How to Use a Fillet in Custom Framing

How to Use a Fillet in Custom Framing

A custom framing appointment with Mary Lou is a bit like working with Mary Poppins. Instead of pulling a lamp out of her bag, frames are pulled from never-ending frame walls. The mat pile grows and grows. Why? Because she’s searching for the perfect design for your art. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, Mary Lou turns to you with a mischievous look in her eye and a thin object in her hand. She says, “Now, I want you to keep an open mind and humor me.” No, she’s not about to torture you. She lifts her hand to show you a fillet.

Are you supposed to be excited? It all seems very underwhelming. What is so special about a small piece of wood?

Well, buckle up, pal. You’re about to find out.

What is a Fillet?


In Looking at European Frames, the official definition of a fillet is:

A concave channel embellishing a moulding, derived from the vertical grooves in classical columns. Generally cut in a series across the hollow or frieze of a frame at right angles to the frame side; a feature of the Neoclassical style.

To translate, a fillet is a thin piece of decorative moulding.

Wilner and Kaufman note in Antique American Frames that Neoclassicism is a “formal style…characterized by symmetry and restrained ornamental detail.” Ancient Greek and Roman architecture heavily influenced Neoclassicism, including leaf ornaments or patterns, beaded interior edges, and fluted coves. These frames often had a decorative outer edge, a fluted cove middle section, and decorative or flat gold leaf interiors, which could be accomplished using fillets. The symmetry of this decorative frame sandwich could easily draw the viewer’s eye toward the art. It was balanced and worked with most pieces of art.

Today, fillets are still used to create symmetry but with a twist. Modern fillets range from traditional beading, gold or metal leaf, and decorative patterns to natural wood grains, trendy patterns, and bold colors. It can customize a frame to bring out details in the moulding, your style, or elements in the art. You can attach it to moulding to jazz up a frame or reverse the fillet to create a mini frame within your frame (how meta). The possibilities are endless.

Need some ideas? Here are a few ways you can use a fillet in custom framing:

The Double Mat Fillet

We’ve featured this type of design on our website before when we wrote about daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. However, you don’t need antique photographs to use the double mat fillet.

This wedding invitation is so gorgeous. Our client chose this versatile gold frame and paired it with the soft beauty of a silk fabric mat. To further elevate the piece, we incorporated a matching gold fillet. This adds dimension and established a pattern: frame, matting, fillet, matting, and, finally, the invitation. The fillet raises the wider mat above the smaller mat and invitation to add excitement and grandeur–the exact feelings most couples feel on their wedding day. 

fillet wedding invitationThe Statement Fillet

We love a bold frame design, and this custom framed medal certainly makes a statement. We created a shadow box design using a deep, dark wood moulding. We used mats that matched the colors in the medal and a gold fillet to support the red mat. This created a little platform for the medal. It’s a simple design that complements the significance of the medal without detracting or overpowering it.

The Accent Fillet

This is a classic. You can use a fillet as an accent–a hint of something special–when a frame design feels like it needs a little extra oomph. You build your design using one frame, one mat, and one fillet. For this image, we chose an intricate silver frame with a blue linen mat and a silver fillet. The blue mat brings out the color in the photograph, and the silver fillet softens it just a touch. It ties the design together to make it classic instead of trendy.


The Traditional Fillet

Fillets easily fit into frame moulding. It’s a very traditional use. You can turn a black moulding into a two-tone moulding with a silver or gold fillet. Intricate mouldings look great with a simple flat fillet, and rustic mouldings can be dressed up with a beaded or metal leaf fillet. Look at this painting. The silver fillet transforms the rustic blue frame. Both mouldings draw out certain colors in the painting, and it rarely looks the same twice. The rustic frame alone couldn’t achieve that effect. That’s the power of the fillet.

These are only four of the many ways you can use a fillet in custom framing. You can be traditional in your design or go rogue and think of a completely different use for fillets. If you’re stuck with your design feeling flat, a fillet may be the exact custom framing element you need to add a little pizazz and panache.


Learn more about custom framing in our Guide to Custom Framing.