The influence of morphological changes in the microstructure of acrylic dispersion paint films on their material properties


  • Lead school Bern Academy of the Arts
  • Institute Institute Materiality in Art and Culture 
  • Research unit Technology in Art and Culture
  • Funding organisation BFH
  • Duration 01.01.2008 - 31.12.2009
  • Project management Dr. Nadim Scherrer
  • Head of project Dr. Nadim Scherrer
  • Project staff Dr. Stefan Zumbühl
  • Keywords chemical contrasting techniques, SEM, art, material contrast


The potential of chemical contrasting techniqes in SEM analysis shall be systematically evaluated and optimised for material research in the field of art technological research. Both reference systems and case studies shall be tested.

Course of action

Material degradation often initiates structural changes on a microscopic scale. Micro-imaging techniques are thus very helpful to understand degradation phenomena inducing morphological changes. This knowledge is fundamental for the development of conservation strategies. The use of contrasting chemicals broadens the applicability of electron microscopy and is well established in other fields, but requires adaptation to materials relevant in art technological research.


The application of liquid contrasting media to oil- or alkyd paints was not successful. This research demonstrates the potential of contrasting acrylic dispersion paint systems with uranylacetate to study the sub-micromorphology of such paint films. This was applied to study the influence of thermal ageing on material properties of dispersion systems. In combination with tensile testing and other experiments, significant changes were documented at temperatures as low as 40°C.

Looking ahead

The application of liquid contrast media to the study of binding media of modern artist’s paints has clear limitations. Modern high-end FTIR systems equipped with FPA detectors may potentially gain similar information in a more direct way.