Disparate objects UNITE! Preservation housing adventures in Mylar

This post was contributed by Nicole Royal, Preservation Projects Specialist at the UVA Library.

It’s Preservation Week 2021! During this time, libraries and other cultural institutions across the nation highlight their work in the pursuit of preservation education and information. Coordinated by the American Library Association each year, we hope you will take the opportunity to learn more about UVA Library’s Preservation program on our website and on Twitter.

Preservation staff in libraries, archives, and museums are often challenged to preserve and provide access to collection objects with unique housing needs. These can be especially tricky if they have distinctive parts, which cannot (or should not) be separated, are constructed from different materials, and are connected in a way that has the potential to cause damage over time (such as during use and handling).

An ideal preservation housing for these items would allow the objects to be safely stored, while also facilitating use.

Enter (…wait for it…): the Mylar tray with insert!

Getting started

Before we begin, it is important to note that Mylar isn’t ideal for every project. It produces a static charge and tends to collect dust, eraser crumbs, and other things while you work. Having clean hands and a clean work bench helps, but it shouldn’t be used with media that is loose, flaking, or moveable (i.e., charcoal drawings, pastels or an object with flaking paint).

Tools used:

  1. Mylar: The project in this example used 4mm, but 3mm would also work (learn more about Mylar and its preservation uses)
  2. Pencil and eraser
  3. Ruler or tape measure
  4. Olfa, X-Acto knife, or scalpel
  5. Bone Folder (I also used a Teflon folder, personal preference, but not necessary)
  6. Triangle
  7. Double-sided tape
  8. Gloves (optional, but Mylar tends to get covered in your fingerprints.)

Work table with gloves, tape, ruler, Mylar roll, pencil, eraser, knife, and tape measure

A postcard with a keychain hanging over the top. The keychain is a chain with a small football at the end.

Please note: Model objects were used for the purpose of this demonstration, to illustrate an example of how I have used this process to create housings for special collections material.

Pencil and ruler with hand-written note showing measurements

Start by measuring your object and its parts. Include the height, width, and depth (at the thickest point). Write these measurements down because you will continue to refer to them throughout this process.

Side view of small football laying on card. An arrow points to the vertical height of the ball.

In this case, the depth is measured here

Consider your measurements for the largest or primary item — in this case, the postcard. You will need to add 2x the depth of the secondary piece (in this case, the attached 3D chained piece) to both the height and the width; this will provide you enough material to form the walls of the Mylar tray. Allow for a bit of space around the primary object, enough for ease in placement and a comfortable fit” in the tray, but not so much it slides around. I tend to add a millimeter (or two) for this purpose.

Making the tray

Cut your Mylar to size using your preferred tools. Use a bone folder and triangle to score your folds.

A gloved person uses a bone folder to score a sheet of Mylar

Carefully fold along your scored lines (I use the Teflon folder), to create the beginnings of the walls for your tray.

A gloved person holds a clear plastic sheet with creases around the edges as if to make a box

Decide which edges, long or short, you will cut to create the tabs/flaps. These will wrap around the outside of the walls to create the corners.

A box cutter sits beside the edge of Mylar with a small cut to allow for corner folds

Place your object inside before proceeding further; now would be a good time for a fit check with your item.

With the bottom tray constructed, the item is now placed inside the tray to make sure it fits.

If the fit is good, use the double-sided tape to secure the tabs/flaps and attach them to the outside edge.

An X of tape can be seen on the corner flap on the Mylar sheet

The tray should look something like this:

Clear plastic tray with sides, fully assembled

Creating the insert

Next, create the insert. It will lay gently on top of the primary object to provide easy viewing while keeping the secondary/attached piece from moving around and causing damage. Remember the measurements you noted earlier — the object dimensions (H x W x D)? You will need them here. Don’t worry about adding the 2x calculation again; we’re not making walls at this juncture.

Cut another piece of Mylar to the height and width of the primary object (in this example, the postcard). Round the corners, as Mylar is sharp. Along the top edge, make a mark where the secondary/three-dimensional piece connects to the (primary piece) postcard. Using care, measure the width of the attached (secondary) 3D component and mark it with your pencil directly on the Mylar aligned exactly where the piece rests. Use the Olfa knife to make a cut down the center of this marked area. Then make another cut, perpendicular along the bottom of the marked area, creating two flaps. (Take care not to cut beyond the length of the chain or secondary object attachment.) Fold the flaps up and back. Round the corners of these flaps. This creates an opening in the insert for the chain that attaches these dissimilar objects together.

A gloved hand points to an open panel with flaps, like window shutters

The same item with window opening and flaps like shutters is help up for a different view

Making piece 3: Internal casing

Cut a third piece of Mylar to the dimensions H x W x D of the secondary/attached object (x2 for Depth only, to account for walls) and round the corners. Mark the width and, using the bone folder, score, and fold the sides to create walls. The walls should be the same height as the walls of the tray. The third piece should be “U” shaped, and look like this:

A gloved hand holds a U-shaped piece of Mylar, which will form 3 sides to a box for the football

Check the size of the third piece, noting the height (equal to the height of the 3D object), depth (equal to the walls of tray) and width (equal to the width of the 3D object). You will notice, in this case, the walls are taller than the walls I created for the chain. If correct, apply double-sided tape to the underside of the third piece of Mylar and secure it into place on top of the insert.

The completed insert should look like this, with a pocket for the hanging item:

The assembled insert, with box for the football, opening for the chain, and flat space elsewhere


With the parts and pieces complete, put it all together now.

The fully-assembled final piece. The postcard sits in the clear box, and the insert sits on top of the postcard and provides support to the keychain, without allowing the keychain to rub against the card directly

Upon completion, this Mylar tray provides the student/researcher/instructor with an unobstructed view while in use or consultation. For long-term storage, the tray would be stored in a box with a lid, on shelves in the stacks area when not in use.

The Mylar tray with insert can be created rather quickly and easily once you have a bit of experience. These instructions can be easily altered or modified to fit different needs and preferences. In fact, I’m already considering alternatives to incorporate a similar housing for another set of objects.

This piece, written by Preservation Projects Specialist Nicole Royal, offers insight into one of the many strategies our preservation team has developed for housing dissimilar formats.

Read more about Preservation Week from the American Library Association.

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