If framing your own prints sounds daunting, don't worry! It's very easy to frame your own art and I think it's really fun. You can also save a lot of money by doing your own framing. Having a custom made frame can look beautiful, but many times the custom framing and matting can cost more than the photographs you are framing.
I've been doing my own framing since I was a teenager. I even got to the point where I was ordering frame moulding, cutting it down, and building my own frames. The tips on this page are not for making your own frames, but what you'll need to frame something yourself with a ready made frame.
For tips on where to get ready made frames, see my Framing Resources page.
Have a look at this page for step by step instructions on how to frame your print.
First, a few general guidelines about framing.
It's best to use a matboard around your photo to help keep the glass off of your print. The matboard serves two functions; the most obvious is the decorative aspect of the mat. You can use complementary colors in your mat to enhance your print. I actually use white mats but occasionally, I've used colored mats. Be very careful that you don't end up making the mat distracting as this takes the eye away from your print.
The second function of the mat is to help protect it from the glass. Moisture can get inside the glass and if your print is touching the glass, this can damage the print. If you really don't like the looks of a mat and just want the bare print in your frame, make sure it's not hanging near a sink or in a bathroom.
Many of the large chain frame shops sell many options of pre-cut matboards. I use these all the time. I get nice clean simple plain white ones with the opening I want pre-cut.
You will also need an uncut matboard the size size as the front mat. You will be putting your print inside this like a sandwich. I call these backer boards. You can always ask any art store that does framing or frame store if they have any archival scraps that can be cut down to the size you need. It can be any color to be a backer board.
There are some frames that have spacers between the artwork and the glass, so this could be an option for you if you don't want a matboard on your print.
Does Your Frame Come with a Matboard?
Half of the ready made frames I see in stores come with matboards. One of the very annoying things I see is that many frames come with matboards that are NOT standard photo sizes. This means you might be losing a lot of the image because the matboard will be covering it up.
The only time I keep the mat that came with a frame is when they say it's archival and it has a standard size opening for my print, this is very rare so I usually get frames without mats in them, like you see above.
Use Archival Materials
When picking out your mat, make sure it's archival or acid free. This is very important. Basically, this ensures your materials have a neutral ph level. Non archival materials will damage your print over time. They will actually burn your print.
Archival, or acid free mats will be labeled as such somewhere on the plastic wrap. Sometimes it's really small on the back of the print. Archival and acid-free mean the same thing when it comes to matboards.
You need to attach your print to your mat. You must also use archival tapes or archival photo corners to do this. For detailed instructions on how to attach your print see my How To Frame Your Print Page.
Is The Frame Easy To Hang?
When picking out your frame, see if it comes with an easy way to hang it. Some frames don't come with any hanging hardware at all. Usually frames will either have little metal hardware pieces attached to it where it would hang off a nail, or they will have a little kit in the frame that you then have to screw, or nail to the back of the frame, so make sure to look for this. The image on the left came with this nail bracket but it had to be hammered into the frame.
Do Not Get an Open Back Frame, Unless...
Is your frame open backed? Open back frames come with nothing, just the wood frame. If it's open backed then you'll need a top mat board, a back mat or backer board (solid mat board, no opening) to go behind your print. You'll also need to buy a piece of glass. Then you'll need a tool to insert special staples to hold your glass and print into the frame. Open back frames are much cheaper because of this. So if you have a framing store near you that has all these items for a good price, then open back frames can be an option for you if you are framing several prints.
How Does Your Frame Open if it Has a Back?
If your frame has a backing on it, then have a look to see how easy is it to open the back of the frame to put your matted print inside it. These days, most frames with backs are super easy to get in and out of but it's still good to check this and make sure you understand how it opens. You can always ask a sales clerk to help you figure it out.
What Color Do You Want Your Frame to Be?
When you go into a frame store, you'll see a lot of black frames, some white frames, and then some various wood stained frames. I went into Aaron Brother the other day and saw a wall of day glow bright colored metal frames too.
Here's the thing. My goal is to have the least distracting frame as possible to show off my prints. I usually pick white frames or natural wood frames.
Many folks like black frames. Black goes with everything. When I use a black frame, I pick one that is very minimal and simple.
Occasionally I'll see a frame that just works really well with the particular print I'm framing at the time this is not white, black or natural. It all depends on your print and what will make it look the nicest.
What are the Standard Print Sizes?
My images on this site are all printed in standard sizes. I print the images so they are full frame. With many images, this give you some flexibility for matte sizes.
Here are the print sizes you'll see on this site:
- 8 x 10 inches or 8 x 12 inches
- 11 x 14 inches or 11 x 17 inches
- 16 x 20 inches or 16 x 24 inches
- 20 x 24 inches or 20 x 30 inches
The reason for the two slight size variations above comes from what camera I was shooting the image with. The 35mm cameras I use yield the larger print size options - 8 x 12, 11 x 17, 16 x 24, and 20 x 30. The other cameras I use create images with the smaller dimensions.
For example, with the image here of the romanesco cauliflower, the image itself is 8 x 12 inches but this image has a lot of space around it so you could easily put this in an 8 x 10 mat.
What are the Standard Mat Sizes?
Here are the standard mat sizes and the size prints they are for:
- An 8 x 10 inch print can go in an 11 x 14 inch mat
- An 8 x 12 inch print can go in a 12 x 16 inch mat
- An 11 x 14 inch print can go in a 16 x 20 inch mat
- An 11 x 17 inch print can go in a 16 x 24 inch mat
- A 16 x 20 inch print can go in a 20 x 24 inch mat
- A 16 x 24 inch print can go in a 20 x 28 inch mat
The largest print sizes, the 20 x 24 and 20 x 30 will probably need to have a custom mat cut for them. I've not seen any ready made pre-cut mats for the larger prints.
Now you've got all the info you need to go frame shopping. Bring your prints with you and look at the print in front of the frame you are considering. Have fun with it!
You can always contact me with any questions.