This document will self-destruct in 30 secs!


Or how to remove pressure sensitive tapes, without removing them

We have spoken about bibliopaths, about misuses and how to eradicate its effects… But, what happens when the artefact itself causes its own degradation?

It’s not a spy movie’s myth: many documents self-destruct, such as iron-gall ink manuscripts (s.IX-XIX). But caducity is not only an old materials issue, it is -in contrast- very common in contemporary works. On the one hand due to miraculous products of questionable efficacy, and secondly because Art is no longer composed of a material elite. Anything goes today: recycled products, plastics of unknown durability…

Lets focus now on the restoration of the matter, and leave to metaphysicists the valuation of these art revelations so peculiarly materialized. We already have the difficulty to establish an intervention criteria, plus the inconvenience of premature expiry of its components; and they both will contribute to make the restoration of these media quite complex.
The criterion, to what extent a restoration takes place, is especially committed when the author of the work didn’t intended it to last. Is it then permissible to try to stop the effect of time? With all due respect for their creators, it might be more convenient that they were deceased, so there will be less people to give an opinion!

Tracing paper plan, before treatmentOnion skin paper drawing before treatment
The above examples never intended to last. They are transient studies of a definitive (and more stable) work, which we strive on preserving in order to have a snapshot of its creative process. You might think I have prosecution issues: they are all covered with sellotape!
The problem in both drawings was that the sensitive tape belonged to the original document even before it was finished. The ink is on top of the polypropilene tape, and not on the tracing paper. Must we leave the fatty adhesive to keep on damaging the document? Must we remove it?
If the tape is removed... so is the drawing!!!The tape is already removed...and now what?!
After long deliberations, this is what was done:

  • Remove the scotch tape.
  • Remove the fatty remnants from the subjacent paper, and also from the plastic strip (called backing or carrier).
  • Paste again the “cleaned” scotch tape strip, using a non-fatty synthetic adhesive.

Tracing paper plan after restoration Onion skin paper drawing after treatment
This way we preserve the looks and intention of the original work, but we have eradicated the damaging agent.

But there’s an issue I could not solve, however much I pondered about it, and is the fact that in one of them the plastic strip was shrank, deforming with it the drawing lines, which remained discontinued. Several solutions  were possible, none of them completely satisfactory.
Houston: we have a problem... lines don't follow!  Onion skin paper with fatty adhesive before treatment
(Houston): We restored it... and now we have only half a problem!  Onion skin paper with fatty adhesive after treatment (CLICK!)
Finally I chose to relocate the sensitive tape into a position where fewer lines remained interrupted. I invite you to suggest other solutions… and give your opinion!

Share ALIKE mentioning AUTHOR and LINK



Historical Archive of the Association of Architects of Catalonia (CoAC); owner of all the plans above mentioned and who trusted me for their restoration. Many thanks!

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11 thoughts on “This document will self-destruct in 30 secs!

  1. I think you came up with a very clever and effective solution to the ink transfer problem! Can you give us more details about the materials you used for cleaning the scotch strip (locally from what I understood?) and the new acrylic paste you used for the replacement?

    • Thanks Adia,
      I used solvents to remove the tapes, there were diferent kinds of, on each one I might choose a diferent one. Non-polar all of them.
      The adhesive used to paste the scotch tape again is a mixture of of ethylene vinyl acetate, cyclohexanone resin and ethylene vinyl acetate copolymer.

  2. Hello. Very informative and this article goes along with another that I will be posting on my website Passed Time ( Do you mind if I share it on Passed Time? I would, of course, give you full credit and link back to your site?

    • Hi Pat,
      Thanks a lot for your comment!
      Rather than sharing the whole post I would prefer that you included the excerpt and a link to the complete post. If you want to include an image to catch attention, please let it be the one from ritaudina’s domain, instead of downloading it and placing it to yours.
      Thanks a lot!

  3. Very interesting Rita,
    What I would like to know is what makes the carrier shrink? Have you tried using heat to expand it (for instance between the drawn lines)? Or wil it start cockling? Maybe you could share this with contemporary art restorers specialized in plastics. I’m thinking of Thea van Oosten.

    • Hi Val,
      I don’t know what made the tape shrink, I guess heat. Maybe it’s no t clear enough on the text, but the tape had already shrank significantly before I started any treatment (on the previous general image that can be seen).
      I guess “bad” polymers age this way, in certain conditions. I thought that any attempt to enlarge it would be quite risky… but yes, I could have contacted an expert on that. I will next time, and I save this name for the future.
      Thanks a lot Valérie!

  4. Interesting solution!

    Another option would be to scan the document before treatment so that the information is preserved as is, and print new copies out on good quality paper.

    This might be an option when there are limited funds available for treatment, or the value of the documents does not warrant treatment.

    • Sure Jane!
      Restoration is always the most intrusive option, and as long as it is not needed it’s not worth spending the money to remove every single sellotape 😉

  5. Dear Rita,

    I am fascinated and intruged by this concept of removing the destructive element of the tape, whilst retaining the original cleaned tape. It makes perfect sense.

    I am currently researching the possibility of using ultrasonics & solvents to remove stains from documents, It’s a broad field and I suspect that the development will run into years rather than months. I am focusing on oil/glue/adhesive based marks at the moment.

    If I am successful it would be helpful with sellotape marks, as well a range of other stains/water marks, organic glues used in bookbinding etc.

    I am working with colleagues at the Wellcome Trust & the British Library currently.

    My ‘normal’ work is related to plastics to some degree, but more specifically with Mylar & Melinex, using ultrasonic technology to fuse/weld polyester sheets together for document encapsulation.

    I suspect that any efforts to alter the original plastic strips would be detrimental, and the chances are that over time, due to the molecular ‘ memory’ it would eventually deform again.

    With regards

      • My pleasure Rita,

        I shall put you on my ‘hit-list’ of people to contact at the first cry of… Eureka..!!!


        Keep up the great work.

        Best regards,


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