The words ‘linen-backed’ can be found all over the Cinema Poster Gallery website and in this article, we will do a deep dive into the subject. We will look at the benefits of backing a poster and examine the process, skills and materials required to back a poster to the highest standard.

Two major benefits  of linen backing could be summarised as Aesthetic Improvement & Restoration.


With some exceptions, nearly all original cinema posters printed before the 1980s were folded after they were printed. By adhering a poster to a flat surface, linen-backing removes the fold lines from a poster which arguably improve the appearance.

The flattened surface of a linen-backed poster also makes the framers job less complicated. In turn a framed linen backed poster can look better than a framed folded poster but this is a matter of personal taste.


The fold lines on a poster can be considered as lines of weakness. A poster is most likely to separate, gather dirt or lose colour along the fold lines. Gluing the poster to a  sheet of linen addresses the problem of the splitting paper while cleaning/washing the poster will remove dirt. The thought of ‘gluing and washing’ a precious poster may fill you with horror and we will address this later in the article.

So, let’s look at some photos. We show the front and back of a Scarface and Octopussy poster. By coincidence, both posters are 40 years old as they were printed for the first release of the films. A few flaws are noticeable. The Scarface poster has an extra vertical fold and some writing has been scribbled on the back. This often isn’t a big deal but text, writing or stamps on the back can show through on a white fronted poster. Liquid has been spilled on Octopussy poster which anyone who has ever knocked a glass of water over papers will recognise. Its also has some pinholes and paper loss on the top right hand side.

Moving on to the materials, much of the work in linen-backing is undertaken before the poster is really touched. A frame is selected based on the poster size and below you can see both sides of a frame that has been prepped for the poster we will back.  The flat surface (that looks a lot like a canvas a painter would use) is the linen which has been stapled to the edges of the frame with any residuals cut off. The other side of the frame with the metal border is where we will put the poster and notice how smooth and flat the surface looks compared to the courser linen. This surface is in fact pH neutral paper which has been adhered to the linen with archival quality PVA glue and left to dry for 24 hours. The reverse of the poster will later be adhered to the paper. There is more than one technique to back a poster but using this technique, the poster is glued to paper which in turn is glued to the linen.

We can now begin the work on the poster, and we start by cleaning it. The poster is  gently sprayed with a (non-acidic) ph neutral detergent spray and placed in a bath of water. These steps may take people by surprise and lead to questions such as does the poster not simply disintegrate? One of the beauties of original posters is that the materials used to produce them are excellent. For this reason the posters don’t disintegrate, and the inks don’t run when they come into contact with water. Put a fake copy or a cheaper reproduction in a water bath and the results will likely be very different. Despite the quality of the poster, touching the surface with fingers or brushes is avoided and a transparent film (similar that wrapped around a bunch of flowers) is layered on top of the poster.

With the poster now cleaned we go back to the linen canvas. Before putting the poster in the bath, the paper surface will have been marked with a pencil using the sides of the poster. These markings enable the poster to be placed squarely on the papers surface. Glue is then rolled onto the area inside the markings which equates to the surface area of the poster.

It is now time to transfer the poster from the bath to the surface of the linen. Two conservationists stand top and bottom of the bath and lift the poster in the corners.  They then move towards the frame and gently lower the poster to the surface area that has been marked with guidelines.

After ensuring the poster has been squarely placed, it is now time to press the poster to the surface of the linen/paper back while ensuring no bubbles form on the surface of the poster. Rollers and brushes are used for this process. The film on the surface of the poster has prevented any damage by the previous steps and it can now be removed   This flattening process will cause residue glue to be pushed to the sides of the poster and this is soaked up with a sponge. This completes this stage of the work, and the posters can be left to dry (as per the main image in the article).

Once fully drying the linen, can be cut out of the frames and the last major step of the process is to do any restoration work. Typically, there will be some colour loss along the original fold lines and any signs of staining can be gently ‘touched up’ as well. Pencils or water-based oils are generally used for this restoration stage. The important point at every stage of the process is that any action taken can be reversed. The pencils and oils can be erased, and the glue is also soluble enabling the poster to be removed from the linen without it disintegrating.

So how did our original posters turn out? Rather well, most of the staining has been removed and the fold lines are barely perceptible (other than to the trained or critical eye). The pin holes have also largely disappeared as the glue has helped these tiny holes to close. The creasing caused by the water damage has completely disappeared as the poster has been flattened. Some barely visible restoration with water-based oil has prevented the red writing on the Scarface poster showing through. The posters have a newer appearance, they will remain stronger backed to linen and likely age better in the future.

And that’s it. The only thing left to do is thank Sun and Chris Jones for showing me their studio and craft.

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The Cinema Posters of Drew Struzan

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