Know Before You Go
Things to bring with you for Selecting a Frame

Things You’ll Need:

  • The object to be framed
  • The location and map to one of two stores
  • A general idea of what you want the finished project to look like
  • Photographs, paint samples, fabric swatches, or other materials to help you and the framer decide what will look good where you want the object to go (optional, but highly recommended)
  • Your frame, if you prefer to use your own, rather than one the framer will provide (optional)
  • One to two weeks, depending on the difficulty of the project and availability of requested materials
  • Money or credit to pay up front
  • Measurements for the area where the finished piece will hang


Know what it is you need. For instance, is the item intended to be a gift? Is it for your home, your office, or somewhere else? Will it be the focal point of the room, or just an accessory, or a side note? Do you need it to match something you already have in place? Are you having it framed to change the look of the room, or to go along with what is already in place? Will it be seasonal, or will it stay up all year long? Are there any styles or colors that you really love, or really hate? These are a few questions you need to ask yourself before you go to the framer.

You can compare the framing samples with your samples from home to get a better idea of what you would like to do. You can also look through art books, books about framing, museum websites, or even interior design and fashion magazines to get an idea of what you would like. Even if you don’t want to copy directly an idea you see, you can use the source for inspiration. Custom framers love it when people bring in extra materials and definite ideas about what they like and don’t like in color and style choices; it makes their jobs easier.
The physical type of item you plan to frame will guide your decisions. The following is an overview of object types and their typical framing and mounting choices. Your custom framer will go over the mounting type and should present all the options available to you for your specific object.
NUMBER ONE: Works on paper: drawings, watercolor paintings, letter, certificates, prints, posters, and photographs, maps. Any flat piece of paper, papyrus, or paintings on flat skin. Generally, these are window matted and framed behind glass. A window mat is a window cut into a piece of matboard that is larger than the artwork. The matboard is in a complementary color or pattern, and the exposed portion of the matboard provides a resting place for the viewer’s eye. The window is cut so that it overlaps the work slightly, thus helping it to stay in place. Multiple windows can be cut in one sheet of matboard to display multiple images. Matboard can be stacked so that multiple colors or patterns are visible, like stairs. A depth of two mats is the industry standard for keeping glass from touching the art, though if your artwork protrudes, you must add more mats or a spacer. If it is not possible to overlap the artwork, the item can be mounted on matboard so that it appears to be floating. An additional window mat can be cut, larger so that the artwork and the decorative backing will show, for added effect. Photo corners, like those used in scrapbooks, are the best choice for archival framing of works on paper, but sometimes they cannot be used. In some cases, tape, dry-mounting (heat and vacuum sealing a piece to foamcore or other backing), or flanges are more appropriate. You may also choose to frame the art directly, with no mats. Your custom framer will advise you.
NUMBER TWO: Fabric art: cross stitch and embroidery, quilts and quilt squares, batiks, fabric swatches, and lace. Any flat or mostly-flat fabric piece. Fabric art can window-matted similar to paper art. Most fabric art will require a sew mount—artwork will be sewn with small, unobtrusive stitches. Some fabric art can be stretched on wooden stretcher bars or stretched and pinned or sewn to foamcore. There may or may not be glass.
NUMBER THREE: 3D objects: Pins and badges, guns, coins, flags, uniforms or clothing, sports equipment, trophies, locks of hair, figurines, specimens of taxidermy, topographical maps. Any artwork that protrudes into space deeper than an inch, anything with pieces sticking out. For 3D objects, the frame needs to be deep enough to contain them. Your framer can build a shadowbox—essentially a very deep frame, similar to a glass-fronted cabinet or case in a museum. Items are usually adhered or sewn to a backing—it will differ vastly with the type of object. Window mats or creative backings can be used for effect. Glass is recommended for shadowboxes.
NUMBER FOUR: Paintings on canvas: stretched and unstretched canvas. Canvases are generally stretched on wooden frames; the canvas is wrapped tightly and evenly around the frame and then stapled or nailed in place. Buying an unstretched canvas while traveling is a great way to bring home a unique, generally low-cost souvenir. Some needlework items can be stretched similar to a painting. There exist means of mounting an unstretched canvas without stretching, but they are not recommended for the long term. A stretched canvas is usually mounted with offsets (z-shaped metal pieces) that screw into the frame and gently press the canvas into the frame. Glass is not recommended for stretched canvasses.
You don’t really need to know about every mounting and material, because your framer will help you pick something appropriate, though it's always good to have some idea about what you're getting yourself into. The framer should explain exactly what the work will look like and what they’re going to do to your art object until you understand completely and are satisfied that the job will turn out in a way that you will enjoy. If your custom framer in unwilling or unable to explain the design and the reasons for your choices (with regards to aesthetics and archival standards), excuse yourself, take your art object with you, and get a new custom framer. It is their job to be patient, help you understand what you’re paying for and why, and make you feel confident about your framing choices.
What does “archival” mean? Archival framing means that “everything we did to it can be undone.” This means that the artwork should be able to be removed from its frame in the same condition it was put in after 100 years (assuming that no calamities occurred.) Archival also means that the natural effects of aging materials and the surrounding environment are minimized. Practically speaking, it is wise to get your art object checked and perhaps reframed every 10-30 years or so. Archival framing utilizes acid-free or buffered-pH materials (like matboard, foamcore, and tapes or glues), the most gentle mounting method, and UV-filtering glass that does not directly touch the artwork. But the framing industry changes as science advances materials. Getting an item reframed or assessed can alert you to problems of which you may or may not be aware, and it’s always better to catch decay early. Besides, your taste in furnishings is likely to change in 10 years—you’ll probably want to update the look of your artwork anyway.
You should always ask for the best framing possible. Be sure to ask how something will be mounted, whether their materials are archival, and whether the mounting will permanently change your art object. If your custom framer can’t or won’t answer your questions, go elsewhere. It is always wise to consult a professional art conservator or art insurer about the details of framing your art object correctly.
Glass is important in a frame. It keeps the surrounding environment (dust, dirt, bugs, spaghetti sauce…) from touching the artwork. It also helps a work on paper stay flat—the glass is sandwiched up against the mats, which are up against the overlap of the artwork, which is on a backing board, which is held into the frame. If no mats are present, it is important that the work not touch the glass. Over time, it can stick to the glass permanently. Invisible spacers are available to keep the glass from touching works that are not matted. Some objects, like flat needlework and stretched canvases, do not need glass. In those cases, the artwork needs to breathe through the front and back. Glass is only recommended for artwork that will hang in a kitchen or a bathroom, where the danger of splashing is greater than the effect of condensation and warping over time. UV-protective glass might also tip the balance in favor of glazing a stretched canvas as the UV rays may be more harmful over time than any of the downsides to glazing a stretched frame. UV-protective glass is the best defense against fading over time. If you can see your artwork, it is receiving UV rays from the ambient lighting, even if not directly by a lamp or window. Your custom frame shop may also be able to offer UV-protective Plexiglas (which is not to be used with pastels or charcoal—the slight static charge of the plastic can lift the delicate particles.) Glare-reducing glass is also available, and can greatly improve the overall look. Spare no expense when it comes to glass. Your artwork will thank you.
You should bring your artwork along so that the custom framer can measure it accurately. Pricing is generally based on size and, to a certain extent, complexity. Some mattings and mounting techniques are not available for very large pieces. There will be samples of matboards and frames that are available. There will also be glass samples, and often examples of framed work. You will combine these samples to make a frame design which the framer will make into an order. It usually takes between 30 minutes and an hour and a half to decide on what you want and how to frame your piece. Try to plan on going on a day when you won’t be rushed. If your piece is large, unwieldy, or fragile, you may need to plan a day when you won’t have any problems transporting it.
Know in advance what you plan to spend. Set an upper limit. A smallish piece, such as an 11" by 14" with triple mats, UV-glass, and a mid-priced frame will run about $300, maybe more, maybe less. Ballpark for most pieces regardless of type is $400. They can help you find a frame that fits your budget.  It is generally expected that you pay the entire amount of the order up front. You are not expected to tip the custom framer who helps you, but those who are allowed to accept tips (or are certain they won’t get caught) usually appreciate it. Some shops may ask you for a picture of the finished product for their brag book—it’s fine to refuse. Frame shops can also cut custom matting to fit an existing frame, and that may be a good way to save money, though you will limit many of your design choices.
Custom frame orders generally take a week to two weeks to complete. If you need something right away, tell your custom framer ahead of time. If you need something sooner than their usual deadline, this will probably limit your choices to what the shop has on hand and what staff members are immediately available. If you know you will need something done in advance for a holiday or special occasion, give the frame shop extra time to complete it. The Christmas season tends to be very busy, and it may be impossible for the frame shop to complete orders that need to be done right away. Very large orders, as for an art show at a gallery, may take longer to complete than a usual order of one or two pieces.
It is also very wise to ask about a return policy—if you decide against your frame choice, for example, can you bring it back for an exchange? Most shops are happy to help you redesign a custom frame, though you may be charged for new materials. They are usually also happy to rework a piece if you are not satisfied with the quality of the workmanship
The frame shop will need your name and contact information so that they can contact you about pickup or with any questions they may have.  After signing the order, you will pay and get a copy of what you signed, as well as a receipt. Hold onto that paperwork! Most shops can look you up if you’ve lost your receipt anyway, but losing your paperwork can often complicate returns or pickup.
The shop will call you when your order is ready. They will also call you if they need clarification, or if the work will be late for some reason. Feel free to call to check up on the status of your order, or if your contact information changes, or if you have any questions. Frame shops can usually offer advice about hanging hardware and methods, and custom framers are typically knowledgeable about art and design. Even if they don’t know the answer to your question, they might help you find out. Know what it is you need. For instance, is the item intended to be a gift? Is it for your home, your office, or somewhere else? Will it be the focal point of the room, or just an accessory, or a side note? Do you need it to match something you already have in place? Are you having it framed to change the look of the room, or to go along with what is already in place? Will it be seasonal, or will it stay up all year long? Are there any styles or colors that you really love, or really hate? These are a few questions you need to ask yourself before you go to the framer.