists might not like them.

What matters is whether a board meets the standards for preservation framing or not. The framer will match how the art is handled by the needs of the client and the art itself, not suggestion for levels. Remember the old KISS principle?

I would like someone to show me the scientific explanation and proof for the statement in the FATG guidelines that purified wood pulp mats cannot be used in place of "Rag" for the "BEST" art. Most scientists that I have talked to say that they are interchangeable in use if both are made properly.

It's been a long day and I have mats to cut tomorrow for a job.
Take care all.
Nona Powers, CPF
"Rag" is a papermaker's term dating back to the 15th century when cotton rags and trimmings were the principal raw materials used for papermaking. The term continues to be used to describe papers and boards made of 100% cotton fiber pulp.
Thanks's all getting a bit clearer...I would still love those "Ten words or less"
I guess I’m learning… :cool:

Given the above history I can now see better Johns argument for the continued use of “Acid Free” :confused:

………..I’m not sure if it applies in the US but in our part of the world most people would say “I need to “Hoover” the house”……where the correct word is “Vacuum the house” :rolleyes: …………………… if you have a “Dyson”….I’m not sure what you should say!!!….”Cyclone the house” :D
Dermot, we could start a whole 'nother thread on brand names that have become generic: Kleenex, Jello, Band-Aid . . .
I am not necessarily a supporter of the term "Acid Free", if it suddenly stopped being used, I would not complain one iota. It's just a overused term that has been around forever. We all no exactly what it means as far as framing is concerned, it is not going to go away, at least in the foreseeable future.

Making arguments against it's use make good sense, but face it, it ain't going away. Might just as well accept it as a commonly used term in our industry and get on with more important things, like what's for lunch?

1Frame-2 to- 3 FACTS- 4 standards, -5 Support - 6 with -7 $30. -8 Belong- 9 to- 10 PPFA.

Nona Powers, CPF

There, how's that? The secret to framing!!!!