Framing Artwork: Glass vs. Plexiglass

updated May 6, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

There comes a time when you purchase a piece of artwork — that photograph you’ve been ogling, or that screenprint that you’ve been in love with for years — that you are faced with the very grown-up decision of how to frame. Do you go with plexiglass? Or regular glass? Here are a few facts that might help you to make a decision.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

I’ve worked in fine art galleries and museums for years. Folks typically have very polarized opinions when it comes to the type of framing materials to use, but there are clear benefits and disadvantages to each type of glass for artwork. The standard for quite some time is museum glass. Historically, glass has provided the most clear, uninhibited viewing of artwork. Plexiglass, however, has come a long way over the last decade or two, and tends to be the industry standard by now.

Museum-grade glass has long provided the clearest view of the artwork underneath. With UV-filtering options easily attainable, it is a great option for your framing needs. Plexiglass has evolved in years past, and now offers all of the benefits of glass, plus a few bonus features. With UV-protectant coatings filtering out harmful rays that are a detriment to paintings, prints, and especially photography, Plexiglass now offers the protection that glass once dominated. In addition, you can now purchase plexiglass that provides a virtually glare-free viewing experience.

Plexiglass, in its most advanced form, provides all of the benefits that museum glass once cornered the market on. With an anti-reflective surface that filters 50-75% of UV rays, it is anti-static and scratch resistant, and is a sound alternative.

For me, it boils down to a few key details. Glass is heavy. It also breaks easily. I moved around quite a bit, and the thought of packing and lugging around artwork framed with glass was enough to cause a panic attack. Plexiglass is light and virtually impossible to break. Big bonuses for my transient lifestyle.

The cons? Well, there’s the slightly abstract idea that plexiglass is, technically, a polymer, which means that it requires petroleum for its production. An ardent conservationist would question its archival qualities, long term. I suppose that I just can’t seem to comprehend the length of time that it would take for the material to have a negative effect on a piece of artwork, but it is, in fact, a danger. It will take a very, very long time to see the negative effect on condition of the artwork it is paired with, but it is a danger nonetheless.

Also, although plexiglass can be scratch resistant, it is still, decidedly, much easier to scratch than ordinary glass. Many of my pieces of artwork, framed with plexi, show battle scars from my many moves. But, for me, those scars would have been fatalities had they been framed in glass.

So, for my money, I am definitely pro-plexiglass. Acrylite OP-3 is my plex of choice, and I have been very happy with the results. It is not more expensive, and has stood the test of time for my artwork, when I am certain glass would have died, and perhaps taken my artwork with it. The galleries and museums that I have worked for in the past definitely shaped my decision, as I have witnessed very few folks opting for glass.

What are your experiences in framing? Have you discovered your perfect solution?

Images: Jessica Tata