What is Glassine?

We want to continue with a bit of information regarding the protection of art works. When mentioning some of these materials to artists they are not familiar with them. Collectors should familiarize themselves with the proper handling on their art, especially if an exhibition loan is requested, or transporting for a residential move. We all know things often get damaged while moving, and we in Florida have the added issue of weather, as there has been a bit of rain the past few days.

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Glassine is a smooth translucent paper, without tooth, which is air, grease, and water resistant.  It is the best paper for protecting delicate artworks, especially pastels and charcoal sketches.

Recently I decided to store away some rough pencil and pastel test sketches for future reference.  Going to the local art store I was surprised to find that not only did they not stock glassine paper, all but one of the staff had not heard of it.  Ringing around some other artist friends to see if I could borrow some glassine in the meantime, I was surprised that none had heard of it.  When asked what they used to interleave between sensitive drawings, most replied tissue – this surprised me because tissue paper generally has a tooth which can seriously damage delicate surfaces such as on pastel and charcoal sketches if any rubbing occurs (which it will).

So what is glassine, and why do you need it?  Glassine is a very smooth special type of paper.  Art quality glassine is pH neutral (i.e. acid free) and supercalendered i.e. it goes through a rolling process during manufacture several times to make it extremely smooth.  Consequently it does not have a tooth which can abrade delicate drawings.  Further, it is generally non-static, and it is for these reasons that glassine envelopes are extensively used in the photographic industry to protect negatives – the emulsion side of negatives are gelatine based and very sensitive to moisture, scratching, and dust.

Glassine is resistant to moisture and grease, so theoretically could be used over the top of not-yet-dry oil paintings should you have to transport them and are worried about the surface touching things.

Glassine is used in book repair.  Stamp collectors have glassine sheets over the pages with their stamps to protect the surface against rubbing.  Glassine is used by museums in the form of envelopes for storing butterfly specimens.  Sometimes it is used to wrap meat and delicatessen foods.  Lastly, it is used for protecting delicate drawings and paintings.

There really is no substitute for glassine for protecting the surface of artwork during transit or storage.  You  should cover the surface of the artwork with glassine prior to wrapping in any other protective packaging. Remember that tissue paper is not a substitute for glassine.

Where do you find it and is it expensive?  Most good purveyors of art materials should stock it, though you may also be able to source it through packaging specialists. Canson Glassine Roll – 36 Inches x 20 Yards

As for expense, a large sheet of approximately A0 size was less than $3.  At this price, it is a cheap and wise investment.  I now keep my own stock, as I never know when I might want to store artwork rather than frame it – my last use was when I had to bond a piece of artwork on canvas to a hardboard substrate.  As I had to apply gentle pressure while the bond cured, glassine was used to protect the surface of the artwork while a smooth board and weights were placed over the glassine. For the innovative artist, you will soon find a myriad of uses for glassine, and wonder how you ever got along without it.

Antonia Luz Ines