Looking for advice on my DIY framing project
January 3, 2011 12:32 PM   Subscribe

I have a number of unframed art prints and posters, and would like to do the framing myself. What advice do you have for me?

I'm not looking to do anything fancy -- just simple black frames and plexiglass. In the past, I've gone to frame shops for this, but they're always really expensive, and this seems like a DIY-able task. I've never done any framing before, so I would appreciate any advice you have to offer. This could include :

1) Basic knowledge and instructions (and good places to find such)
2) Tricks, hints, protips, "wish-I-would-have-knowns"
3) Recommendations on materials and tools
4) Good places to buy materials and tools. I'm open to buying online or in-person. I live in San Fransisco, if that makes a difference.
5) ... anything else you might think of!

posted by Afroblanco to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
You're talking about actually cutting the wood for the frames yourself? It's a lot harder than it looks, even if you have good tools. Those 45 degree angles have to be absolutely precise and tight, or the seams will be gappy. I tried, and failed. Don't invest a bunch of money in materials before you find out if you have whatever magic touch it takes.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:42 PM on January 3, 2011

If you're planning on hanging them in the sun, I would recommend getting UV-proof glass for them. It's more expensive, but your image will last longer.
posted by elder18 at 12:42 PM on January 3, 2011

Are you doing this because you will enjoy DIY or because framing stuff is too expensive? I recently had to frame a bunch of stuff and found out that you can get wholesale prices if you buy enough frames.
posted by griphus at 12:42 PM on January 3, 2011

My solution to this problem is IKEA Ribba frames plus mats cut to fit at Cheap Pete's.

I've also ordered a few frames from Frames By Mail, but then I had to go to TAP for the plexiglass (you can get the plexi from Frames by Mail, but over a certain size it's very likely to break in the mail), and then Cheap Pete's for the mats. And at that point it's just not worth it to me!
posted by grapesaresour at 12:44 PM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have framed a bunch of stuff in my home using cheap (IKEA) frames and custom mats. They look fantastic and are a good compromise to full custom framing. Since you're just looking for black frames, I would definitely check out IKEA.
posted by killy willy at 12:46 PM on January 3, 2011

Framing is a trade. You should find an accomplished framer and learn from them. Find a non-chain place, go inside, and talk to the framer. Framers love to talk about frames. Seriously.
posted by jeffamaphone at 12:46 PM on January 3, 2011

Or, you know, what grapearesour said.
posted by killy willy at 12:47 PM on January 3, 2011

Also, large paper things (e.g. posters) that you frame tend to wrinkle over time if not fixed to the backing with some sort of adhesive (spray or otherwise).
posted by jeffamaphone at 12:48 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Okay, to clarify :

In the past, I've always just gone with cheap metal frames. This is fine for my purposes. I don't need anything fancy. And yes, my main motivation here is saving money.

In the past, I've paid frame shops like $100 - $200 to frame a 2' x 3' print, which just seems absurd!

I have quite a few of these to frame, 15 I think.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:48 PM on January 3, 2011

AB, drop me a memail. My mom lives in SF and is an artist who did her own framing throughout my childhood. I'm sure she'd love to chat with you about it!
posted by mollymayhem at 12:50 PM on January 3, 2011

You can get the frames - the metal parts - in matched sets of tops and sides. Most craft places have this. So you get a package that contains (2) 22" pieces, pre-cut, and a package that contains (2) 8" pieces; together they make an 8x22" frame. Then you can just get the glass (get glass, trust me) cut to fit.

If you're looking to do matting as well, the mat cutters are ~$80 for a decent 30" unit. I matted a *ton* of stuff when I was trying to sell my nature photography. I matted out to pre-made frame sizes, waiting until all frames were 50% off at the hobby center. Matboard is also prone to be on 50% off sales about once a quarter, as well.
posted by notsnot at 12:56 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

These guys gave me great prices. I think I paid a little over $100 for six "deluxe" 27x40 frames. Not frame-shop quality stuff, but they're doing the job and looking good. It's about half of what I would have paid if I bought the frames individually on Amazon.
posted by griphus at 12:57 PM on January 3, 2011

(There's a $100 minimum order, but I don't think you'll have a problem with that.)
posted by griphus at 12:58 PM on January 3, 2011

We used americanframe.com several times with good results.
posted by fixedgear at 1:05 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Came into recommend americanframe.com too. Exactly what you need. They precut the frame pieces to your exact dimensions, and ship you all the pieces you need. When the package arrives you just assemble the frame itself, the plexiglass and mat (if you wanted one). Its cheap, and very reasonable quality considering the price. Perfect for simple stuff like black frames and plexiglass. Not ideal for more complicated or fancy things like high quality wood frames. The only tool you will likely need is a screwdriver.
posted by Joh at 1:19 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I used to be a picture framer but it was a while ago and was at a low-end shop, so this will be general advice.

- Are any of the prints and posters worth anything? If so, it might be worth using an acid-free backing medium. We used archival framing tape and an acid-free foam board.

- Frame mats are your friends! They can really dress up an otherwise cheap-looking poster and they can help protect your prints from the frame itself. The Wiki page has some good info on the why's and how's of frame mats. Match the mat to the picture, preferably accent colors within the image itself, rather than trying to match the cushions on your couch. (you'd be surprised how often people want to do that)

- Using plexiglass rather than real glass will make the finished product lighter and less expensive, though it may require special cleaning techniques.

- I have always tried to avoid stringing a wire across the back to hang from the middle on a single nail. This puts pressure on the vertical sides of frame which can cause it to warp and eventually break. We always used saw tooth hangers* like this attached on a diagonal across each of the top corners. Using a hanger on each side means two nails in the wall, but the frame's weight will be supported equally on each side.

*NOTE BENE... we were using VERY LIGHTWEIGHT plastic frames and plexiglass, so make sure your hangers are made to hold the weight of your frames.

On preview: Ditto what jeffamaphone said about wrinkling. The spray glue is ideal for non-critical items like posters and whatnot, but it's irreversable. Many places will even spray mount them for you for a small fee. I definitely recomment taping down anything else that you'd want to protect.
posted by Eumachia L F at 1:24 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I make furniture and have done a lot of framing at different levels of complexity as well. For basic frames like the ones you are talking about, you can do these very affordable and accurately yourself. They will be nicer and more durable than the IKEA frames that are pretty much the cheapest decent alternative to pro framing.

You only need 4 foolproof tools.

1) Handsaw. Cuts each piece to very approximate length. Anything will do. Something with a rigid back spine is best (like an entry level Japanese pull saw available at Home Depot), but really anything.

2) Lion Trimmer. This is the key. It's silent, portable, creates no dust, and makes perfect (seriously...perfect) cuts every time. No tear out, leaves you with nothing to sand or patch like any kind of power saw would. It's a pro's tool that is impossibly simple to use by anyone.

3) A Pocket Screw Jig. This eliminates any kind of clamping (which is where everything usually gets messed up) and creates a tremendously strong joint with no technical experience required. Combine it with a 90 degree angle clamp (designed to do exactly what you want to do) and you can't find a simpler, more accurate system.

4) Cordless screw gun. Anything will do. You probably already have one.

This whole setup will cost about what you paid for one of your previous frames, but you will now be able to make as many as you want, from whatever materials and profiles you want, and in any size you choose. Forever. Professional results at your kitchen table.
posted by nickjadlowe at 1:33 PM on January 3, 2011 [15 favorites]

I took a class on this and the biggest surprise was that the prints or photos should be thoroughly mounted (not taped) to a backboard of some kind. This keeps the print from curving toward the glass. Previously, I had just taped my prints to the back of the framing mat.

We were taught to use a type of tissue-thin paper between the print and the backboard, then a warm press. The warmth melted the tissue into an adhesive. For a large print, of course, you'd need a very large press. I suspect this is one of the reasons why professional framing is expensive - the various types of equipment.

From above posts, it sounds like there is such a thing as a spray mount that would do the trick instead.
posted by Knowyournuts at 1:42 PM on January 3, 2011

If $$ is your main motivation try going to a thrift shop and find a frame with glass that will work, sometimes it may even have a mat that will work as well, otherwise you will have to get a mat cut or find a pre-cut one that will work. Taking the frame apart will give you a pretty good idea how to put it back together, pay attention & don't lose any pieces!
Thrift shops in my area have lots of framed pictures especially small ones. SF may be a different story but worth a try especially for your smaller items.
Start small and cheap & see if it works for you.
posted by BoscosMom at 2:09 PM on January 3, 2011

In the past, I've paid frame shops like $100 - $200 to frame a 2' x 3' print, which just seems absurd!

There is a middle ground. You can buy decent frames for $30-40 each at a place like Cheap Pete's, as suggested above, and buy pre-cut mats (if your images are standard sizes) for under $10/each. You then mat & assemble the piece yourself, and you're paying $50/framed piece rather than building anything out yourself. Cheap Pete's has good archival materials (mounting tape, etc) and the staff is very helpful if you need advice.
posted by judith at 10:32 PM on January 3, 2011

Here's my tip: if you buy IKEA frames, check every one of them very thoroughly for damage. I swear 50% of them have a banged up corner or a scratch on the front.
posted by smackfu at 6:50 AM on January 4, 2011

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