Picture Frames, Picture Framing and Picture Framers' Blog

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How, when and where to save money on custom picture frames in 4 easy steps

We believe that one of the main reasons that photos, prints, posters and pictures are not framed is because of the cost. And while many picture framers will furiously shake their heads at this statement,  picture framing is, comparatively speaking, quite expensive. Customers can get an inexpensive  A4 black picture frame for as little as $2.84, but to custom frame it, anywhere from $50 to $10 and in anybody’s language, that’s expensive!  However, if you stop and think how the artwork will be framed, what it is,  and where you going to hang it, you can save, and considerably!  Let’s start with the backing board, you know,  the bit that you see at the rear and goes at the back of the picture. Now think about the value, financial, emotional or otherwise the art ( the picture) that you want framed may have.  Does it have any?  Did you pay hundreds ( pounds, dollars, shekels, whatever ) for it? ..   Is it a work on paper or an original?  Is it one of a kind? If the answer is no to any of the above then chances are that your art is relatively inexpensive, unimportant and while not worthless, not valuable at all. In this case chances are that the framer will use cheap, thin plywood, MDF or cardboard as an inexpensive backing. Many  ready-made, or off-the-shelf frames also use brown cardboard as a backing, which works fine but may break down after many years. These backings will still  keep out the dust  but maybe acidic and acid may migrate to the framed art. You can then skip having an acid free or conservation backing and make the 1st  step of saving money on picture framing. Now let’s progress with the window mat, or window mount, as our English brethren call it, or more simply, the mat.  The mat is often not noticed at first in the overall custom picture frame. Before deciding whether you can do without it, you should know what it does. And the window mat serves several purposes.  Firstly it separates the image from the frame, making the overall art larger,  heightening the visual focus required and thus enhancing the art. Secondly it keep the glass away from the art itself, and this important with valuable work. Thirdly it is a the place from which the picture will be hinged, so that it does not move.  Matboard, or mountboard, comes in several sizes and can be of varying quality, from the everyday production matboard to the cotton-rag, museum quality variety, or brand.  If your picture is a cheap holiday poster, a reproducible snapshot, or similar, and is not valuable,  However if you feel that your art may have value, financial, emotional or otherwise, or is irreplaceable, then you should consider a quality window mat. The matboard should be , at the very least, acid-free, or archival or museum quality.  AlphaRag, Crescent Ragboard and Artcare are names of quality boards that come readily to mind. Skimp on the mat board if you’re not framing one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable artwork — or you simply don’t need a mat board to make your artwork pop. If you decide to forgo mat board, however, use frame spacers to ensure that the glazing doesn’t touch the artwork. Lastly, if  you like the presentation of matted art  but don’t need it to be of archival quality then you can opt for a generic, production,  whitecore matboard as a cheaper option.  Of course, not having a window mat at all is the cheapest option and is the 2nd step of saving money on picture framing. Then there’s the glazing , which means the material,  the framed art will be covered with.  It can be plastic, Perspex or acrylic, but in most cases it will be clear glass. Glazing,  whether this be  glass or plastic, serves to protect the art from airborne pollutants and dust.  The same art value reasoning is applied here as  in the two preceding sections. If the art is not valuable, then inexpensive, clear float glass will do fine. Clear glass only blocks about half of the harmful Ultra Violet (UV) rays that fade colours but this is relatively unimportant when art is not valuable. If the art is invaluable then special conservation glass to block out most of not all of the UV light is recommended, to prevent or at least, greatly retard fading.  The other consideration is where the art will hang.  If the frames are large and the room where these will hang is bright and sunlit, consider asking your framer for non-reflective glass. With all that said, using common, inexpensive, clear float glass is the 3rd step of saving money on picture framing. And lastly, there’s the moulding, which after it’s cut and joined gets called;  the frame.  Plain, square profile black mouldings are the cheapest, if these suit the artwork.  Size also matters in this department.  A frame made out from a small, 2x2cms moulding will cost a fair bit less than a frame made from a 4x4cms moulding. To sum it up, small is cheap, is expensive!  Gold, silver-leaf mouldings, floater profiles and mouldings that are embossed and decorate will cost more.  The provenance of the mouldings also matters. If it’s Asian-made, probably from Malaysia, then the frame will cost less because the factories that make the mouldings there are able to employ cheap labour, up to 90% cheaper than Australian labour.  If it’s European, from Italy or from the U.S.A., then the frame will cost more, for the inverse reason that factories in those countries need to employ  relatively more expensive labour. And this is the 4th and last step on how save money when picture framing.


I always get a discount when paying for picture frames, or most things for that matter, because I always ask for a cash payment discount. All picture frame stores I know of that offer Card payment need to pay their Merchant fees, terminal fees and credit card processing fee that can be as much as 2.5% of the transaction. With cash sales, most small businesses don't book them anyway, they put them straight into their pockets and they don't have to pay their Bank fees. So the benefit goes both ways - so, just ask for cash discounts, chances are you will get some sort of discount on your picture framing, I usually get between 5 to 10% of the Invoice price.
Jennifer Y. - 23 Jan 2018 08:38 pm
I didn't know that mats were optional. Whenever I have something framed the framers I go to always insist that I have a window mat in the picture frame. The say that it's protect the print. But sometimes the prints I have framed are just holiday posters that didn't cost me all that much. So I think that I'm being pushed into adding something to my picture framing that I don't or need.
Claire R. - 28 Dec 2017 09:07 am
You should email this post to the picture framer down here! I had an AFL Collingwood premiership poster to frame which only cost me $125 but the framer guy wanted $480 to conserve or museum framing! He went on and on about how the print needed to be protected with special boards and glass ! That's all very well but he didn't seem to understand that the print wasn't all that valuable. So I left and went down a discount frames store and got an A1 ready-made poster frame for $35. Okay, it mightn't look as good as the framer would've made it, but hey, some people have to work 1 week to get the money he wanted.
Manuel O. - 24 Nov 2017 01:43 pm
Quite a useful post, thank you. I think so because I'm a bit of an art collector and have art hung all over my house. Some art is more valuable to me than another and so it's good to know what I should skimp on and on what I should not. The bit about the glazing is the most interesting as I've always wondered how prints faded over time.
Debbie M - 7 Oct 2017 07:34 pm

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