baa baa black sheep


Stupid Tips

Okay, this is part two from yesterday.

B) On to framing. I'm an artist, and have worked in three different frame shops, once as a framer in a big hobby shop, once as a framing designer in a small snotty shop, and once as both in a local shop. I like to think I was reasonably good at it, and that my design skills were pretty good, and that I'm fairly intelligent and can give framing advice that does not suck. However, everyone's tastes are different and there are varying points of view on archival-ness and costs and blah blah blah.

That disclaimer being over, on to Kara's Assvice and Info Regarding Framing.

A few words about frame shops:

1) It always helps to remember that framing is expensive. Framing is expensive. Framing is always expensive. You will never, ever, ever be able to get something custom framed remotely as cheaply as you would if you went and bought a frame at Walmart. EVER. The materials are high-quality, so they cost a lot. They will last forever, so they cost a lot. Also, it takes a long time to make the frame and cut the mats and cut the glass and put it all together when you are being super careful. I got asked about a billion times a day why framing is so expensive, and that is the answer: the materials are good, and they cost a lot, and we spend a lot of time making your frame.

2) Go ahead and be picky about where you frame. A small local shop won't necessarily be better than a big hobby store, and vice versa. Costs are probably gonna be high wherever you go, so it's crucial to find a place you feel comfortable with the employees, and a good job is done. The employees should make you feel welcome, not like you are pestering them. They should be open about answering your questions, they should be willing to spend time with you, and you should feel positive about the experience. Ask to see examples of the framing, to see if you like what they do. A shop normally will take 1-2 weeks to frame something. If they say it will take considerably more than that, consider using another store. Never frame somewhere if it's going to take over a month. You won't like it. But! Don't expect things to be framed in a day, or two days. Materials frequently have to be ordered, and framing can take time. It's good form to give the shop a few weeks notice to do something you need by a certain date. Also, don't be surprised if you have to pay half or full before the framing is complete--often the store takes your money first so a) they can afford to order your materials and b) to ensure you won't get something framed and then never pick it up and pay. (That does happen.)

3) Don't be a dick to the employees. Working as a framer is weird--you are providing a specialized service that requires a lot of knowledge and skill about design, archiving art, materials. Cutting mats is hard, working with glass and blades is dangerous. Yet frame shop employees frequently make crappy retail wages and get treated as if they are stupid, stupid, stupid. I have been screamed at, sworn at, seen customers get so mad about prices they slammed doors, been told that I just don't know what I'm talking about, and have been accused of lying about prices and materials. Be nice to retail employees. In fact, be nice to everyone.

And now, my feeble attempt to talk about framing materials and designs:

When you get something framed, you are picking out a frame and often a mat. You will also be asked to select a type of glass, sometimes a mounting style. It is very, very, very important to remember this: Pick out a design that complements the art itself. Not the color of your throw pillows/salt shakers/this one tiny patch on the comforter you just ordered from Sears. Framing is costly, and the framing is designed to do this: preserve your art in a way that suits it the best.

The main rule of framing is that you want the framing to make your EYES GO IN, TO THE IMAGE. You don't to be looking at the framing. You want everything to point in, at the beautiful photo of your child or that awesome print you picked up in Africa or whatever. You're displaying the image, and the framing? The framing should make you notice that image. If you're looking at the framing and not the image? Something is wrong.


The first thing I like to do is pick a mat. The mat is the layer that goes around (and slightly over) the artwork. Matting provides visual breathing space between the image and frame, and holds the art away from the glass, so that air can move freely and the image won't be damaged by being plastered against glass in humidity or heat, etc. There are many different types of matting, and I won't go into all of it. Just these key things:

-Make sure you're getting a cotton/rag mat that is acid-free. Mats that are not acid-free will burn into your image over time, as will cardboard.
-Picking the mat color is important. You don't want something that clashes with the image, or something too gaudy for the image, or something that dulls it out. I know it is tempting, when you have a piece of art/photo you want to hang, to pick out that one stripe in your throw pillows and match the mat and frame accordingly, but DO NO DO THAT. Unless the image matches your pillows, anyway. Match to the image always. It'll look better, and trust me, you will change your living room cushions way before you will want to pull apart something you've paid a lot to have custom framed. So pick a color that enhances the image. It's easy to default to a neutral mat color, but make sure you are paying attention--there are MANY different whites and grays and tans. Make sure you select one that goes with the neutrals in the image.
-Gold mats and fancy suede mats are never necessary, unless you want something really lush or fancy. I tend to stay away from those. Fabric mats can cost three times as much as a normal mat, and can be distracting on the wrong piece. Waste of money, normally.
-Cutting fancy designs into the mat is expensive and can detract focus from the image. I personally rarely recommend it. Waste of money, normally.
-Circle or oval mats really don't make sense unless the image itself is circular.
-Mat width! Make sure you discuss mat width! Some stores have a standard mat width they use if you don't ask. Showing too thin of a border makes the framing distracting and busy. I've messed with some images to demonstrate:

This is thin. It looks skimpy and distracting.

This is medium. See how it gives you more breathing space?

I like wide mats. They make me feel calmer.

You can obviously save money by using thinner mats (a 3 inch mat is going to be less than a 4) or no mats at all. Double mats are expensive than one mat. Triple mats with suede and fancy cuts are going to be VERY COSTLY. It's a personal preference, but I would still stay away from super skinny mats. A rule of thumb is to use at LEAST 2.5 inch mats. Some people like to use 3 inch, or 4, or 6. I prefer three inch mats. I figure, you're already going to be spending a lot more on this fucking framing than you want to anyway, you might as well do it how you like it.

Times mats are optional (aka, you don't need one): posters, things you want to frame inexpensively/keep small, big things that are huge enough without a mat, anything you think a mat would be pointless on.

Times mats are necessary to protect the artwork: hand-pulled prints, original watercolors, original drawings, photos, anything with a surface that will be in trouble if it touches the glass. Mats also look nice and clean, and can really dress up your image.

Times you should never, ever use a mat: Oil paintings, acrylic paintings, and misc. items glass can't go over. NEVER MAT A PAINTING. You can't put glass on a painting, and there would be nothing to hold the mat down. It would get all wonky really fast.


Archival mounting is best (acid-free hinges or corners to hold the image in place). You don't want them using masking tape or backing things with cardboard. Make sure they are backing art with acid-free foamcore. If it's a poster you don't care about preserving for eternity, regular foamcore is fine. The store might ask if you want to dry mount or use some other sort of mounting where the piece is sprayed with an adhesive and then pressed, either with heat or vacuum, against the foamcore to get out any wrinkles and to "keep it flat over time." Unless you have a poster that is just time ravaged and all wrinkled to hell, I wouldn't do this. It costs more and will eat away at the piece over time. It's not archival. However, if you have a poster from college that's a wreck, it can really smooth out wrinkles and folds quite a bit. They should always ask. They should never do anything like that without asking.


Frames vary wildly in price, and the employee should be able to measure the piece and tell you how much each frame you're interested in will cost. Wood often costs more than metal, and a good rule of thumb is, the thicker/wider and more elaborate the frame, the more it will cost. Again, with frames, you need to pick out something that will enhance the image the best. Don't be afraid to use something other than black! Generally, the bigger a piece is, the wider the frame should be. You want something strong enough to support the piece structurally, although this usually isn't a problem unless you are framing something very large and heavy. Metals can be very simple, modern, and clean looking, and come in tons of colors. And there are about fifty bazillion types of wooden frames to choose from.

My advice is this: look at all the frames, pick out some you like, and ask the employee to give you an estimate. Then you can go up and down from there. It's important to get something you like and that will make you happy when you see it every. freaking. day. I wish I had better advice about pricing in this area, but frames are all priced differently and the only way to know is to ask the shop. So, pick out some good options, and go from there.

This is the frame I put on the above piece. It's a simple metal, and matches the image. I like to use a rule of two. I use one color from the image for the mat, and one color from the image for the frame. This perhaps is completely asinine advice, and a system I should not follow, but it works for me.


Glass! Okay, first things first. YOU NEVER PUT GLASS ON A PAINTING. Ever. It'll mess it up.

Your options in glass are something like, regular clear glass, reflection control glass, clear and reflection control UV-protectant glass, and the same in plexi-glass. There are also super fancy museum glasses that are SO CLEAR. The clarity! I've never worked anywhere that offered these, but I've seen them and they are really neat. Also, probably expensive.

The high quality plexi used in frame shops is more expensive than glass, is harder to take care of (it scratches) and I would never, ever use it unless the piece was so large it couldn't support regular glass. This means a piece would be so big (huuuuge) that there would be a good chance of a sheet of glass breaking, or the piece being too heavy.

UV-protectant glass is more expensive, but it blocks a large portion of harmful rays. Images can fade quickly, so quickly, in even a little bit of sunlight. Or even lamplight. The UV glass is worth it if you don't want things to fade. I know you can also buy UV-protectant window film to put over your windows (I think it's pretty clear) if you're concerned.

Non-reflective glass is a tiny bit more costly than regular clear glass. Some people love it, some people hate it. Non-glare glass is basically just a slightly "fuzzier" glass that prevents glare from lamps, etc. I don't like it because I feel that it makes the image look a little fuzzy and casts a bit of a tint over it. That's just me--some people hate glares on regular glass and heart non-glare glass so much they would tongue kiss it. (Don't do that.) Remember this--just because glass is "non-reflective" or "non-glare" doesn't mean it's UV-protectant. You have to make sure it's actually the real UV stuff.

Other Crap I Thought Of

--Make sure the finished product's wire and hook eyes on the back look sturdy. If the wire looks crappy ask about it.

--Some cheaper options are uni-clip systems, which is basically just clamping the art behind glass and clipping it together, instead of actually framing it. I've seen these fall apart, and also the exposed glass can cut you, so be careful. They're useful for temporary "I want to get this on the wall but can't afford 150 dollars" projects.

--Keep your artwork hung where water can't get to it. Also--unless your bathroom is AWESOME and you never get ANY humidity in it, skip hanging anything meaningful in there. Humidity can get in and do quite the number on framed art.

--You can not mat or put glass on a painting.

--Colors should complement the image! The image!

--If you want to put something in a cheap store frame, but are concerned about the acid eating away at it, you can buy acid free paper at a hobby/art store and line the back with it. And line the mat with it, if it has a mat. Just so the acid-y bits don't touch your art.

--Don't use masking tape unless you are well aware that it can eat into your very FLESH. Seriously, it's very non-archival. You can buy archival/acid-free tape at office supply and art stores now, for do-it-yourself projects.

Obviously I didn't cover 95 percent of framing, but hopefully this is a helpful introduction. Feel free to contact me if you have questions or want to make fun of me. I didn't cover embroidery, or fabric, or special old newspaper articles, or shadow boxes, or anything fancy. There are different hinging techniques, various ways to do every stage of the whole process depending on what you're framing and what you want to do with it. But if you mosey into a frame shop with a few photos, hopefully this will help.

Or maybe it won't.

I've said too much!

black sheeped


Anonymous Pickles & Dimes said...

Very, very informative - thank you!

We just took in a spray-painted picture we bought on our trip to Las Vegas. (Have you seen the guys that do this? They use spray paint cans and create really cool landscapes in about 5 minutes.)

Anyway, after watching one guy for over an hour, we bought a painting.

We didn't do a mat, but made sure to get spacers put in so the painting wouldn't touch the glass.

Should we not have done that? OH GOD, I just ruined it, right???

9:57 AM, August 30, 2007  
Blogger Black Sheeped said...


I was just telling J the other day about how many customers bring in those spray paintings from Vegas, and how bad they stick to glass. Good job on the spacers!

See, I knew I was going to leave a ton of basic stuff out.

10:09 AM, August 30, 2007  
Blogger Jess said...

Wow, I will definitely come back to this post for reference when we buy a house and start decorating it. This is all great stuff to know.

Also, I just wrote a post about changing my name when I get married, referencing your very thoughtful post about the same thing. Thanks for the inspiration.

10:15 AM, August 30, 2007  
Blogger Marie Green said...

Very helpful, and I'm glad and relieved to hear that I'm not getting ripped off- that EVERYPLACE is expensive! Whew.

If the Target/Walmart frames say "acid free", they are safe, right?

10:16 AM, August 30, 2007  
Blogger Black Sheeped said...

Probably so, Marie, but when you pull it apart, if the backing is cardboard-ish, I'd still line it. Anything gray or brown as a backing in a ready-made could be acidic, I'd say, which may be super paranoid but, you know. I'm crazy.

10:18 AM, August 30, 2007  
Blogger CAQuincy said...

Thank you SO much!

And when you are bored and have five minutes to spare, can you maybe slip me an email about framing embroidery? I've got embroidered birth announcents that were made for me for all three of my kids. One was already professionally framed for me. The other two are just sitting there for ME to do. My question: do you recommend putting the embroidery on the sticky cardboard backing (that I've always used for all my embroidery)? Or will that eventually ruin the fabric?

Whew--longer comment than I intended. Sorry! You can email me at

10:22 AM, August 30, 2007  
Blogger CAQuincy said...

Or share the answer with everyone else. Not trying to be selfish here! Just don't want to put anyone out!

See--you speak up with a much-needed talent, and you're going to get USED! Ha!

10:23 AM, August 30, 2007  
Blogger Black Sheeped said...

Don't use cardbard, caquincy. I'll try how to explain how to do it later, in an email probably. I'll have to draw a diagram. :P

10:28 AM, August 30, 2007  
Blogger Artemisia said...

I REALLY miss working with you. Your knowledge and care SHINE THROUGH in this post. Holy shit.

Isn't this stuff incredibly fun?!?!?! I will STARE INTENTLY at the corners of a mat in a shop; if they are curved or overcut -- forget it. I am not spending my money there!

You always have such good taste in framing. It is true, people! I've seen it!!

I am going to link to this post and tell everyone I know to read it!

11:33 AM, August 30, 2007  
Anonymous Pickles & Dimes said...

Good to know we're OK with the spacers.

Here's a goofy question: do people view those spray painters as "artists"?

I mean, they have talent, but it takes them 5 minutes and uh, I don't know what my point is, I guess.

What I want to know is if people look down on those guys.

Jason & I have "real" art in our home, but we also have a framed "Major League" poster, so clearly we are not art experts.

12:14 PM, August 30, 2007  
Anonymous jeremy said...

No glass on paintings? I heard that was just for oils and acrylic. Is the same true for watercolors?

Pickles and Dimes- art is what you make it. If you think a cheaply produced sweatshop printed MLB poster is art, then it's art. Just try not to put anyone down for doing what they love.

2:24 PM, August 30, 2007  
Anonymous Pickles & Dimes said...


Please go read my first comment, where I said that I actually have one of those spray-painted pictures. I consider the people who made them artists, I was just wondering if other artists think the same. I was in no way, shape or form putting anyone down.

And I agree with you that art is what you make of it. Although I certainly don't believe for a second that the framed movie poster I have is art; it's just something my fiance and I got as a joke, since it's one of our favorite movies.

2:37 PM, August 30, 2007  
Blogger jen said...

so is that painting for sale? hehe I love it!

I have always wondered this. I have a giant banner poster that I love. It's about 2 feet tall by 6 or 6 feet long. I've always wanted it framed, but I have no idea how. Probably not behind glass, but no matter what I did, how would I get it home? and it would cost me a fortune! Any suggestions? It's like a time-line of graphic design (my field) but it's full of pictures and just really cool looking to anyone who is a designer at least.

4:22 PM, August 30, 2007  
Blogger Black Sheeped said...

Jeremy--Glass on watercolors. Not on acrylics or oils.

5:18 PM, August 30, 2007  
Blogger Black Sheeped said...

Pickles and Dimes--Lamely, it really is a judgement call. There's a line between art and craft, and I think the line gets smudged all the time. I know a lot of artists wouldn't consider them art, they would consider them craft (especially because they are produced so quickly and they are each very similar to each other)(but then, you can say that for a lot of "real" artists' stuff, too). Others would consider them art. I get all tired/freaked out when I think about what's art and what's craft because you can argue yourself in circles. I would say that yes, a lot of artists might not view that as art, but other artists would. Which is a very lame way of saying, "It could go either way."

Jen--I already sold it. :) Jen, I'd just go talk to anyone that offers framing in your area, as annoying as that sounds. And, it helps in the framing business to go talk to the shops in person, for better estimates. Some of them might specialize in doing oversize work (six feet is oversize, and materials can cost way more, it's true). This is one of those special cases I might recommend the mounting on foamcore and either putting hangers on the back, or putting a metal frame on it with no glass to prevent it being heavy. Some shops might do that, others may refuse to go without plexi on top. Some shops might have lighter weight plexi than others. Regular glass would definitely be too risky. If you had it mounted and a light metal frame on it, it'd look pretty sharp and would be light-weight. And some shops will deliver, just ask! Let me know if you have more questions or concerns!

7:03 AM, August 31, 2007  
Anonymous Swistle said...

I read EVERY WORD with INTENSE INTEREST. And I have bookmarked it for later reference.

9:57 AM, August 31, 2007  
Anonymous Swistle said...

No, don't email CAQuincy separately! I want to hear about embroidery and cardboard too! I want to see diagrams! Post it for the masses!

9:59 AM, August 31, 2007  
Anonymous jeremy said...

ah glass on watercolor, thanks!. It's good to know this.

pickles and dimes- The old incite a conversation trick, I gotcha. Say no more, say no more. That kinda question just gets me riled up, and I don't know why. People are going to be asking that 'till the sun explodes. My apologies

10:10 AM, August 31, 2007  
Anonymous Swistle said...

Artemisia- Ah ha! Another expert! Now you too must post, so we may share in your knowledge!

10:54 AM, August 31, 2007  
Blogger Duck Hunter said...

this was a great post. I'm getting ready to frame some photos soon. This helped me a lot.

9:23 PM, August 31, 2007  

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