Custom Framing

A frame should enhance a piece of art – not overpower it.

We believe you should surround yourself with art you love. Whether your art is created by a professional painter, a snapshot of a precious memory, or a school drawing by a child, your art matters and brings meaning to your space. These pieces reflect who you are and deserve to be fitted in frames that bring out both the art’s personality and your own.

Learn more in this guide to custom framing.

I. Why Custom Framing?

Art is a choice. What you choose to hang on your walls is a reflection of you, your personality, and your life. It doesn’t matter if you’re displaying a family snapshot, a piece of art you found while travelling, or an original painting — your art is meaningful, and your framing should be chosen with intention.

Some people avoid custom framing because:

  • They feel that their art isn’t important enough to frame. 
  • They think custom framing is too expensive. 
  • They don’t know what design or frame they want. 
  • They don’t know what options are available.

All of these issues can be easily solved. We don’t care what the fancy design television shows say. If you like your art, then it is important. There is a base cost for custom framing, but it is only as expensive as you make it. Choosing the right frame can be overwhelming, but as long as you stay open minded and patient, you’ll find it. As for your options, that’s where a pro can help you.

A professional custom framing shop will have options that range in material, finish, and cost. They will work with you to find the right frame for your piece and match your taste in design. There is a time and a place for box-store, off-the-shelf frames, but custom framing will allow you to have the control you need to take your art and photographs from average to extraordinary. You’ll create a custom look that reflects you, just like your art.

Not sure where to start? Let’s begin with the types of custom framing.

II. Types of Custom Framing

The first thing you’ll notice in a custom framing shop are the walls of custom framing corners. (Our studio is the exception. Most people notice the gorgeous capodimonte light fixture hanging from our ceiling.) There are hundreds, if not thousands, of corners to choose from, and you may stop to think, “What am I looking at?” Don’t get overwhelmed. On a professional custom framing wall display you’ll most likely see a combination of these frames:

Wood Frames: This is a common type of moulding usually made from woods such as cherry, walnut, or oak. Some of the mouldings are raw wood frames that may or may not be stained, but you’ll see the grain of the wood. Others have veneers that come in gold, black, silver, champagne, wood, or a color. 

Note: If you’re worried about sustainability but want a wood frame, there are FSC options available.  

Metal Frames: Made of aluminum, this framing option is a sleek, modern design for most types of art. Metal frames are lightweight and come in an assortment of sizes and colors. They are perfect for large pieces like posters.

Acrylic Frames: These frames are modern, customizable display options for your art and photographs. You can choose different shapes, colors, and patterns, or create something truly unique by crafting your own design. 

MDF Frames: Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) frames are engineered from wood chips and sawdust using high temperature and pressure. They are wrapped with a tape finish. You’ll usually find MDF frames in box-stores, but they sometimes pop up in custom framing shops. In a box-store, you can tell if the frame is MDF by looking at the back of the frame. You’ll see perfect straight lines from the tape finish. In a custom frame shop, you can flip the frame over to look for tape lines or look at the cut edges on the side. Wood frames will have a grain pattern, and MDF will look uniform. 

Closed-Corner and Finished-Corner Frames: You may or may not see these in a professional custom framing shop, but if you do, you know you’re dealing with someone that knows framing.  Closed-corner frames are created out of a single piece of wood or material. Finished-corner frames are joined and hand finished to hide the seam. These frames can have attachments and embellishments on the face of the moulding. They are handcrafted and can be customized to match your taste or design.

So, what is best? That depends on you and your aesthetic. Out of this list, we would recommend avoiding MDF frames as much as possible. They are heavy, damage easily, and are made from non-archival materials, meaning that they are potentially harmful to your art. You may not think that the frame can impact the life of your art, but it can. In fact, all of the materials that are used in your custom framing can impact your art in a positive or negative way.

III. Matting, Glazing, and Fitting

When it comes to custom framing, there are two types of materials: archival and non-archival. The latter are often seen in ready-made frames that you can purchase in box-stores and in some custom frame shops. Archival materials are designed to protect and preserve the art it surrounds. When you hear the word “archival,” you may think “expensive.” That isn’t always the case. An archival mat or UV glass can be the same price or maybe a few dollars more than a non-archival mat or regular glass. Here are a few materials you should ask about regarding your framing project:

Matting: A good mat can make or break the frame design. They can transform a piece of art. Mats come in different colors, fabrics, foils, patterns, and more. While they look pretty and add to the frame design, they serve a purpose. Mats provide a barrier between the art and the glass so that the art has breathing room and will not stick to the glass. Since it is touching the art, you want to make sure that the mat is acid-free. Acidic mats will “burn” and damage a piece of art, leaving discolored lines and spots when removed. 

Glazing: Picture frames get picture glass, right? Wrong. Regular glass, the type you get in a ready-made frame, is just glass. The only thing it protects art and photographs from is dust. Two popular types of archival glazing: conservation glazing and museum glass. Conservation glazing has a coating that blocks up to 99% of UV rays. This means that your art is protected against harmful rays that cause fading. Museum glass does the same thing as conservation glazing, but the glass has very little reflection. It looks as though the piece doesn’t have glass. There are other types of glass and acrylic that protect art from UV rays that vary in size and purpose (i.e. non-static, scratch and shatter resistant, etc.), but they are usually used for specialty projects.

Fitting: Pretty frames and unique designs may have drawn you to custom framing, but the most important part of any project is the fitting. What is a fitting? The fitting is the guts, the core, the technique and materials used to seal the art work into the physical frame. All of the archival materials in the world cannot protect a piece from a bad fitting. 

In our studio, archival materials are our standard, not our add-on. We don’t view them as a gimmick to increase the overall price. When you choose to custom frame a photograph, object, or other piece of art, you are making an investment in protecting and preserving your art. You may have spent $20 on a piece of art from Etsy or picked up a cheap drawing while travelling through Mexico, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important enough to be properly framed. In fact, that cheap print will be transformed into a beautiful work of art with the right framing design.

IV. Custom Framing Designs

Now that we know the types of frames and materials available, it’s time to talk design. Choosing the right frame is all about choosing the style you like. Do you like gold or wood frames? Are you modern or classic? Do you want something sleek and simple, or do you prefer bold and embellished? Like we said earlier, the frame samples on the wall may look overwhelming at first, but you’ll quickly see what you like and don’t like once you start placing corners on your art.

In addition to the moulding, there are other design elements you should consider:

Double Matting: This is where you stack two mats on top of each other. The top mat is the main mat, and the bottom mat is an accent mat that shows just a small amount. Some people think you need to double mat a piece of art because it draws out colors or adds some significance to the design. This isn’t always the case. Double matting can sometimes overpower a piece or make it look cheap. Think about what you’re trying to achieve by adding a second mat. Does it really help the piece or are you just driving up your cost?

Fabric and Suede Mats: Paper mats come in all sorts of colors, but sometimes, you just need a good fabric or suede mat on a photograph or piece of art. Fabric mats come in linen, silk, and other materials. They add texture and depth to a frame design. Wedding photographs and certificates, antique photos, objects, and more look fantastic in fabric mats. Objects, jerseys, shadow boxes, and more benefit from suede mats. If you aren’t hitting the right note with a paper mat, consider fabric or suede.

French Matting: Maybe you don’t like fabric mats and double matting isn’t helping your piece. It’s time to look at a French matting. This style of matting is primarily made up of thin lines surrounding the mat opening. You can choose to have one line or multiple lines, different colors or widths, or add embellishments such as a watercolor wash or gold leafing. It’s a classy way to jazz up a paper mat.

Float Mount: When a piece is float mounted, the art looks as if it were floating. Instead of being sandwiched under a mat, all of the art’s edges are exposed on top of the mat. The art can be laying directly under a mat or slightly elevated to give the piece dimension. Almost anything can be float mounted, but it is not a design for a person that needs to have perfection. Most pieces that are float mounted have rawness to them (textured edges, uneven borders, etc). If you need symmetry and perfection, float mounting may not be for you.

Stacked Frames: Stacked frames are made up of two (or more) mouldings combined to make one frame. You can stack a new frame on an old one, mix textures and colors, highlight a pop of color, and more with stacked framing. 

Liners & Fillets: You can use liners and fillets as decorative accents with or in lieu of a mat. Liners, fabric covered moulding, are usually seen on paintings, but they can be used on any type of art or photograph. They sit inside the outer moulding and add texture to the frame design. Fillets can sit inside the outer moulding to add a small embellishment (i.e. a beaded design or silver/gold lining) to the frame. They can also sit inside the matting near the art to add dimension. 

Of course, you don’t need to implement any of these design elements to your custom framing project. You can stick with a single neutral paper mat and the frame of your choice. In fact, you don’t have to mat it at all. But now, you know your options.

V. Antique Framing

How many times have you seen an antique piece of furniture and said, “They don’t make them like this anymore.” The same can be said about some antique frames. If you have an old frame that you love, you don’t need to get rid of it for something new. In fact, you can still buy antique frames in shops, yard sales, or online. We have clients that bring in an antique frame and art that needs to be refitted or refreshed in some way

There are times when you may want to consider upgrading your antique materials to new items:

    • Glass — Antique glass and convex glass are gorgeous in their own way, but they do not protect your pieces from UV rays. If you have an original photograph or art, you may want to weigh the pros and cons of using the antique glass. If you have a restored photo or a piece of art printed on archival paper, then it may be safe to use the original glass. 
    • Mats — Some antique photos were presented in ornate folios that served as the display option. They are stunning, but they are not archival. If you want to use the original folio as a mat, talk to a conservator about ways to protect your photograph.
  • Fitting — If your antique frame has not been touched since it was originally framed, it most likely needs a new fitting. A conservation fitting will help protect your piece from the elements including humidity, bugs, dust, and more. Take a look at the back of your frame. If it looks brittle or is falling apart, then it should be looked at.

If you have an antique frame but aren’t sure what to do with it, store it. You may decide that you love the frame, but you want a new piece of art in the frame. A family member may want it for their home. If nothing else, you can sell the frame to someone else that loves old frames and glass. 

VI. Framing & Travel Tips

  1. A photograph or work of art’s housing in an original frame is its best protection. Gently wrap the frame in a pillowcase and then a thick towel or blanket for travel. 
  2. Frames with convex glass should be transferred face down in a thick pad of bubble wrap or a pillow. This will keep the weight of the glass on the rabbet of the frame and off the print and its brittle backing. The original glass in the artwork can cause pressure points at the glazing points in the rear of the frame and fracture the original print. Face down is the best practice. 
  3. Leave your original frames and art dirty. You run the risk of damaging the art or frame if you use the wrong cleaner. A pro will not judge the current state of your piece, no matter how dirty it is.
  4. Be open-minded during the frame design process. It’s easy to think about what everyone else is doing or stick with a framing look you saw online. Staying open-minded will allow you to create a truly unique and dynamic frame design that reflects your taste, not the internet’s.
  5. Ask questions. A pro will be more than happy to answer any questions you have and collaborate to get the design you want. 
  6. Have fun. Custom framing is an artistic expression, and you should enjoy every minute of it.