Beta radiography

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Antique Laid Paper with Straubourg Lily Watermark


A radiographic technique that uses a plane beta source to produce an image on a radiographic film. Since 1967, beta radiography has used a source plate composed of a thin polymethacrylate sheet labeled with radioactive carbon-14. This isotope emits pure beta particles of low energy (150 keV), which can penetrate a maximum of 10 inches of air, 0.3 mm of skin or a sheet of paper (Kushel). The technique is performed by first layering a sheet of film, emulsion side up, then the paper to be examine, covered with the beta plate. A glass weight or vacuum is applied to press the layers together and minimize air gaps which deteriorate the image quality. The image corresponds to the mass per unit area of the paper or material being examined. Thin layers of organic ink or paint usually do not appear on the radiograph but mineral ink or paint absorb the beta particles and so appear on the radiograph. Beta radiography produces high quality and high contrast images of watermarks and other texture characteristics of paper. Due to legal issues concerning the use of radioactive sources, electron transmission radiography is a possible substitution technique.

Synonyms and Related Terms

bêtagraphie (Fr.); Betaradiographie (Deut.); radiografia por particulas beta (Port.)

Resources and Citations

  • D.P. Erastov, The beta-radiographic technique of reproducing watermarks found in documents, Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. - Laboratory for the techniques for restoring and preserving documents and books, Leningrad, Collected Works for 1958, in Russian
  • CF. Bridgman, S. Keck, HF. Sherwood, The radiography of panel paintings by electron emission, Studies in conservation, 3 (1958) 4,175-182
  • J.F. Cameron, P.F. Berry, E. W. J. Phillips, The determination of wood density using beta rays, Holzforschung - International Journal of the Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Technology of Wood. 13, 3 (1959)78–84
  • C.F. Bridgman, Use of radiation in philately and in examination of paintings, in The science of ionizing radiation modes of application, Ed. L.E. Lewis Springfield Ill. (1965) 655-681
  • P.A.Tydeman, A simple method for contact beta-radiography of paper, The Paper Maker, 153, 6, 42-48 (1967)
  • A. H. Stevenson, Beta-radiography and paper research, in International Congress of Paper Historians - Communications, 7, 159-68 (1967).
  • JL. Boutaine, J. Irigoin, A. Lemonnier, La radiophotographie dans l’étude des manuscrits. Proc. Colloque International du CNRS N° 458 - Les Techniques de Laboratoire dans l’Etude des Manuscrits, CNRS, Paris (Sept 1972) 159-176
  • N. E. Ash, Technical notes - Beta-radiography," in A.I.C. Newsletter, 7, 2, 12-13 (Feb. 1982)
  • N.E. Ash, Recording watermarks By beta-radiography and other means, The book and paper group annual, 1 (1982)
  • D. Schnitger, E. Ziesche, Elektronenradiographie von Wasserzeichen, Proc. Symposium Zerstörungsfreie Prüfung von Kunstwerken Berlin (19-20/11/1987) DGZfP Berlin
  • H.Tomimasu, D.Kim, P.Luner, M.Suk, "Comparison of Four Paper Imaging techniques: Beta Radiography, Electrography, Light Transmission and Soft X-radiography" TAPPI Journal, 74(7):165-175, 1991.
  • C. Bustarret, L'histoire du papier appliquée à l'étude des manuscrits modernes : la base de données PROFIL, IPH Congress Book , 10 (1994) 39-43
  • A. de La Chapelle, A. Le Prat, Les relevés de filigranes. La Documentation française, Paris (1996)
  • P. F. Tschudin, International standard for the registration of watermarks, IPH, Rienen (Switzerland) (1997)
  • D. Kushel, Radiographic methods used in the recording of structure and watermarks in historic papers, in: F. W. Robinson, Fresh woods and pastures, Seventeenth-Century Dutch landscape drawings from the Peck Collection, S. 117–140, Chapel Hill (1999)
  • J. E. Brown, R. Mulholland, "Using microfocus x-radiography and other techniques to create a digital watermark database." In book. Works of art on paper: books, documents and photographs: techniques and conservation: contributions to the Baltimore Congress, 2-6 September 2002. International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, V. Daniels, A. Donnithorne, and P. Smith, Editors, 2002.
  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971
  • Jean-Louis Boutaine, Contributions, 20/06/2007
  • A Glossary of Paper Conservation Terms, Margaret Ellis (ed.), Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York City, 1998