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MITRA Forum Question Details

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  • Cardboard as a surface for acrylicApproveRejectUn-ApproveSubscribeUn-Unsubscribe
    Question asked 2017-07-09 17:43:58 ... Most recent comment 2017-12-15 20:04:20
    Acrylic Rigid Supports Sizes and Adhesives

    ​I want to try using thick, solid cardboard as a surface for acrylic painting, but I can't get any information about its archival properties (lignin, acidity) from the manufacturer. I found a recipe on an acrylic paint manufacturer's website that calls for coating the entire sheet with a couple of layers of gloss acrylic medium-varnish so as to make a layer onto which one can paint. Supposedly, if any problems arise in the future (from what I know, it's inevitable with cellulose), a conservator will simply be able to dissolve the cardboard and reline the acrylic painting.

    I would like to ask how viable this idea is.

    Also, I thought about whether it would be more likely to work if I:

    1. saturated the cardboard with something (gelatin/methylcellulose/PVA/wall paint primer?), then
    2. gave it three layers of gloss medium (first diluted 1:1), then
    3. put on two layers of acrylic ground

    and then painted on it? I'm not sure if three layers of medium plus two layers of ground wouldn't be too excessive.

Answers and Comments

  • EditDeleteModerator Answer


    First a bit about cardboard. If it is standard cardboard the issue is not the cellulose but the lignin that is the issue. Low-grade wood pulp paper and board deteriorate and become yellow and brittle very quickly (think newspaper). I really first have to ask, why cardboard? If you are thinking the standard variety cardboard, I cannot really think of any great remedies for it deficits. Is it the corrugated surface topography? If so, that surface would likely be removed in this future hypothetical “relining” (actually that would be a transfer and it would require hundreds of hours meticulously removing the old cardboard under a microscope using a scalpel). The only way this separation could be made easier would be to have an easily reversible interlayer. Certainly, the board could be “encapsulated” in layers of more stable materials. Both of these options are possible, but this still begs the question, why cardboard? The only reasons I can think of are topography, weight, or economy and there are probably better materials to achieve these qualities if we understand your reasoning.  

    If you are interested in both the surface topography and the light weight, I would suggest that you use acid free blue board which is used for more archival purposes. If you really like the color of standard cardboard (although this does not seem to be the impetus for using it as you mention the willingness to apply acrylic gesso) I would coat the blue board with a couple of layers of acrylic dispersion paint of the appropriate color.  

    Could you give us the reasons for the choice and perhaps a more suitable answer can be formulated.

    Brian Baade
    2017-07-09 18:45:20
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    ​Hi - There is really nothing redeeming about generic, brown, common industrial cardboard - if that is what you are referring to - other than being cheap, and a part of that inexpensive cost is based on not needing to produce a product with much longevity. It is invariably acidic and with a high lignin content. However 'cardboard' can also be a catchword with a broad reference, and the following document does as good a job as I have seen in describing what you would want to look for in a 'cardboard' that was acceptable for use:

    And, as a rule, if the manufacturer is unwilling to speak to the content of their product at the most basic level I would recommend moving on to something you can have more confidence in.

    Also  - and I say this with all due respect - why on earth would you want to use something where you would consider going through all these steps

      • "saturated the cardboard with something (gelatin/methylcellulose/PVA/wall paint primer?), then
      • gave it three layers of gloss medium (first diluted 1:1), then
      • put on two layers of acrylic ground

        and then painted on it? I'm not sure if three layers of medium plus two layers of ground wouldn't be too excessive."

    rather than simply using something suitable for artwork at the start? Such as museum board or other types of thick, stiff boards made for artists? I ask because going through all the steps above just to try and make a commercial cardboard suitable seems like a lot of work and in the end any cost savings would be lost and you would still have something that is suspect.

    Putting all that aside, and assuming there is something intrinsic in this particular cardboard that compels you to use it, then I do think applying a 3 coats of acrylic medium followed by 2-3 coats of an acrylic gesso would act as a sufficient barrier to protect the painting from the substrate. I do not think that literally saturating the entire piece of cardboard is necessary and if you felt worried about its physical durability, then adhering it to something more rigid such as an archival foam board or an archival corrugated board like Coroplast might be something to look at.

    Do let us know what the needs are that you feel this cardboard meets as I am sure there might be a less problematic material we could suggest as a starting point.

    Sarah Sands, Senior Technical Specialist, Golden Artist Colors
    2017-07-09 19:05:30
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    Thank you for the information and comments. To clarify, when I said "solid cardboard", I meant the grayish non-corrugated board made out of pulp. There are no spaces inside it, between the outer layers.

    The main reason I'm leaning towards cardboard is that:

    1. Where I live, I can rarely get any information about any rigid support I would use from the manufacturers. Thus, besides knowing that the MDF and HDF I can buy are made with urea-formaldehyde (and thus, presumably, suspect from a conservation standpoint), I can't really say anything for sure about them.
    2. Ignoring the formaldehyde issue, I read that HDF is preferable to MDF - but given the size of the board I would like to paint on (100x70cm), I found that it's practically impossible to keep the HDF from bending unless it's kept perfectly horizontal. I don't have the tools (or time) to cradle the panels.
    3. The hardboard I can get is a bit stiffer than HDF, though it still bends and I'm not sure about how well it will perform in the long term.
    4. Regular wood is too heavy.
    5. Plywood, as I was told, tends to split.

    The cardboard I can get is thicker (and more rigid) than HDF, should have no added formaldehyde (unlike the HDF and MDF) and doesn't require cleaning and sanding, unlike the hardboard.

    2017-07-10 07:27:42
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    ​Hi -

    Thanks for the clarification. Could you point to a link for the product you are looking at? And in terms of solid panels, would you consider aluminum composite panels, such as Dibond? They are very dimensionally stable and should have excellent long-term durability. In terms of lightweight paper-based alternatives - although I realize what you are thinking of is something different - if you have a good conservation or framing supply retailer you could look into things like the following:

    Also, while there is some back and forth on whether Sintra (a closed cell rigid PVC panel)  raises any conservation concerns, you can still find many sources that recommend it for use in museum storage and case construction, and we have had good results using Sintra and Sintra-like panels with acrylics:

    And finally, there are some forms of MDF that do not have formaldehyde and likewise have found some acceptance in conservation circles, such as Medex:

    But whether that or a similar product is available where you are is another matter.

    Hope some of these alternatives help.

    Sarah Sands, Senior Technical Specialist, Golden Artist Colors
    2017-07-10 08:29:15
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    ​Thanks Sarah these are all great a conservator I would support using any of these materials over board made from wood pulp.

    Kristin deGhetaldi
    2017-07-10 11:47:32
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    Thanks for the information.​

    2017-07-12 16:01:08
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    ​Hi...I just joined and have a similar question but for different reasons...I am working on doing “Calder like” mobiles using materials other than metal.  I have been thinking of cardboard because I can use a laser to cut templates easily and in large quantities.  A laser that cuts metal is not so ez to find.  I could cut acrylic on the laser but it’s not nearly as light and inexpensive/ versatile to cut.  I could spray paint the pieces but I would like to use an acrylic paint and do it by hand .

    Any thoughts?


    2017-12-15 19:21:45
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    Really, there are no good reasons to use common cardboard. Acid Free blue board is vastly preferable for the reason enumerated above. I have a query into another moderator for more info about your question posed on the other thread.

    Brian Baade
    2017-12-15 20:04:20

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