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Clarity in Conservation-grade framing: The evolution of UV-protective glass 

Conservation framing is a critical aspect of preserving and protecting artworks – in public museums, private collections, and our homes.  Archival framing involves a range of high-quality materials, the most important being the picture-framing glass. 

Custom framing glass has to protect art, without obstructing the view to it.  The history of picture framing glass has been an evolution of advancements and improvements in both glass clarity and protection – all leading to the best conservation-grade glass so far: Artglass AR 99 Water White.

The History of Picture Framing Glass

Artwork protection dates back to the 14th century when art was sometimes protected by covering it with windows of mica, parchment, or vellum. Although glass has been used in windows and stained glass art, it wasn’t until the 17th century that glass started being used for artwork protection purposes. The first glass panes were not flat but had a wavy and uneven surface.

In 1832, the adaptation of glass production with the cylinder method by the British Crown Glass Company in England transformed the picture-framing glass industry. Glass became much more accessible and affordable, leading to more widespread use in the framing industry.

Advancements and Improvements

Advancements and improvements in picture-framing glass quality began in the 20th century. The glass innovators kept thinking of ways to make glass as clear as possible, and consistent in its thickness. The invention of the float glass process in the 1960s created much clearer and flatter glass with fewer bubbles or waves.

Soda-lime glass (also referred to as “float glass” and “clear glass”) is the most common type of glass used around the world. This type of glass has a  green tint caused by the iron content, which can alter the colors transmitted through the glass. 

Water white glass

Float glass substrate contains iron that gives it a green tint which can be seen both on the glass edges and surface. Reducing the iron content in the glass produces a clearer glass substrate that doesn’t alter the transmitted colors. This can be best observed by placing the glass on a piece of white paper.

In comparison, low-iron glass (also referred to as “water white” glass) contains a minimal amount of impurities, creating a truly clear and colorless glass.

This substrate type offers unparalleled clarity and enhanced color accuracy, making it ideal for framing photography, graphics, and other intricate and detailed pieces.

Why “just glass” is not enough for custom framing

Glass is a transparent material, which means that defects and impurities can be especially visible, especially when placed directly in front of an artwork in a museum. There are several aspects that can affect the viewing experience through glass:

Substrate clarity

The glass composition and iron content can affect light transmission and the appearance of framed art. Low-iron substrate generally ensures ~1% difference in light transmission, ensuring better color precision. Float-glass-based products will have a greenish undertone, especially visible on white and light-colored artworks.

Glass surface smoothness

Glass smoothness is one of the most important qualities that can affect the viewing performance. The smoother the glass is, the crisper the resolution and overall transmitted image quality. Glass with etched or matte finish diffuses light and removes contrast from images, especially when framed with depth.

Glass surface reflections

The most complicated issue to address in terms of glass clarity has been the reflections. Generally, glass reflects around 8% of light, creating noise and distraction on the framed image. Getting rid of these reflections has been the largest advancement in picture framing glass, and has opened new possibilities for custom framing and glass clarity.

Eliminating reflections for superior clarity 

The first introduction to anti-reflective low-iron glass by Artglass was another major improvement in glass clarity, meaning that glass could be used as physical protection without sacrificing the artwork’s visibility.

Anti-reflective coatings ensure that more light is steered through the glass, resulting in higher transparency and improved viewing experience. Anti-reflective glass is available in a range of thicknesses and can be combined with other functional coatings on glass or acrylic.

History of UV-protective glass

When placed in front of the artwork, the glass acts as a protective barrier between the artwork and the outside environment, like humidity, dust, etc. But any artwork that is exhibited for people to see can also suffer from UV light damage. UV-light exposure raises another important aspect of picture framing – protection against fading.

The process of applying the aforementioned anti-reflective coatings has an additional benefit of providing 70-92% UV protection. This level of UV protection is enough for certain types of reproducible art. However, conservation and archival standards dictate that to be classified as conservation-grade, glass has to block at least 97% of UV light to provide maximum protection from fading.

That is how the category of UV-blocking glass came to be – for exhibiting important pieces of art, while also protecting them from harmful UV light exposure. UV-blocking glass contains a coating that absorbs 99% of UV radiation. The UV-blocking coating historically has had a color tint and used to only be applied on a float glass substrate, staying behind other glass types in terms of color precision. The UV-protective coating was also easier to scratch, making one side of the glass more susceptible to scratches and damage.

Artglass AR 99 Water White –  the best of both worlds

Artglass AR 99 Water White addresses several problems of museum-grade glass and brings it to new clarity standards.  It achieves an incredible 99% UV protection while maintaining excellent clarity.

It is made from low-iron substrate and hence eliminates the green/brown substrate tint, present in traditional UV-blocking glass. And, of course, it is anti-reflective, combining the best of glass advancements into one picture-framing product. Artglass AR 99 Water White is designed specifically for the picture framing industry, with custom framers in mind.

To improve the framer’s experience with this museum-grade product, the UV-coated side is covered with a special recyclable protective film. The film helps framers identify the UV-coated side and protects it during the product handling steps. 

The Art of Production – Artglass AR 99 Water White

The highest-quality materials for your custom masterpieces

The picture-framing glass industry has evolved, leading to improvements in both glass clarity and protection. Artglass AR 99 Water White is a testament to the advances in picture framing glass, providing unparalleled clarity and protection for artworks.

Specialized picture-framing glass allows museums and institutions to display and protect art, as well as makes it accessible to others. Artglass is a way to show that you care about art – not just now, but also what happens to it years from now. 

Find your closest framing store and ask for Artglass AR 99 Water White! 

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