Professional framing is one expensive service. Sometimes it can even cost more than the artwork itself! You do get the best quality presentation (and preservation) of your artwork, so it is worth it in some cases. But if you’re like me and have a big collection of mostly prints, you’ll want to go with using photo frames for a fraction of the cost. I’ve shopped and mounted and framed close to a hundred things, both for my own décor and for my shop, so I’ve got a few handy tips to share while I walk you through my process. Let's start with some basic info about what you'll be framing.
Prints vs Originals
Your art collection can be split into two main categories:
Prints: these are reproductions, usually printed by a professional-grade printer onto fine art paper. I love them for their affordability. They look just as good as the original, and for a fraction of the price. It makes art accessible, which is a great thing. As far as framing goes, prints can be framed without a mat, so feel free to skip that step if you prefer.
Original artworks: these are the OG themselves- the actual drawing/painting. They are incredibly valuable, especially since there is only the one. They may even appreciate over time, depending on the evolution of the artist’s fame. Original works of art should be framed by professionals, since they are so valuable. But you can also do it yourself with pre-made photo frames! I do this for all my own work. You’ll definitely need to mat the piece, so do not skip that step. The drawing should not be pressed the glass, as it can damage the work or smudge the glass.
Supplies You'll Need:
You can find most of these things at a local arts & craft store!
Framer's Tape: This looks very similar to masking tape. Make sure it is marked acid free. Any 1" wide acid-free drafting or art tape would work as well.
Rubbing Alcohol: You can find this in the first aid section of any pharmacy or household goods store.
Microfiber cloth: these soft cloths are easy to find in any automotive or household cleaning sections of stores. Do not substitute this with paper towels- they leave a lot of tiny paper fibers on your glass.
Mat (or mount in British English): This is a flat piece of paper-based material that sits between the art and the glass. It looks like a paper frame, with a window cut into the middle. It’s decorative and functional, keeping the art away from the glass while accenting the work with a border of color. If you are framing an original work of art, please do not skip this. If you are framing a print, you can skip the mat if you want. You can find pre-cut mats at any art supply store, framing business, or craft stores. You can also get custom ones for less than $20. I usually get a custom one, since there is a greater variety of colors/patterns/textures to choose from. The mat has 2 sizes, it’s outer dimensions and the window size. You’ll want the window size to be slightly smaller than the artwork’s outer dimension, especially if your print or artwork doesn’t have an extra border around it. You don't want it falling through the window. Pick a color that would look great surrounding the entire picture. It can match or contrast a bit, it’s all up to you! I like to pick out a lesser-used color in the picture, and match the mat to that.
Backing Board: this is just an acid-free board that will go behind the artwork. Necessary for original works, not as much for prints. Any acid-free illustration board or cardstock will do, as long as it's not too thick (like foamcore boards.) Make sure it is the same size as your mat/frame.
Photo Frame: Now that you have your mat, it’s time to find a frame that works with both the mat and the picture. Most home/art/craft/framing stores have a good variety to choose from. First, you’ll want to know what size you need. This will be either the mat’s outer size, or the print’s size if you’re not using a mat. The most common frame sizes are 5 x 7 inches, 8 x 10 inches, and 11 x 14 inches. Most of my prints and original pieces are 8 x 10 inches, which makes it easy to find a frame for. Mat sizes are typically one size up from the picture size, so an 8 x 10 picture will need an 11x 14 mat and an 11 x 14 frame. Pick a frame that looks good with your art color-wise and thematically. Does it want a shiny frame? A rustic wood frame? An antiqued surface? Classic black? The options are many, but beware cheap quality. Avoid the obviously plastic frames, and if you can’t decide if a frame looks too cheap, tap it with your nail. The sound it makes will help you decide. Also be sure to check the back to see if it has the appropriate hardware for the way you want to display it (wall hanging or table top.)
Got everything? Let's get started then!
Attaching the Mat
Find a clean surface to work on. Lay your mat face side down, and your artwork on top, also face side down. Center the artwork as best you can on the mat. If you’re feeling confident you’ve got it exactly centered, skip to the tape part. If you’re not sure and would rather be precise, grab that ruler, pencil, and some scratch paper. We’re going to do some simple math.
Measure the top length of the mat (A)
Measure the top length of the artwork (B)
A minus B = C
C divided by 2 = D
Take your D number and using the ruler, mark that length in from each side of the mat where you took the A length. Do the same on the opposite edge. Connect these marks vertically with the ruler and pencil. Repeat this process on the other two sides, and you should have a square marked out that fits your artwork exactly.
Line up the artwork, face side down, in the guide box you've just draw, and attach with a small strip of framer's tape along the top edge of the artwork. You don't want to seal it with tape along all four sides because the paper should have the freedom to expand a bit if the atmospheric conditions cause it to.
Flip the mat over to check that the image is straight and that any signs of borders/edges are covered by the mat. Reposition as needed. Once it's perfect, set it aside on another clean table. The next step involves some rubbing alcohol, and you don't want any of that getting on your artwork!
Preparing the frame
Place the frame face down on the table and remove the back. It's usually held in place with little tabs that swing out from under the edges. Set the back aside and remove all the stuff in there until you see the glass. Pro tip: don't toss that stuff just yet! You might need it to pad out the frame or for returns it if you find a defect. Take the microfiber cloth, and fold it into a square. Moisten a corner with a little bit of rubbing alcohol and start cleaning the inside of the glass. It won't look or feel like you're doing much, but keep rubbing at the entire surface for a minute, re-wetting the cloth periodically. Make sure you get the corners.
Once you feel pretty good about it being spotless, let it dry for 2-5 minutes. There should only be trace amounts of alcohol on the glass, but it's really important that it evaporates completely before the next step.
Putting it all together
Again, it is absolutely crucial to wait until all the alcohol has evaporated before doing this final step. Check with your eyes, not your fingertips! You don't want to get fingerprints on your squeaky clean glass. Tilt the glass under some direct light to see if the glass is dry and clear.
All good? Ok. Now just place the matted artwork face down on the glass, followed by the backing board, and place the back of the frame on top. Slide the tabs back under the frame edge to secure. If the tabs feel too loose under the frame, take the back off and find a piece of cardboard in the stack of paper stuff you took out of the frame. There almost always is one. Place it on top of the backing board before replacing the back of the frame. The tabs should be very snug under the frame edge.
Flip the frame over and place it face up on the table. Moisten another corner of your microfiber cloth with rubbing alcohol and clean the front of the frame. The cloth should be just slightly damp, you don't want excess alcohol trying to make it's way under the glass. This front part will need a little more cleaning than the back, as this is where all the dust and fingerprints accumulate. Switch cloth corners and re-moisten with alcohol periodically. Don't forget the corners! A surprising amount of stuff winds up in there. Let it dry.
Once it's dried, take the frame under a bright light and examine it for any streaks or specks. There could be some under the glass you missed, for which you will have to go back in and clean the inside glass again. And for that, I'm sorry. I know it's a pain, but there isn't a good way to check for those until this last step. I've had to go back in a few times on a single framing attempt, and it really annoying. This is why I encourage you to give it a thorough scrubbing the first time around.
That's it! I know there are a lot of words here, but really it's a very easy process. And once you get the hang of it, it goes very smoothly and quickly!
Please let me know if you have any questions by leaving a comment. Thanks, and happy framing!
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