How to Frame Your Art

Framing is a vital step in displaying art, but one that most people gloss over. After all, how hard can it be? Get yourself a cheap-o $5 frame and shove the item in there. Presto! But, if you want to have things look right, and more importantly preserve your framed item, it might need a bit more thought.

There are things you can frame pretty cheaply. And there are some things you’ll need to spend money on—it generally depends on how delicate or fragile your art is.

In this post, we’ll go by the type of art and talk about framing in that specific context. But before we get to that, there is one topic that covers all kinds of art in your home; and an important decision* you’ll need to make.

*Relatively not that important. Let’s keep life in perspective, here.

Matchy-Matchy vs. Eclectic Framing

Which of the above two pictures appeals to you more? The first is my sister-in-law’s photograph wall and the second is my family photograph wall. You’ll notice that my wall has many different frame types and colours. My sister-in-law (known for her flawless taste!) has chosen the same colour frame for her whole display.

I love both of these approaches. Some pros and cons of each:

Matchy-matchy can add coherence if you have a lot of disparate types of art. Even if you have different sizes or different kinds of work (poster and a photo and an original drawing, for example) a single colour and style of frame can bring all of them together to look like a coherent whole, and really compliment the room. On the downside, individual works can get lost in the whole composition, especially if they are small. Also, it can look very neat, modern and orderly: if that’s not your cup of tea then you might want to go with option 2.

Inspiration from an apartment designed by Kababie Arquitectos. Photography by Jaime Navarro. From

Eclectic brings different framing materials, sizes and types of art into contact with each other. Items can be of differing ages, or value. On the plus side, this approach can work with any budget, because you can use frames as you find them, and even original frames if you can obtain them. You are able to choose the framing that best suits each work of art, rather than your whole decorating scheme. The downside to this approach is the potential for chaos and confusion. The frames may be different from each other, but you still have to make something coherent out of it, and it’s a lot harder to do that with eclectic frames than matching frames. (More on this when we talk about hanging your art.)

Photograph Driver by Decor, from The Spruce

How to frame family photos

Now, to the specifics. Family photos are some of the easiest and cheapest items to frame. This is especially true if you are printing them from digital sources, because the photograph in the frame is not your only copy of that photo.* So you don’t need to worry about it getting ruined or fading— you can just print out another one to replace it. This means you CAN use those cheap-o frames from the office supply store. Go for it.

Older photos (pre-digital) are also usually fine in cheaper frames. If you have a photo that is a one-of-a-kind and very precious, you may want to consider getting it professionally framed. (More on that, below).

Top tip: make sure the frame you buy has adequate hanging hardware. Lots of cheap ones don’t. You can buy framing kits from a DIY shop to overcome this, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Many cheaper frames come with mats, and they make your photos look more sophisticated, though they do make the frame bigger. Try a photograph in a matted frame and in a plain frame and see which look you like best. If you are doing a matchy-matchy style, be sure to have either all or none of your frames use mats. If you’re going eclectic, it’s okay to mix them up a bit.

Remember, that you can also print your photos on canvas, and have them wrapped around a wooden stretcher. No other frame is necessary for hanging; a good budget option!

A picture frame with a double mat

*I’m assuming you have adequate backup of your digital photos? Cloud or something? Get on that, if not.

How to frame kids art

Framing kids work can give it an important place in the family home. It can make the art look wonderful and the little artist feel fantastic.

If you have a very special work from a little one in your life, you may want to consider getting it professionally framed, to preserve the delicate paper for decades to come. However, most kids work is done in bulk. It is brought home from daycare and school, done at the craft table after dinner, or created in secret for a special present. There is SO much. How do you handle it all?

I would recommend using frames that can be easily changed out. Most children’s art will be done on standard size paper (A4 in the UK/Aus, 8.5″x11″ in the USA), so grab a bunch of cheap frames in that size, and create a gallery wall.* The matchy-matchy look might have an edge in this case, as it helps make pretty messy art look clean.

You can even buy frames that are specially made to have rotating images.

My Little DaVinci Wooden Picture Frame. Available at Amazon.

This way, you can display the current favourites, and easily rotate in new works as they flood in.

An excellent example of a kid’s gallery, and how wonderful it can look.
From A Thoughtful Place

But what do you do with all the other paintings and drawings piling up at home? That’s up to you, but I would keep the ones that are VERY special, and photograph and toss the others. There are a few apps out there that allow you to photograph and organise artwork that your kids do, which is a much easier way to keep them than an overflowing box somewhere. I’ve already started our digital gallery with my daughter.

*More on gallery walls in my upcoming hanging post.

How to frame bulky mementos

A hockey jersey? A cricket bat? Your first gold record? These can all be framed, but you’re going to have to take it to the professionals.

Though this type of framing isn’t cheap, framers do vary widely in their prices, so it’s worth getting a few quotes before committing. I once went to a framer with a really simple request. She quoted me $750. After I picked myself up from the floor, I tried another framer. He only charged $70. Moral of the story: shop around!

How to frame posters or larger reproductions

Vintage motorcycle posters, by Vintage OCD

With both store-bought and professional frames, the larger the size the more money it will be. If you have something large to frame, you have to decide if you will go the cheap or expensive way.

The cheap way: Go to IKEA or a similar shop and get a frame the size of the poster. If it fits perfectly, you’re onto a winner. If the frame is a bit too big, you may have to get a mat cut for it from a local framer or art store. Make sure the poster is centred on the mat, and the mat fits the frame perfectly. Don’t skip this step— nothing looks more naff/daggy/tacky* than a poster that doesn’t fit its frame.

The less-cheap way: If you have an original 19th or 20th century poster, or something rare and delicate, don’t go to IKEA for the frame— you run the risk of ruining the art. Remember, the cheap way is ONLY for posters that are equally cheap. If you have something valuable, take it to a professional framer. As I said above, be sure to shop around for the best quote.

By the way, don’t be afraid to go BIG. It can look amazing, as in this example.
(Stock photo that I couldn’t be bothered to pay for available here)

“Why must I do this much more expensive thing?!” you may ask. Good question. Works on paper are very delicate, especially older ones. They are vulnerable to things like acids, sunlight and mould. Professional framing will ensure that the mat, frame and all materials are acid-free, museum quality. You can even get UV glass if you’re going to hang it in a bright space, to protect it from fading and minimise glare. Make sure you discuss these things with your framer first, and ensure they are included in the quoted price.

*I’m tri-lingual.

How to frame original drawings and prints

Antique drawing of a barn, circa 1900. Available from

Original drawings or prints on paper require an acid-free environment. It doesn’t matter if they are new or old, get them to a professional framer who will ensure museum-quality materials. If the print/drawing is small, it may be less expensive than you think— so shop around for quotes, as I’ve said before.

Your framer will help you decide what flatters the picture best, but I’ve found that originals on paper almost always look better with multiple mats. The mats operate as a second frame, drawing the eye to the centre of the picture. This is important if your drawing/print is finely detailed, and could be easily lost on a wall.

In the meantime, if you have original drawings and prints sitting around waiting to be framed, do take care of them! Keep them out of direct sunlight or excessive heat, and guard them from humid environments.

How to frame original paintings

Oil painting of a thatched cottaged, framed by the Carter Avenue Frame Shop in St Paul, Minnesota. Check out their post on framing oils and acrylics!

To frame oil, acrylic or similar paintings, things can be a bit simpler. You are unlikely to find a frame in a shop that will hold it properly, so this is also a job for the professional framer. However, you usually will not need mats or glass coverings, as the paint is pretty robust on its own. In fact, paint has such a luminescent quality that putting glass over it can make it difficult to view at most angles.*

*John Ruskin, the famous 19th century art critic and writer, firmly believed in putting glass over all paintings. His house was full of beautiful things that were impossible to see.

Have fun with frames

A clever, creative and cheap (to make) display from Taryn Whiteaker

Did you know that some art historians specialise in frames? They are often works of art in themselves! So have fun with them, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Happy framing!