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How to Frame Art – a guide for the beginning art buyer

picture frame interior

For a one-time art purchase, custom framing saves you time. However, for an art buyer purchasing original art on a regular basis, the cost of custom framing starts to add up. Why not do it yourself? It’s not cheap, but it’s a lot less expensive than custom framing. Here are tips on how to frame art yourself – what to look for in material, covering, and hanging hardware.

Where To Buy What You Need For Framing

sale sign tags
Image by Coffee Bean from Pixabay

Buying Picture Frames

My favorite place for buying picture frames is Michaels. Wait till they have a sale, then stock up. Their ‘Buy One, Get One Free’, makes framing affordable. Another thing I like about buying frames at Michaels is that I can go to the store and see the frame first hand. Amazon is another place where I purchase picture frames. Vendors on Amazon sometimes sell frames in bulk, which also reduces the price per frame.

Buying Framing Mats

picture mats

Certain types of artwork require a mat. A picture mat is heavy rectangular board with an interior opening approximately the size of the artwork. Aside from aesthetic appearances, a mat provides a small gap between the painting and the glass. Nothing touches the surface of the artwork.

The best and cheapest way to buy mats online is from an art supply store or a mat manufacturer. These stores help you determine what size mat is suitable for the size of the artwork and the frame. And they know how to package and ship mats so they arrive undamaged.

How to Frame Various Types of Artwork

Framing Oil and Acrylic Paintings

oil canvas on easel
Photo by Raspopova Marina on Unsplash

Oil and acrylic painters sometimes paint the sides of their canvases as well as the front. In that case, you don’t even need a frame. Just get some wire, affix hanging loops to the wooden canvas support, and hang your artwork.

Usually there’s no covering on an oil or acrylic painting, so no need to purchase glass. Also, a mat is not needed for these types of paintings. Just make sure the frame is deep enough to accommodate the canvas.

Framing Watercolor Paintings, Pastel, Pencil, and Charcoal Drawings

pastel drawing
Image by Garrett from Pixabay

These types of artwork require a covering because they are easily damaged. Watercolor paintings while somewhat resilient, are always framed behind glass. A frame cover is a must for pastel, pencil, and charcoal drawings. Even if the artwork is sprayed with a fixative, a covering is still recommended.

A mat is also needed when framing watercolor paintings, pastel, pencil, and charcoal drawings so the artwork doesn’t touch the glass.

What to Look For in a Picture Frame

Frame Material

Picture frames are made from a variety of materials including plastic, wood, and MDF (an engineered wood product). I purchase wood or MDF frames because they’re sturdy and look aesthetically pleasing on my wall. Natural or stained wood is the best. Some wood or MDF frames are painted. This is ok if the paint coat is thick, else there’s a chance of unsightly scratches exposing the color underneath the surface.

Frame Hardware

Inserting or removing artwork is easiest in a frame that has turn buttons affixed to the backboard.

back of picture frame with turn buttons

Avoid sawtooth hanging hardware and hang the frame with wire. Hanging a picture with wire allows one to make small adjustments when hanging to make sure the frame sits level on the wall. The frame should have D-rings to accommodate the wire.

back of picture frame with d-ring

Frame Covering

The decision comes down to plastic or glass, with pros and cons for each. A plastic frame cover is very lightweight. The good news ends there. The big downside is that the plastic scratches easily. When framing artwork or transporting framed artwork with a plastic cover, be very careful not to touch the surface or rest anything against the surface. In the past, I used frames with a plastic cover only to have them ruined at art shows.

The frames I use now have glass. Although the frame is heavier, I needn’t worry about a scratched surface. The heavier frame feels more solid, something buyers prefer.


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