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How to frame an artwork
For newcomers, the framing process can feel like one with hidden rules. Flanked by a dictionary of obscure terms – mounts, mouldings and archival loops to name a few – and the inevitable costs involved, the task of framing an artwork can quickly become daunting. The outcome? Much-loved artworks left in draws and boxes, never to be seen.
While there are conventions to consider, there’s no one ‘right’ way to frame anything. Equipped with the basics, follow your instincts and you’ll be fine. If in doubt, ask a framer.
What can I frame?
Framing doesn’t end with prints, paintings and photographs. Treasured objects, trinkets and tchotchkes of all kinds can also benefit from a four-sided surround. Ask any framer about the strangest thing they’ve framed and you’re sure to unearth some anecdotal inspiration.
Framing can feel like a costly necessity. An inconvenient final hurdle. Consider it instead an opportunity to preserve and showcase whatever is most valuable to you, for whatever reason that might be. The things we frame become the things we talk about, recounting how they came to hang on this wall, at this moment – and why. Seen this way, the importance of the perfect frame is clear.
We paid a visit to Facility in East London with five prints from a recent edition by Liang Fu. On a sunny afternoon surrounded by swatches and samples, we considered colour, texture, edge conditions, contrast and composition. Framing the same artwork several times offered the unusual opportunity to compare different outcomes, rather than wondering what might have been.
Looking for framing inspiration?
The object or artwork you're framing is a good place to start. What colours and textures are at play? Are you looking to compliment or contrast them? Does it call for something compact and cosy in muted hues, or for something slick, shiny and spacious?
When framing Anonyme by Liang Fu we looked carefully at the print for inspiration. Dominant shades of blue and violet, subtly warm undertones, pearlescent highlights, the canvas-like texture of the paper and its hand-torn edges all informed our choices. Ensconced in his sweater, the work’s phantom-like subject prompted the use of velvet – with its nocturnal connotations – in frame number 3, while the direction of his gaze inspired a rakish off-centre window mount for frame number 5.
For more inspiration look at the combinations of colour and texture in your favourite artworks, objects, interiors and clothing, or head to a gallery. The best way to decide what works, especially if you’re feeling experimental, is to spend time with a framer looking at samples and swatches alongside your artwork, in the flesh.
Your framer will ask what type of mount you would like. This describes how and where an artwork sits inside its frame.
The most common options are float and window. Float-mounted artworks hover above their backing board, casting a subtle shadow and showcasing their exposed edges. They are usually encased in a box frame, the depth of which creates a space between the artwork and glazing. By contrast, window or ‘passe-partout’ mounts trap the artwork behind a flat surface with an opening sized to conceal the edges of the paper. In this case the glass will usually sit flush against mount. Both styles can accommodate multiple elements within one frame.
Size is also an important consideration. Give your artwork room to breath, or keep things tight? If you’re feeling bold, consider an irregular border or an off-centre placement. Unmounted artworks stretch right to the edge of their frame – perfect if they have a border of their own, or you’re short on space.
Moulding describes the style of a frame’s outer edge. Choosing the right one will involve decisions about size, colour, material and shape. Wood and metal are popular, and can both be stained or sprayed to align with your vision. Some mouldings suit or require specific mount styles. Your framer can help you find the perfect pair.
The key considerations when it comes to glazing are preservation, visibility and strength. Most framers offer glass and acrylic (plastic) options with varying degrees of UV protection. Decide what level of protection you need based on the photo-sensitivity of the artwork you’re framing, and where you plan to hang it. Non-reflective glass or Optium acrylic makes it easier to see your artwork from all angles. In general, expect to pay more for more protective and less reflective options. If you’re planning to ship your frame, acrylic options are a good bet. Glass, while traditional and at times less expensive, is liable to shatter.
In some cases you may want to forego glazing – fully exposing the surface of your artwork. Tray frames used for paintings on canvas are a good example. Be mindful, however, that an unglazed frame leaves its contents vulnerable to UV light, moisture and any other airborne hazards.
How do I hang an artwork?
On the back of your frame you’ll find a hanging system. Its style will depend primarily on size and weight. Sawtooth hardware rests directly on nails or screws, while D rings can be used to attach hanging wire. For particularly heavy works, a hanging bar may be fitted, which will come with an inverted counterpart for you to screw directly to your wall. If the back of your artwork includes any important information – a signature or edition details, for example – your framer can affix a photocopy to the back of the frame.
What is archival framing?
Archival framing ensures the safe preservation of your artwork. Acid-free materials and careful construction protect it from damage caused by sunlight, moisture and airborne pollutants. You will also see ‘museum grade’ and ‘conservation quality’ used to describe this approach. Another important tenet of archival framing is its reversibility – ensuring that an artwork can be safely removed from a frame in the same condition it was delivered to the framer. This means that if you really want to, you can do it all again.
How much does artwork framing cost?
In short, it varies. Bespoke framing is not cheap. Bigger frames, as you might expect, will be more expensive, while optional extras like non-reflective glass and unusual materials can increase your bill significantly. Framing is a craft that requires precision and expertise. Cheaper options, such as off-the-shelf or online services, are available, but will restrict your choices when it comes to mount types, moulding, materials and archival credentials.
A good framer will offer a variety of options, and explain the costs involved. You’ll see framing options for most prints on the Avant Arte website, which provide a ballpark figure for bespoke framing based on the size of the artwork.
First time framing? Start safe and lean classic, then next time around (or the time after that) roll the dice with something strange, wild and free. Questions or concerns along the way? We're here to help.
If you're looking for the artwork to take with you, we can help with that too. Discover upcoming and available prints.
Facility is an independent framing studio located in East London with a reputation for colourful frames, unconventional materials and bold aesthetic choices. Follow their Instagram for a wealth of framing inspiration from their fast-growing community of clients.
Anonyme by Liang Fu
Framers you can trust
For framers around the world recommended by Avant Arte collectors, browse our framing guide.