Senior Seminar
fine arts/art education/art therapy

Framing Paintings & Pictures
Sources, Tactics & Strategies


Preparing artworks for an Exhibit

How to get images framed | Aesthetic Choices | Good Framing/Presentation Preparations |


How to get images framed

How do I figure out framing, matting and mounting for my paintings or my pictures?

Presentation issues can be confounding, time-consuming and expensive. Or not.

Let's aim for not.

When preparing an individual image for presentation or sale, the priority may be complimenting that specific work.

When preparing a collection of works for an exhibit, priorities emphasize consistency contributing to the unity of the exhibit. Also, it may be important to identify ways to save costs by buying or making many frames the same or similar.

I'm assuming, here, that you're preparing a collection of work for an exhibit.


Have a frame shop provide frames and mount all of your works.

How much can you spend?

Visit local frameshops. Look over their collection for frames/moulding. Ideally, take a couple of your images with you to see how the frames will work, get feedback from the frameshop owner, and get prices on framing the image. At the very least, have notes on the dimensions of several of your pieces along with photos of the pieces. Again, get prices for framing them. Go from one frameshop to another comparing prices for framing the same images/paintings. Be sure and ask about the typical turnaround time for framing, particularly if you have a large lot of works to frame. Ask also about guaranteed delivery times.

Be sure you are absolutely clear on the price and the delivery date. Do not expect to take all of your work to a frameshop a week before your exhibit and get them back, ready to hang, by the show's opening. Good quality framing takes time. Most often, your framestock will have to be ordered and shipped to the frameshop before they can be cut and assembled. That takes time.


Order either Assembled OR Sectional Frames
via an online or catalog framing business and do the mounting yourself.

Questions to ask yourself:
Can you find frames that complement your images via a mail-order business?
Have you set aside time to assemble and mount the works?
What can you spend?

Can I get really a nice frame this way?
Yes... if you shop carefully.

Consider Sectional Frames
If you have very specific sizes that must be framed, you'll likely want to check on sectional frames. These are disassembled frames that can be easily assembled via the hardware delivered with the frame. Usually nothing more than a screwdriver is needed to complete the assembly. A single picture frame will come in four pieces — one matching pair for the top and bottom; one matching pair for the left and right side sections.

Many brands and styles of aluminum sectional frames are available. However, most are ideal for smaller artworks due to the the size of the profile — the width of the visible frame. To find frames adequate for larger works (say, larger than 20"x20"), you have to look for larger frame profiles
("canvas" frames) or go to custom framing options.

Where to find Frames?
Ggl: Aluminum Sectional Frames | (hardwood on Alum) | Nielsen Framekits (-50%) | WholesaleArtFrames |

How to assemble sectional frames?
Nice illustrated Instructions |


Explore estate sales, garage sales and retail clearance sales/outlets to find inexpensive frames

Questions to ask yourself:
How many sales go on in your area?
How much time can you give up to looking/shopping?
Are the sizes of your images so standardized that they will fit typical/common frame sizes?
Can you clean and repair frames and touch up frame finishes?
Is a diversity of frames compatible with your artworks and your exhibit?

You've got to know the look you're going for.
You've got to have time to explore. If you are a long-range planner who can pick up frames when and as you find them, this may be for you.

If your images are often of a standard size (e.g. 8"x10", 11"x14", 16"X20" etc.) then you may find many nice frames at retail clearance sales and at discount retailers. However, you cannot count on finding any particular type of frame... though many basic black frames and many wood-moulding frames will be available.

[For my standard-size photos I will occasionally stop by Big Lots. I never know what they will have in stock on a given day, but for $15 - $30 I can often buy a nice frame with glass/plastic, with backing, with mounting hardware and sometimes with a useable mat. Quality varies but can, occasionally, be quite nice. When they have a frame that suits me, I will usually pick up several. ]

Buy Used Picture Frames from Thrift Stores and Garage Sales; Cut to Size; Reassemble
If you can find used frames that are the right size and style for your work. Great. Be prepared to touch up, repair or refinish/repaint the frame,

If you can find frames that are larger than you need, often they can be carefully cut down to size and reassembled.
You'll likely have to make carefully measured cuts on a good quality miter saw, but if you can manage that you can get a very expensive frame for very, very few dollars.


Make your frames and mount your artworks yourself.

Questions to ask yourself:
What wood-working skills and tools do you have?
How much time do you have?
How are you at staining, varnishing, painting or leafing?

If you are an artist, you may well have, or can develop, the skills needed to do basic framemaking. There are a few essential woodworking skills and tools, and many others that are helpful. Custom framemaking involves several of the same skills used in custom trim work — the kind of carpentry used to finish doorways, baseboards, crown mouldings and windows in a home's interior.

This strategy allows you to design most any framing solution possible, including distinctly custom or innovative designs. This strategy can be the least expensive in terms of money. Depending on the nature of your frames, your ability to plan the making, and your skill, this can also be efficient time-wise. But often it is time-consuming. So, you may have to make a choice between spending your time on presentation/framing versus spending time making or refining your art, or time spent marketing your work, etc.

How to Build a Picture Frame from scratch (Video Tutorial)

Ron Hazelton has posted a thorough, step-by-step video introduction to framemaking. His example involves routing the shapes of the frame's face. But if you buy available moulding (see below), and follow Ron's instructions for notching/rabbeting the back, mitering the corners and joining the corners, you've got all you need.
This is as thorough a set of instructions as I've found so far.

Picture Frame Making, Restoration & Repair:

This web page/site has many pointers, info and products related to framing including guilding, glass cutting and frame making.
This page describes many frame details and issues related to building your frame from stock moulding.

Picture-Frame Making: from a woodworker's perspective
Rockler article on frame-making issues.

Zoomed:  3-1/2'W x 7'4'L Primed Pine Casing

 4'W x 7'L Whitewood Casing

 3-1/4'W x 7'L Primed Composite Casing

— Some moulding designs are both large enough and elaborate enough to serve as picture frames with little or no modification.

These samples, left, are from Lowe's online selection of moulding.

Add a rabbet for the picture to fit into, and you'll be set.

These are each chair rail mouldings from the Inviting collection.
This elaborate 5.5" wide Dianna Moudling would a make a wonderfully gaudy picture frame.

The trick is planning where to cut the mitered corners to get them to match.


— While picture frames can sometimes be created with a single, stock, wood moulding, more often, the frame is made by combining moulding using "build-ups". Buildups are often used in the finish trim of elaborate homes and office interiors. (build-up examples & annimations | Guide to Moulding/Finishing (PDF) | Catalogues of available Mouldings (PDF) ) (InvitingHomes Buildups)

These Chair Rail, Casing and Base buildup examples from can easily be modified to serve as picture frames.

In the example on the left, only two pieces of moulding were combined (built up) to create an elaborate frame. Add either a notch/rabbet or a shallow furring strip to accomodate the painting's canvas, and you're set.

— most any technique that can be used to frame a door or frame a window can be varied to wrap around all four sides of a painting. (HomeDepot Moulding Style Gallery | Moulding Types | )


Buy Picture Frame Stock/Moulding.
Then Cut & Assemble it yourself

One "middle ground" option is to order custom frame stock and then cut and assemble it yourself.
This method can give you the look of a frameshop's elaborate custom frames without the full custom-frame cost. You'll have to plan well ahead. Also, don't plan on assembling a lot of frames at once unless you own a lot of framing clamps — special woodshop clamps ( clamps | clamps | clamps ) are needed to hold the corners of frames in place while glue slowly dries.

Picture Frame Stock — moulding designed for picture frames that is already finished/painted/stained. |






Aesthetic Choices

Presentation is visually about enhancing the appearance of a work so that the expressive intent of the artwork is most fully realized.
Many aspects of framing, mounting and display influence the success of presentation: Type or style of frame; To matt or not to matt; Size of frame and/or matt; Symmetry or placement of the artwork within the frame or presentation context; Color of frame, matt or base.


Good Framing/Presentation Preparations

How do I keep it on the wall? What do I hang this painting/photo/relief on?         (Hanging Hardware)

Proper hanging hardware keeps your artwork from suddenly hitting the floor, shattering its glass, cracking that expensive frame, and scaring grandma out of her wits.
Hanging hardware varies according to the weight of the artwork, the size of the artwork, and the type of wall you're hanging the artwork on. You might hang a postcard-sized print on a small finish nail, but need several heavy lag bolts to hang your bronze relief of the Last Supper. When in doubt, make the hanger heavier than you think you need. Its better to patch a hole at the end of an exhibit than to pick up a broken artwork in the middle of a reception.


Matt Cutting

Online Matt Cutting Calculator

Note that there are three tabs at the bottom of the spreadsheet page. These will take you to different types of calculations.

Most often, you know the size of your image and then your choose the width of your matt's borders. Then you need final, outer dimensions.
Sometimes you have a frame that you want to use, and the image to be matted and framed. Then you want the matt dimensions.
And, least often, you have a frame and you have a particular matt border...and you want to know what size image will fit that.

The links below take you to online framing calculators.
Figure out which caculator suits your situation.
Enter the essential dimensions, and then see what the resulting dimensions are.

Good luck!

What do I know? >>
Use this Calc
Size of the Frame Width of the Matt Borders Size of the Image/Opening
Frame & Image
Image & Borders
Frame & Borders


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