Fiber lasers can be used to remove a wide-variety of contaminants and particles from any material, this is especially applicable to the artwork. Using ablation and cleaning techniques, fiber lasers are an excellent tool for the restoration of artwork.
Why do artworks need cleaning?
Artworks will over time naturally become discoloured and may look dusty – people may comment they have lost their lustre/splendour.
Artworks are vulnerable to pollutants and contaminants such as body oils (if touched by fingers especially), candle smoke (especially in religious buildings), dirt, dust, smoking pollutants (nicotine, soot and smoke damage) and traffic grime (if exposed to traffic fumes) as well as others too.
Artwork may also have been subject to a range of environmental factors such as extremes of heat (e.g. cold and hot (including fire damage)), humidity and light (particularly sunlight glare).
In addition, the protective varnish applied to many paintings will naturally degrade and be subject to polymerization and photo-oxidation, this results in a dark and hard film layer.
What type of artworks can fiber lasers clean?
Artwork covers a multitude of items. For the purposes of this article we primarily intend to include ceramics, collages, drawings, interior design pieces (e.g. ornaments, vases, etc.), paintings, prints, sculptures and many other artwork pieces too. Fiber lasers can assist with the cleaning of all of these artworks.
The cleaning process explained
Essentially fiber lasers clean artwork through ablation, this is a highly selective and definable process where the surface contamination is ablated off the surface, in doing so restoring the artwork to its former glory.
The artwork restorer will use a laser wavelength that targets the surface layer only and not the layers underneath (i.e. the artwork itself). This means the surface contaminants (through laser heat) are ablated off. Each laser pulse can be targeted to remove a minimal thickness of material at a time.
Advantages of artwork restoration with lasers
There are many advantages of artwork restoration with a laser. We have already covered some of these earlier, but summarise the various advantages below:
- Chemical free – the laser restoration process is chemical-free. Chemical cleaning is fraught with risk and includes toxicity, corrosiveness and discolouration to art pieces. Chemicals can permanently damage an artwork, considerably reducing its value
- Precision and control – as with all laser processes, ultimate precision and control is a major benefit. This is particularly important with art restoration where intricacy and care are all-important
- Speed – the whole process is very fast, artworks can be restored very quickly compared to traditional methods
- Targeted areas – related to the precision and control is a benefit that specific areas of the artwork can be targeted easily, even down to sizes below what the human eye can see