Whatever the custom framing solutions you are looking for, the answers are out there. As a custom framer and an artist I can say there are a few necessary elements that make a good framer, worthy to take on your art and photos and beautifully frame them for you to enjoy for many years to come! Even if you have an amazing framer there are times you can do some of it yourself…
Seen it all…… (almost)
I have been a framer since 1999 and I have seen a lot of things from the strange things I have had to fix (ruined by other framers) to the odd things I have framed. I have framed everything from a fork used on a movie set by a famous person to a dirt clod crusted rug that a client spent over a thousand dollars to frame as an inside joke with their contractor… No joke.
I have spent many, many hours choosing framing with a client only to have them go with the first frame I recommended in the beginning of the process… or spent half a day with someone only for them to decide custom framing was too expensive when they had a complicated order but did not want to pay for it (as if I did not need to eat or pay bills or rent or survive in any way – wanting everything for nothing….). I have had customers try to match the framing to a pillow on the other side of the room the framed piece was to hang in rather than the art they were framing (bad idea by the way) not realizing or wanting to hear that art should always, and I mean always be framed to match the art…. always. All the time. No matter what. In fact, I have had to have some sign a waiver stating that they declined the professional advice of their framer so that when they did not like what they chose that they could not blame me and insist on a refund. It has happened, not often, but has happened more than once.
I could go on all day about the things I have seen as a framer, but rather than that I want to get into the things that can help you not only understand what you are looking for when you go into a frame shop but understand why it costs what it does and know when you may be able to do some or all of it yourself –
This part is pretty simple…. If you have a western print do not put a modern frame – if you have a modern painting a gold leaf traditional frame is not the best to put on it. As a framer I would make more money if I promoted the frames that were on sale from my suppliers – I have worked for other framers that wanted me to push the “on sale” frames for the sake of shop income. I understood, but could not do it – even when I was running my own shop. To me, and maybe this made me a terrible business person, but I believed in making the art look it’s very best so my customers would trust me knowing I would do a great job and sell them what was best for their art and photos.
It is an investment…
Custom framing is not cheap. Plain and simple. I have had people come in with a $2.00 piece they got at a yard sale and be shocked that it would cost $90 to frame it as if my suppliers would give me a discount because of what they spent on the art or I should donate my time to save them… I don’t know, but the labor and materials cost what they cost no matter the cost of the art or photo.
Framing materials are purchased at wholesale and sold retail, which is the same as any store you shop in. That is how the business owner makes his or her money. What they usually sell though, does not involve labor so their income is solely in the sale of the product. Custom framing is much different because it’s a retail shop as well as a service shop. You pay for materials and labor. The framer is not making enough money to pay rent and all their household expenses on just your sale although sometimes the cost of framing may make it seem that way. Here is a breakdown:
1. Mats, backing, frame stock and liners, glass and Plexiglas are all purchased at wholesale and sold retail. Simple.
2. Labor – the framer cuts the frame to size, cuts mats and glass – that “labor” is pretty much in the retail cost of the materials.
3. The labor that, from my experience, people do not understand is the labor fees of mounting and fitting. Mounting is the way the “package” is put together. That is all canvas stretching, sewing, taping, gluing or hot pressing to make the art and mats like one piece and ready to put in the frame. Fitting is the cleaning of glass, making sure there is not even a speck of dust in there (sometimes VERY frustrating to get all the dust out) and getting the art with the glass into the frame and finishing it all up to put on your wall. I have literally spent all day on one piece, especially if it is a difficult piece on the process of mounting and fitting for a fee of a hundred dollars (less or more depending on the piece)… It is a tedious, time-consuming, extremely boring job.
Designing framing has always been my favorite – the labor is long and boring and not always worth the money made. Even though it is sometimes a lot of money spent by the customer it is not all profit and we work for literally every penny we make.
Framing is an investment but if done right it is something that you will enjoy for many years. My first framing on my own work was done in 1999, the year I began my framing career – I enjoy it now as much as I did when I first framed it…
Do some or all of it yourself…
There are many pieces of art that just look better when custom framed. I really think everything looks better with custom framing but the reality is we can’t always afford custom framing for everything… This is where framing it yourself comes in. For many photos you can get standard frames almost anywhere that sells them. Places like Michael’s or Aaron Brothers. You can do many pieces yourself that will look great all on your own.
What about the pieces that do not fit the standard sizes available? My answer is that you can have your framer cut a mat to a standard size and then you can fit it in a frame on your own. Many framers won’t suggest this. I understand they want to make money and will likely try to sell you on a frame as well. I gave my customers the option and I told them when it would save them some money. I was honest with them when I thought a frame from me would be best vs. when they could just have a mat made by me and finish it themselves. I felt it important to save them money when it made sense. That created long term customers for me because they knew they could trust me.
Here is a list of the most common standard sizes that you can find at stores. That way you know what size to ask for your mat’s outer dimensions to be cut to:
3×5, 5×7, 8×10, 11×14, 16,20, 20×24, 22×28, 24×30, 24×36
the smaller frames up to about the 16×20 are fairly easy to find. You can buy them on amazon or Walmart while the ones in the larger sizes seem to be better from a place that has a lot of frames to choose from like Michael’s or Aaron Brothers.( most photos in this article are photos of items in my house that I have framed, with exception to the bear print).
If you want to keep it simple and, as a designer, I love simple… stick to a certain color – some like wood tones and others silver or gold. I use black on all my family photos because it goes well on all of them. Sometimes gold won’t work if you have a black and white for example, and wood tones won’t all match which is not a bad thing to have a variety of wood tones – but if you are the kind of person who wants them all the same color it’s good to keep in mind how easy it will be over time to get all the same color. That bothers some people so when choosing, if that person is you, choose a color that is basic and you will be able to find for the next frame you need to do on your own.
To sum it all up…
Framing can be expensive so save the framing for your most special pieces of art or photos. It’s OK to get standard frames and ask your framer to cut a mat to fit it. It will save you money and still look nice. Frame your art to match your art in both color and style and you will enjoy it for years to come. I welcome any specific framing questions you may have so please leave comments and I will get back to you with an answer as quickly as possible.
This set of old utensils my husband found at an antique store – even though he did not know what he was going to do with them. He just liked them. I found a vintage looking frame with accents of the gold in the black frame that matched the utensils. The utensils are mounted to a black silk mat with clear thread so no glue was used. I do that so if the client says the item is valuable (or if they don’t know and find out later it is valuable) the value will not be compromised….