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Animation Cel Framing

Framing Animation Cels

Malificent animation cel with black fabric mat and gold ornate frame

Animation cels, or celluloid used in film production before computer animation, are transparent sheets of cellulose on which pictures were outlined with ink on one side and then painted by hand on the reverse. Since the introduction of computer animation, animation cels have become collectible icons of twentieth-century popular culture. Their fragility requires special handling and archival framing techniques that our staff is trained to manage. Please come into our shop or contact us and we can discuss the best way to frame your cel.

Framed Little Mermaid animation cel

Animation cels are delicate, easily scratched, and should be handled only by their edges using clean cotton gloves. They should not be hinged to their backings. Instead, we use no adhesives on the cels and recommend the use of edge strips that gently hold the layers in place. We don’t recommend corner pockets because the cels could droop without support along the edges. Like all fine art, animation cels must be framed using preservation grade acid-free and lignin-free matting and ultraviolet-protective glazing to help protect their delicate colors. Due to the fragile nature of this art, which could be damaged in an accident, we strongly recommend ultraviolet-protective acrylic rather than glass.

Animation cel layers mounted and separated by mats

Each animated film sequence was composed of multiple celluloid layers filmed with different layer combinations against a static background image. Today these cel sets are collected and preserved for posterity. Animation cels, however, were not created to be permanent. Adhesives used in the paint, for example, helped the paint stick to the cellulose, but also increased the likelihood that the paint would stick to the background or other cel layers. Framing fragile animation layers, therefore, requires a preservation procedure that protects these cellulose layers from one another. Since animation cels are painted on both sides of each layer, they need to be matted on both sides to insure sufficient air space between them. This precaution not only aids the preservation of the paint, but also allows dramatically sets off the layering, giving them a 3-D effect.

Framed Little Mermaid animation cel
Close-up of Little Mermaid animation cel layer

At The Framer's Workshop we are happy to provide a free inspection of animation cels before any framing decisions are made. We will look at the cel layers with you and help you make decisions regarding the use of a conservator and the preservation framing of these historic items. 


Display your framed animation cels with care. The gum-arabic paints used to create many of these cels are sensitive to temperature and humidity. Never display them in direct sunlight. We recommend hanging your framed cels on a cool, dry, inside wall that is not subject to temperature changes.

Little Mermaid animation cel layer in white mat
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