The right frame can enhance the appearance of an artwork. That's a fact. But it doesn't have to be complicated to get it right.
Whether you want to get to know everything there is to know about picture framing for the sake of framing artwork yourself of if you simply want to know the basics before heading off to the professional picture framer when this is the place for you.
Everything we mention in our NABO guides are things we've tried and tested ourselves. We like the mindset that there are no strict rules when it comes to framing, but we do believe some things work better than others and we're here to help you avoid some of the mistakes we did when we first started out.
Let's go into details.
Everything you need to know about picture framing
Framing is an art in itself. The right frame, mount and glass can truly enhance the appearance of an artwork. This article is meant as a helping hand whether you want to frame your artwork yourself or take them to a professional picture framer. The goal is not to tell you what to go for, but instead to help you start thinking about all the different elements in the framing process to make sure you get a result you’re happy with in the long run.
We see two trends in framing at the moment: one way is to only look at what would work well for the specific artwork in your hand. That could mean going for a colour frame and/or mount that would complement the artwork beautifully without thinking much about how it work with the other colours in your home. This is a strategy used when people like to move things around and mix things up.
Another way is framing artwork according to your interior. This way is often used if you know exactly where your artwork should hang and what furniture or other artwork will hang close to it. This method often result in a calmer more minimalistic look.
Three things you need to consider
To keep it simple there are three main things you need to keep in mind when framing an artwork:
- Frame - they come in lots of different finishes, qualities and colours.
- Mount - they protect the artwork and can help make it stand out.
- Glass - protects the artwork from dust, grease and sunlight depending on the quality and the type of glazing you choose.
We think every artwork should be treated individually. It’s always worthwhile to consider the specific artwork and the environment it will hang in when you choose your frame, mount and glass. Let’s go into more details.
Finding the right frame
There are a ton of picture frames out there and it can be difficult to work the head around what to choose. You can get metallic and wooden frames in every colour you can imagine and that doesn't make it easier to find the right one. However, silver, black, and white metallic frames and oak, white and black-painted wooden frames seem to be the most common.
However, instead of going with your first impulse you should take a step back and ask yourself what feeling you want the final piece (artwork + frame) to convey. Do you want a modern and sharp look with emphasis on contrast? Do you want a soft, organic look that blends in with your interior?
Once you’ve got your head around these things it’s time to look at different types of frames.
Here's an examples to visualise what we mean
Above: A sharp modern look. A white frame on a white wall makes the artwork look like it's floating. Here it underlines the minimal interior and the white frame doesn't take focus from the artwork but make it stand out. Now try to imaging the same scene but with a wooden oak frame - instantly it would be a much softer and more organic feel.
Most frames come in wide or narrow options and with either round or sharp edges. As a rule of thumb round edges and wide frames create a softer look whereas sharp edges and narrower frames create a sharper and more modern look.
If you want something a little more eye catching going for a coloured frame could do the trick. A strategy could be to choose a contrating colour, to find a colour that's dominant in the artwork and choose a frame in the same colour, or choose one of the least dominant colours. The possibilities are endless and the results are very different.
If you find it hard to image how the final piece will look you can visit a picture framer who (most likely) have lots of different samples, both wide and narrow. It can sometimes help to imaging how the final result will look.
We can't stress enough that there’s no right or wrong here. Framing is all about finding out what you like and be true to that.
Mounting boards and mounts
Once you’ve settled on the type of frame you want we’re on to the next topic: mounting boards and mounts.
A mounting board (also known as backing board) is used to support and protect the artwork in the frame, to a professional picture framer it’s an integral part of the picture framing process. But framing your artwork yourself doesn’t mean you’ll have to do without. Backing boards can easily be found online in a variety of colours.
Before buying a mounting board you need to consider if you want the mounting board to show behind your photo. If you want it to show, you should opt for a
mounting board that’s larger than your artwork and a frame that fits the size of the mountingboard. When choosing a colour that complements the artwork and your interior you instantly add a personal touch to your piece.
If you don’t want the mounting board to show you should simply measure your artwork and buy a mounting board in the same size.
Passe-partout is a term for a cardboard sheet with a cutout which is placed under the glass in a picture frame. Passe-partouts can be a good way to add more protection to the artwork itself as it then won’t touch the glass but it can also add even more character to a framed artwork. Like the backing board you can choose a variety of colours for your passe-partout to complement the artwork and the frame.
Remember to buy acid-free mounting board and passe-partout. If an acidic product comes into contact with paper the acid can migrate and cause damage. And we don't want that.
Last but not least we need to talk about glass. There are many different types of glass that all do different jobs. We earlier thought of the environment where the artwork is going to hang and that's an important factor when choosing glass as well.
Worst case scenario is that you get your treasured artwork framed only to find out that of the biggest part of the day you won’t be able to see what’s inside the frame because of reflections from light coming in the window.
There are many types of glass but I will concentrate on the most popular ones: plain glass, non-reflective glass (with or without UV), and plexiglass.
Plain glass is the cheapest type of glass on the market and it’s what most standard frames are sold with. You’ll be able to see reflections in the glass but you can come across this by not placing it in direct sunlight. Plain glass protects the artwork from dust and grease, but it’s not protected from sunlight so the colours might change over time if it’s placed in direct sunlight.
Plus: You’ll see the colours clearly and colours and the details retain their clarity when seen through plain glass.
Minus: You’ll be able to see reflections from sunlight or lamps. So you’ll need to make up your mind whether this is something you are ok with or not.
Non-reflective glass is your best friend if you’re going to place your artwork next to a lamp or next to the window. Non-reflective glass isn't as cheap as plain glass but it will make it possible for you to see your artwork clearly with no reflections. Some non-reflective glass have UV filter as well, which means the colours won’t fade over time, something that’s of great importance if you intend to place your artwork next to a window.
Plus: You won’t see reflections, a very common problem when choosing plain glass. If you go for an UV option your artwork will stay exactly as it is for many years.
Minus: It’s not cheap. This type of glass comes in different price ranges, so it can feel like a bit of an investment.
If you’re looking for non-reflective glass and/or UV glass we recommend going to a professional picture framer.
Plexiglass, which is a clear sheet of acrylic, is another popular type of 'glass'. It’s lightweight, which makes it great for big artworks and for transportation and it almost never (never say never) break. If you’re going for plexiglass the quality is very important; good quality plexiglass is clearer than cheaper options and they make your artwork appear better. When buying standard frames online they often come with plexiglass.
Plus: It’s lightweight and plexiglass has a higher impact strength than glass.
Minus: Plexiglass is more likely to get scratches from cleaning products, cloths etc. so you should be very careful when handling and cleaning plexiglass. If you like the feeling of holding the weight of a framed artwork in your arms then plexiglass would feel a bit odd.
What glass to choose depends on your budget. Both glass and plexiglass can do the job, so think about where you’re going to hang it and how much you’re willing to spend.
Framing is an art and using a professional picture framer is always a good idea. However, if you’re not looking to spend money on using a professional it’s possible to obtain a pretty good result if you keep the things above in mind. One final thing to remember is that there are no hard rules when it come to framing.
Photo credit: Hein Studio
How to choose the right frame for your artwork
There are a ton of picture frames out there and it can be difficult to work your head around what to choose for your artwork. Framing is an art in itself and choosing the right frame can enhance the appearance of the artwork. So what to go for?
What feeling do you want it to convey?
One of the basic things to consider is what you want the piece (artwork and frame) to convey. Do you want a modern feel to it or do you prefer a more traditional look? Do you want the piece to blend in with the other things in your home or do you want it to stand out? A mat white wooden frame on a white wall makes the piece seem like it’s floating whereas a black frame would make a contrast to the white wall.
It’s about finding out what you're after.
What sort of frames do you like?
Frames come in many materials and sizes. Finding the right size is straightforward, however, finding the right material is a bit trickier. Below is a list of the most relevant frames when framing an art print or poster.
Let's divide them into two groups:
Metallic frames: Black, Silver, Cobber, Gold and White
Wooden frames: Oak, Walnut, Black painted and White painted
They all come with either sharp or round edges and wide or narrow. Find the version you like the best and ask yourself if the frame you like best fit the artwork and if it conveys the right feeling?
Could a coloured frame be an option?
If you want something a little more eye catching you can go for a coloured frame. The trick here is to take a look at the artwork and find a colour that's dominant in the artwork. But keep the frame narrow.
Finding the right frame isn't as difficult as it may seem. You'll have to consider the things set out above but keep in mind there really are no hard rules you must follow. Simply find out what you like and go for that.