Glossary of conservation materials

Handling, packing and moving museum objects is integral to the effective management of collections, and also areas in which damage often occurs.

Archival quality tissue, card and board

Acid free tissue and paper is used for wrapping, interleaving and buffering and is supplied in sheets and roles. It is available in different weights. Paper can be used to make enclosures – and enclosures can be bought ready made. Acid free card and board is used for mounting and for making boxes. Boxes can also be bought ready made.

Tissue and card is ‘acidic’ if it contains lignin (and other impurities) from wood pulp – the lignin breaks down over time, producing harmful acidic by-products, which cause the tissue or card to deteriorate and will harm any object with which it is in contact. Acid free tissue and card is produced by excluding lignin in the manufacturing process.

Acid free tissue, card and board can be bought ‘buffered’ and ‘unbuffered’. Buffered has an alkaline composition, and can be used with objects made from synthetic materials, or for objects with a plant origin, such as cotton and linen, where its properties protect surrounding objects and surfaces from acidity migrating from the stored object. Unbuffered is neutral, it is neither acidic or alkaline, and it can be used with objects made from proteins with an animal origin like feathers, fur, silk and wool. If in doubt it is safer to use unbuffered tissue, which is also usually cheaper.

Archival quality polyester

Archival quality polyester is used for the transparent protection of manuscripts, comics, prints and drawings, maps and charts, photographic prints, posters, wallpaper and works of art on paper.

Archival quality polyester is a transparent, colourless, inert plastic. It must not contain plasticizers, surface coatings, UV inhibitors of absorbants, and must be dimensionally stable and resistant to most chemicals, moisture and abrasion.

It can be bought in a variety of thicknesses and can be bought by the roll and in ready made pockets and envelopes. Trade names for archival quality polyester used in museums include: Secol, Mylar and Melinex.


Tyveck is a trade name for a material that is made from spun-bonded polyolefin. It is inert, lightweight and very strong. It can be stapled, stitched and glued. It is difficult to tear but can easily be cut with scissors or a knife. Water vapour can pass through Tyvevk, but not liquid water.

In museums it is used to make very lightweight, water repellent covers for objects. It is also commonly used for museum labels, particularly for immersed natural history specimens, as it is water resistant.

Unbleached & undyed cotton or calico

Calico is a close woven, unbleached and undyed cheap cotton fabric.

It is used to make padded hangers for textile collections and dust covers for objects. As it shrinks it is usually washed before use.

Archival polyethylene foam

Archival polyethylene foam is an inert non-abrasive foam with low water absorption and vapour transmission. It is easy to handle, cut, and shape and is available in a variety of densities and thicknesses. It is an excellent shock absorber and higher densities and thickness can cushion heavy items.

In museums it has a wide variety of uses. It can be cut to the shape of objects using a scalpel or knife and can therefore be tailored to complex shapes. It is used to line display cases, drawers and shelves in both 3mm and 6mm thicknesses, and in either black or white. It is easily cut using scissors, paper cutters or a utility knife.It is also available with an acrylic adhesive backing.

Trade names for archival polyethylene foam used in museums include Plastazote, Ethafoam and Jiffy Foam.

Date created: 2016

Author: Collections Trust

Publisher: Collections Trust