What is it that can compliment or take away from your artistic creation? What can make your artwork stand out and make it look all the more special? What can enhance not just your art but also speak volumes about your aesthetic style?

It is the frame around your work of art. The frame is the finishing touch, the icing on the cake, the final component of a painting. Framing is an art in itself, and just as a good frame can enhance a work of art, a bad one can greatly depreciate its value.

Art is a key element to any well-decorated interior. It adds life and visual interest to the place it adorns. The frames surrounding your art have an important role to play in decorating. Frames separate and distinguish the artwork while also protecting it.

The primary objective of  framing an oil or acrylic painting is to enhance the art and the art alone, without taking away focus from it in any which way. The primary objective of framing a work on paper is to protect the piece besides enhancing its appearance.

Framed vs. Frameless

Not all works of art need framing. For contemporary gallery-wrapped paintings, framing is completely optional. The term gallery wrap refers to canvas wrapped around thick stretcher bars and secured to the back rather than the sides of those bars. This mounting leaves the sides of the canvas smooth, neat and free of visible staples or tacks. Artists using this type of canvas mount often continue the painting around the sides or simply paint the sides a complementary neutral color. I personally prefer the latter and like to paint the sides of my canvases as a continuation of the composition I am depicting, especially for my acrylic pours.

 Here are a couple of examples of artworks that exhibit this feature. The former is an acrylic pour done by my daughter on a stretched canvas and as evident, the composition continues or “flows” to the sides, hence framing is not required. The latter is a part of my Navrasa series where once again the painting continues around the sides, so I am still toying with the idea of whether to frame it or not! (Click on the thumbnails to view full images).

When a painting on canvas is not gallery-wrapped, the stretchers are thinner and the staples are visible along the sides. This kind of canvas will obviously need to be framed, and the frame needs to have sufficient depth to accommodate the thickness of the canvas and stretchers. Oil or acrylic paintings on a canvas stretched over wood stretcher bars can be framed or unframed. If you leave a painting unframed, you’ll see its sides, which are typically gessoed in white or the color of the raw canvas or linen.

Paintings on board or panel usually require the structure of framing for display, as do most paintings on paper. However, box mounting these works for sleek effect renders framing optional. Another good option for such canvases is floater frames which are my personal favorite and would love to use for my future art projects.

Unframed paintings have a sense of casualness that can be quite charming. However, you need to be OK with the possibility of seeing some smears of paint on the edges and the thick bump created by the canvas folded over at the corners.

Choosing a Frame

When it comes to selecting frames for your art, there are no hard and fast rules. It is best to let your piece connect you to the right frame.  There are several options for frame styles available at a wide range of prices. You can choose to do it yourself or get it done by framing stores. Whatever you choose, keep in mind the following key points about framing:

  1. The Painting’s style – A period painting or one with a classical subject matter is well suited for a timeless, traditional, elegant gold-leafed frame or a handsome walnut or mahogany wood frame. Lighter, sublime or abstract paintings may look best in sleek, minimalist frames. For paintings that are in-between, there are transitional frames—those that blend elements of the traditional and the contemporary. Choose a frame finish that doesn’t compete with the art in terms of color or texture. For example, don’t choose a fussy frame with a mottled finish to go with a busy image.
  2. The Painting’s size – Larger paintings usually look best with wider moldings and, therefore, larger frames. If, for some reason, space is a constraint, a floater frame is a better option. These usually add only 1 to 4 inches to the height and width of a large painting, whereas a regular frame may add as much as 7 to 12 inches to the overall dimensions.
  3. Style and color of frame – The frame is supposed to enhance your art and not overpower it. Therefore, the style and color of the frame should be subdued. A frame that is the same color as the wall more or less blends into it visually thereby rendering all the focus on your art.
  4. Mats for framing A mat (also called a mount) is a thin piece of paper like material on which your art sits. It’s mostly decorative and acts as a backdrop for your art. Mats prevent the artwork from touching the glass and allow airflow around it, thereby preventing the work and glass from sticking together over time. Mats also help create visual transition space between the wall and artwork. When framing artwork, choose a mat that is lighter than the work of art but darker than the wall. For a traditional look, pick a prominent accent color from the art to complement the mat color. A gilded bevel on a mat can really elevate the look while still keeping it simple. But what exactly is a mat? I shall discuss this in detail further down in the post.
  5. Size and proportion – If the mat and frame are of equal widths, they look like stripes around the work. Hence, the matting should be wider than the frame. The size of the artwork obviously decides the overall size of the frame, but one needs to take care of the width of the frame in relation to the size of the work. Generally, the larger the painting or print the wider the frame should be.
  6. Preservation of the artwork – The quality of framing material used for a particular artwork depends on its value or importance. For instance, for works on paper, a 100 percent acid-free mat is a must, so that the work does not discolor or “burn” over time. Besides this, ensure the use of acid-free hinging tape to adhere the work to the mat. The type of glass used with the frame is another important aspect of preserving the artwork. Clear picture frame glass is most common and inexpensive, but it can’t block UV rays, which can cause irreversible damage to the piece.  So if the work is being exposed to natural light it is important to choose a UV filtering glass. More about glasses later on.
  7. The hanging hardware – For ready-made frames, ensure that the hanging hardware is secure enough to be able to hold your artwork onto the wall. Size and weight of the hardware are also important points to consider. If the framed art weighs a lot, use d-rings and a hanging wire.

Frames for works on Paper

Watercolors, pastels, charcoal drawings etc., require special care when it comes to framing owing to the perishable nature of their surfaces.

Before framing, the work should be mounted on a support in such a way that if required at any time in the future, the artwork can be removed from the frame without causing any damage to it. Also, there should be no remnants left behind of the previous framing structure. This is crucial for works of value or anticipated future value.

Acid-free corner pockets and acid-free adhesives are two good methods of securing artwork to its support. As for the support itself, archival foam board creates a sturdy structure for a framed piece on paper and helps protect artwork from pollutants that might find their way through the back of a framed piece.

Most works on paper require matting and framing under glass for further protection. The mat board, with a cutout window, is laid over the painting and prevents the glass from touching the surface of the artwork. A spacer can be used in place of a mat. Matting also contributes to the presentation of the artwork.

It‘s essential that all materials used be 100 percent acid-free. You may look back at pieces framed many years ago and see that the matting has discolored, as has the paper of the actual artwork where it came in contact with the mat board. This discoloration (acid burn), is caused by acid in cardboard backing, non-acid-free matting, acidic masking or Scotch tape. Many a fine work has been devalued owing to this. All good framers now use acid-free or archival materials. 

Here is an example of one of the framed prints that adorn my home.

A framed print

Types of Frames

There are innumerable choices one can make when it comes to frames but choosing the right frame for a piece is paramount. Frames are made of a variety of materials, like wood, metal, resin, gesso and gold or silver leaf.

The right frame can augment the aesthetic appeal of a painting to a great extent. Not only does the frame merely house the artwork or just serve the purpose of hanging it on a wall, but also preserves the piece from damage by protecting it from fading and wrinkling, thus keeping the artwork well preserved for longer periods.

This makes deciding on the perfect frame a difficult task as the myriad of options available could leave you stumped. To avoid such hassles, it is best to do your homework about the most commonly used material for frames. Let me make it easier for you with the following list:

  1. Wood – Wood has been traditionally one of the most popular framing materials for ages as not only is it versatile, but also comes in a wide range of textures and colours. It can also take paints and stains well. Moreover, wooden frames come in ornate as well as simple forms. They can complement almost any décor style thus making them a safe choice in most cases.
    1. Faux Wood – Faux wood frames typically consist of a dense plastic material known as polystyrene. They look almost identical to genuine wooden frames. Shaping and drilling the material is easy. In addition, faux wood frames are both lightweight and immensely affordable.
    1. Metals – Many fine art framing companies offer metallic frames which are equally versatile. Moreover, they usually come in an assortment of shapes and sizes. They are ideal for modern and minimalistic art styles. Narrow metallic frames can outline pictures subtly and simply fade away into the area of display.
    1. Bamboo – Bamboo frames are not a conventional choice, but, their ability to add a rustic feel to any image makes them highly popular. Bamboo is both flexible and sturdy. Depending on the style of the frame, it can look casual or urban. People often select bamboo frames because it is an environment-friendly material.

Most of my framing is done in wood or faux wood but I am open to metal frames if the artwork demands so. Here are a few images of the different types of frames I have used for various artworks of mine.

Tips for Selecting the Perfect Frame for Your Artwork

Some of the attributes of a quality frame include:

  1. Drawing the Viewer’s Attention to the Picture and Not to the Frame – When you are selecting a frame, consider the key aspects of the artwork in question. Think about the elements that you want to accentuate in the piece. Light frames usually draw the attention of the viewers to the areas of contrast. They make the viewers focus on the softer lines in the painting. Dark and heavy frames can accentuate deep tones or subdued themes.
  2. Blending in with Other Elements in the Display Space –Consider the place where you plan to hang the frame as it will need to complement the décor of the space in terms of size, colour and texture. This is why print framing professionals often exhort their customers to select frames having high levels of versatility.
  3. Emphasizing the Colour and Texture of the Picture – If you were to pick a frame that doesn’t suit the colour combination and textural effects in the painting, the effect could be quite discordant and jarring. Paintings with simple lines will look good in decorative frames. Similarly, those featuring busy scenes will look better in simple and plain frames.
  4. Maintenance and Durability – Besides picking a frame that goes well with the image, you will need to consider whether you want a frame with glazing that eliminates glare, ultraviolet rays etc. , and also one that is easy to clean and maintain.

What is Matting?

A regular mat consists of a beveled hole in the middle of the decorative mat, and then the artwork is placed on top of a foam mat, which sits behind the decorative one. A mat helps highlight artwork by separating it from the frame and drawing attention to the artwork itself. Besides highlighting the artwork, a mat also physically distances and prevents the artwork from sticking to the glass.

Mats are highly recommended for works on paper like drawings, prints or watercolors. Without a mat, these artworks tend to look more like posters. However, for multiple pieces like diptychs and triptychs that are meant to be read as one piece, it is advisable not to use a mat.

The entire objective of matting is to make your art stand out, so exercise caution when choosing mat color. An understated white or off-white goes with almost anything. If the piece is almost uniformly white, or if you wish to add some drama, you can go for a gray or black mat.

You can also add an accent mat, essentially a second mat inside the primary one that creates a thin outline around the artwork. This accent mat is optional though. But if you do opt for one, choose a color that’s from the work itself. This can be a shade that you want to highlight or an undertone you want to accentuate from your painting. Adding a color-contrasting mat can accentuate the artwork even more. It is recommended to use a neutral mat for the dominant border (white is classic these days), and adding a colored secondary mat that references a color in the artwork — but only if it truly enhances the image.

While the addition of a second mat or even two more mats further defines the artwork, thereby drawing the viewer’s attention to it, this also stands the risk of the frame overwhelming the artwork.  So less is best and if you decide to use multiple mats, do so carefully.

A delicate wood fillet is an attractive alternative to a double mat. The fillet, which fits inside the opening of the mat board, between the board and the artwork, can match or complement the color of the frame.

Types of Mats

  1. Paper mats – Paper mats can be acidic or non-acidic. Acidic paper mats, sometimes called “decorative mats,” are made with wood pulp. An acidic compound in the wood pulp called lignin creates yellow and brown burn marks on the artwork. One way to tell if a piece has been framed with an acidic mat is if the bevel has yellowed over time. If it’s acid-free, it should still be white. Acidic mat are fine for inexpensive, easily replaceable pieces, like posters. However, if you’ve purchased pre-matted artwork or have a piece that was matted a long time ago and you aren’t sure what type of matting was used, it might be worth replacing it with a non-acidic mat to be safe.
  2. Regular mat board – Also called paperboard, this is also made of wood pulp, but has been acid-neutralized. This is the most commonly used mat material and is advertised as “acid-free.” It should last about a hundred years or so. Acid mat board does cost more than regular (acidic) paper mats, but not that much. This type of matting is best for most pieces, like low to mid-range artwork and photos.
  3. One hundred percent cotton rag mats – Also known as rag mats, these are constructed of a cotton rag core and backing paper, which rests near the artwork. Rag mats are acid-free and high-quality. Like regular mat board, this type of matting is also appropriate for artwork that doesn’t need a high degree of conservation. Rag mats can be used for anything from cherished family photos to watercolor paintings.
  4. Conservation or archival mat board – This is the most expensive, least acidic mat. It’s made of pH-neutral cellulose that’s been treated to be inert for hundreds of years and is used on more valuable pieces and works that require the highest level of preservation.

Other mat materials include vellum, suede and fabric-wrapped mats, such as linen. Sharing a couple of images of paintings where I have used mats to give you an idea of how matting can aesthetically enhance the piece.

Here are some examples of matting I have used for my art.

Mat scale

Boris Smorodinsky of Striving Artists Framing and Art Services in Los Angeles says there’s no hard-and-fast rule as to how wide a mat should be in relation to the artwork. In fact, framing in general is subjective and depends on the piece and the client’s personal preferences. However, Smorodinsky usually starts with a minimum width of 2 inches.

The mat and frame should not be of equal widths. Preferably, the matting should be wider than the frame. If the frame and mat are the same size, the eye tends to visualize stripes around the work.

Generally, weighted matting is preferred. This means that the bottom of the mat is deeper than the sides and top. Weighting, even when it’s subtle, provides visual balance when the framed piece is hung on a wall.

 Glass for Framing

Glass primarily protects works on paper from dust and pollutants.  The following options are available for the glass to be used for framing:

  1. Regular glass is the most commonly used glass for framing. Although scratch-resistant, it can break easily during transportation and only filters out about half of the damaging ultraviolet (UV) light rays.
  • Non-glare glass works well on pieces placed directly in front of a window. The drawback is that this glass tends to soften the image and give a slightly fuzzy appearance to the work. It also gives low UV protection.
  • Conservation glazing is a coating applied to glass that offers 97 percent UV protection.
  • Museum Glass is the ultimate—so clear and glare-free that you can’t see it at all when you stand in front of a painting. It also provides the best UV protection. This glass is expensive, but worth the price. Optimum Museum acrylic, made by Tru Vue, is an acrylic with added UV-filtering benefits and is antireflective and scratch-resistant. Costing more than museum glass, Optimum Museum Acrylic is the most expensive option. Conservation Clear acrylic, also made by Tru Vue, is another option with the same UV benefits, but it is reflective.
  • Acrylic glazing, also known by the trade name Plexiglas, is much lighter than glass, which makes it a good alternative for large works of art. It’s virtually shatter proof, although it scratches easily. Available in regular and non-glare forms, acrylic provides about 60 percent UV protection. Regular glass cleaners can leave the surface looking foggy. Plexiglas is an option for large pieces or artwork that needs to be shipped because, being made of acrylic, it’s much more lightweight than glass. Like glass, it’s available in regular and UV-filtering options. Besides UV Rays, the infrared light spectrum can be just as damaging to artwork and can effectively cook pigment and paper, especially if the work is under glass. Glass is an excellent conductor of heat and can intensify the damaging aspects of infrared light. Plexiglas, on the other hand, is an insulator and can actually reduce the possibility of infrared damage.

Glass or Plexiglas is recommended for paper-based artwork whereas oil and acrylic paintings should be left uncovered because they release gases as they cure and need to breathe. Glass is also heavy and can be an obstacle for large pieces or ones that need to be shipped.

Consequences of Improper Framing

Quite often, the surface on which pictures and paintings appear is paper which is usually not durable and is prone to damage. It can tear or wrinkle, fade or stain. It can also appear stretched. This is because paper usually comprises of wood pulp, which contains acidic compounds. These can cause the paper to turn yellow and become brittle with time. Similarly, the use of cellophane and masking tape can cause stains. High humidity levels can change the structure of the paper itself and lead to the growth of moulds and mildew. In addition, ultraviolet rays can cause the colour of the picture to fade. Once the damage has begun, it can become irreversible.

Taking these factors into account, custom-made frames offer the best recourse. These frames typically feature high-quality materials. Thus, they can minimize all the risks that have the potential to damage printed artwork and documents. The materials used for making these frames will be free of acidic and alkaline ingredients. So, they will not damage the artwork by themselves. More importantly, they will also be able to keep out various environmental elements that could damage the picture.

It is for this reason that framing specialists often use acid-free mat boards and mount boards. These do not let acidity damage the artwork as they are typically composed of materials devoid of acids naturally such as cotton fibres. In addition, they often undergo additional buffering for maintaining a neutral pH value. Similarly, special acid-free mounting products eliminate the hassles of stains that come with using standard cellophane and masking tape. For instance, framing professionals often use linen hinging tape or acid-free hinging tape for mounting paintings.

Not many people think twice before opting for regular glass for their frames. But, glass framing professionals know the value of selecting the right glazing for the frame. The glazing placed in front of an artwork in a frame, protects it from moisture as well as contamination by touch. In addition, it keeps dirt and microorganisms away. As mentioned earlier, colors can fade with exposure to ultraviolet light. With UV-filter glazing, you will be able to eliminate these concerns. It is worth highlighting that a good frame will seal the artwork and keep all its components flat, tight and secure.

Wooden Frame Vs Metallic Frame

For many people, wood is the preferred material for frames. Not only is the look of wooden frames quite compelling but also they are typically suited for almost all kinds of art styles. They can blend in perfectly with any kind of colour combination and will never look dated or go out of style. As a result, they are among the most popular kinds of frames.

In the past, not too many options were available in terms of framing materials and wood was the only material of choice. But now there’s no dearth of framing options. Although frames made from a diverse range of materials are available today, it eventually boils down to two materials – wood and metals. People who like traditional frames invariably opt for wood and those with a liking for the contemporary go for metallic ones. Some aspects to consider while choosing between wooden and metallic frames are:

  1. Type of Artwork – If the piece is a classic or traditional work of art, a wooden frame is recommended. These frames are ideal for exhibiting still life paintings, portraits and landscapes. On the other hand, for abstract paintings, minimalistic photography etc., consider metallic frames. The simple and clean lines of these frames make them ideal for displaying less intricately detailed artwork.
  2. The Area of Display – Modern architecture and decor are well suited for metallic frames. In contrast, warmly-toned rooms will suit wooden frames perfectly. But, the simplicity of metallic frames makes them blend into spaces with any kind of décor style easily.
  3. The Damage Potential – Wooden frames can be quite robust, but remain susceptible to damages. Owing to their heavier weight, they can sustain dents or scratches on falling. Repairing these is next to impossible. On the other hand, repairing or replacing the sides of a metallic frame is much easier.
  4. Budget – Framing shops often charge higher rates for wooden frames as they comprise costlier material. In addition, the materials used in wooden frames require hand-gluing and nailing together. Moreover, the more ornate the frame, the higher the price. In contrast, aluminum metal frames are budget-friendly.

Can a canvas be Framed?

If the canvas is stretched and you’re happy with how its sides look, it can be displayed unframed. A painting or print on canvas, unlike works on paper, has a structure and shape of its own so not all canvases may require framing. Depending on the aesthetic appeal of the art being displayed on the canvas, one needs to decide whether to frame it or not, so as to ensure that the art itself is not compromised.

Framing of Art Prints

Art prints can have a white border on the edges. This does 3 things:

1. It gives the look of having a “built-in” mat around the print, making it look more like fine art rather than a poster.

2. It gives space around the edges so when framed, no part of the image is covered by the front frame lip or edge. (This can cover an image by 1/16″ to even 1/4″ on every side, depending on the frame. That means up to an entire half inch of your image could be covered up!)

3. It allows the bottom signature, title, and (if applicable) number of the print to show. Signed prints are worth more than unsigned prints, and numbered limited edition prints are worth more than open edition prints. On an “original print,” i.e., a hand-pulled printmaker’s work, like a linocut, woodcut, lithograph, etc., the number in the edition is very important, too. Different artists sign their pieces differently, but in general, signing on the front in pencil at the bottom of the piece is standard. 

 If you take your piece to a framer’s to be professionally framed, you may notice that more white space is left on the bottom of the piece than the top (or the mat may even be cut a little thicker on the bottom). This visually balances the piece. If too little white space is left on the bottom, it can feel cramped or top heavy.

Framing has no hard and fast rules so feel free to explore. A nontraditional painting can look like a million dollars in a hefty, ornate and traditional frame, and a very small painting can glisten like a precious stone when placed in an over sized frame.

I personally lean toward simpler frame styles and colors, but I also believe that an ornate frame can really give a face lift to a simple piece of art.

Regardless of how you frame your work, always ensure that you are using archival-quality materials that will take care of environmental factors, wear and tear as well as ageing.

Happy framing!

DISCLAIMER – All the information, data and imagery in this blog post is for informational and educational purpose only. While there may be copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner, I have only made it available with the sole effort to stimulate creative progress and artistic enrichment. Some images may have been taken from the links included below and I give full credit to these websites/pages, thereby in no way claiming them to be my own. I have also used these links for reference purposes and collection of data; therefore I give full credit to the respective web pages. Most of the data in this post is based on my personal experiences and opinions and I am not responsible for any material that is found in the links at the end of this post.

Sources and Photo Credits –

What Aspects Should You Consider When Ascertaining Whether You Need a Wooden or a Metallic Frame

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