All posts by Daniele Knoetze

Tape: A paper conservators’ worst nightmare

by Daniéle Knoetze and Nancy Child


After the documentation is done a treatment proposal is written. This proposal helps gather your thoughts about how to approach the challenges that each object present. It is important to recognize and address the specific challenges and choose the most appropriate treatment for each individual object, keeping in mind its condition and intended use.

Aside from treating the objects itself controlling the environment in which the paper objects are stored is also part of the process to slow down the process of deterioration and preserve the objects for future generations.

Treatments can involve techniques like surface cleaning, deacidification, mending tears and losses, flattening, and re-binding to improve the object’s structural stability.

It is important to note that this process should only be carried out by trained conservators who have experience in handling delicate paper objects. Improper treatment can cause further damage to the paper object and result in permanent loss of information.

Tape Removal

Since the invention of pressure-sensitive tapes in the 1920’s it became an ideal solution for a variety of applications. This is because it is inexpensive, universally available, and convenient to use. However, as all conservators know and have experienced the long-term effects of pressure-sensitive tape are disfiguring, damaging, and it is very difficult to remove. So, in short, it is a conservator’s worst nightmare.  

Removing tape from paper can be a delicate process and is not without its risks. Before trying to remove the tape, the conservator will assess the type of tape used and the paper’s condition to determine the most appropriate method of removal. Methods may include using solvents or mechanical removal.

Mechanical removal

The paper objects are placed on a flat, hard surface and stabilised with weights. A spatula and scalpel are used to gently work the edge of the tape. Another mechanical treatment method is to use a tacking iron. The heat softens the adhesive making it easier to remove.  

Figure 2: Manually removing the tape with hand tools.

Solvent Removal

Klucel G and the appropriate solvent is painted on top of the pressure sensitive tape. This allows the solvent to penetrate the tape and swells the adhesive layer. The tape can then be removed gently with a tweezer and spatula. Residue of the tape can also be removed with an erasure.

Removing tape is a common challenge in any paper conservator’s life. But with the increased understanding of the aging behavior of pressure-sensitive tape and the properties of solvents, the challenge becomes more manageable.  The improved equipment and to the sharing of methods and techniques also contributes to the successful treatments of removing tape.

Figure 5: The solvent must only be applied to the area that is being worked on.

Tear mending

Because of the objects structural instability some reinforcement is needed. This was done through using Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. Japanese paper is prized for its strength and texture. Wheat starch paste is a commonly used adhesive in paper conservation because of its reversible character, meaning it can be easily removed, if necessary, without damaging the paper.

Tear repairs, reattaching loose pieces, and filling in gaps can be achieved successfully with the help of hand tools such as a brush, spatula, scalpel, and a bone folder, to make the job easier.

After the treatment is completed, the object is now stabilized and safe to handle and can go back to the care of its owner. Treating paper objects is definitely high risk and the objects are sometimes unforgiving. But a successful treatment result is what makes paper conservation so rewarding.