Cost-effective way to print large photos and frame them for hanging?
April 9, 2015 12:54 PM   Subscribe

The empty walls in my office are driving me batty. I'd like to take a few high quality photos that I've taken over the years, have them blown up, matted, and framed. What's the cost-effective way to do that these days?

I've printed large photos at the local CVS or Walgreen's in the past, and that will not be acceptable for my purposes. I am willing to do the matting and framing myself if it is feasible for a crafty guy to learn those skills. I am in Houston if that is pertinent to your answer.
posted by starkraven to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Best quality and prices.
posted by atomicstone at 1:21 PM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've done a bunch for my house and the method you want to use depends on how big you want to go.

If you want bigger than an 8x10 but smaller than 12x18", the cheapest route is to have the prints done at Costco, if you have access to one, on regular photo paper. Then, buy a frame with a pre-cut mat from a crafts store. Michaels or A.C. Moore tend to run a lot of coupons which can make them good bets if you are not in a hurry. Ikea, interestingly, also has good deals on frames, but they are sometimes slightly odd sizes (not exactly metric sizes but they tend to have mats with smaller-than-normal openings). The Ikea frames will generally come with (white) mats; the A.C. Moore or Michaels frames might come with them or might require buying the pre-cut mats separately.

Matting and framing yourself, using pre-cut mats, is not hard at all. You just need a very clean work surface and some acid-free masking or scrapbooking tape. You put the mat face-down on the tabletop, put the photo down on the back of the mat (facing down, of course), make sure it's centered (this is the only tricky part really), tape it to the mat, then put the mat into the frame. Usually I clean the frame's glass very thoroughly inside and out and let it dry completely before all of this.

If you want an 8x10 or smaller (e.g. 6x8, 5x7 matted up to 8x10 frame), it can actually be cheaper to do a "virtual mat" by shrinking the image in Photoshop and leaving a substantial white border around it, and then print it at Costco on 8x10 paper. So no actual mat, precut or otherwise. Then just stick it in a cut-glass 8x10 "clip frame", which are nothing but a piece of glass, some hardboard, and some metal clips. You just put the photo in between the glass and the backer and clip it all together. Make sure to get it printed on matte paper, not glossy, and it shouldn't stick to the glass even though it'll be touching it directly. (N.B. this is not an "archival" mount, but it's fine for display.) You can make the virtual mat any color you want if you do this, as well. Some people may object to this method, but for wall decorations...? I think it's fine.

If you want to go bigger than 12x18, you're probably looking at mail-away services rather than doing it locally. Sometimes you can get some real deals on poster prints; a few years back I had a collage-style one done of vacation photos for about $20 + $5 shipping; it's a very competitive market. My only piece of advice here is that there seem to be a bunch of "standards" for poster prints, so if you want to frame it, pick out your frame first and then get it printed to that size, because odd-size poster frames (at least, ones that aren't really crappy) can be surprisingly expensive.

For office wall decorations, I wouldn't bother going to the trouble / expense of hot-mounted prints, or canvas printing. The exception would be if you really like the aesthetic of canvas prints as a feature in themselves.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:23 PM on April 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

For frames, I've been pleased with; there are many other mail order places. Still not cheap (starting at $50-$100 for larger frames), but significantly less than a framing shop. Previously and previously and previously.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:23 PM on April 9, 2015

that will not be acceptable for my purposes.

Can you talk about what is wrong with that? Low quality prints, or other logistical hassles? There are online print shops that often have sales and you can upload stuff and get prints mailed to you. I've used PSPrint in the past but they seem to mostly do posters not photos. Shutterfly is someone I've used for online photo printing but I suspect they're going to be not much different from the drugstore. LifeHacker reviewed a few a few years back. Here's a DPReview forum talking about how to make sure your pictures are sized right for printing. And here's a forum where a lot of them recommend Costco as having good printers.

Five dollar frames came recommended in another thread and they'll sell you matboard. Optional: you can get a mat cutter cheaply if you can find someone who is getting rid of them (check Craigslist). There are fnacy and less-fancy mat cutters but a handheld one like this won't break the bank though one like this offers more control. So i think mat cutting is a thing a person could learn and it's the only real "crafty" part of your issue.
posted by jessamyn at 1:24 PM on April 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I use for all my gallery exhibits and client prints. Fair prices, no complaints.
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:07 PM on April 9, 2015

I like Canvas on Demand wraps. They will also frame them. They have excellent Groupons from time to time.
posted by bluesky78987 at 2:26 PM on April 10, 2015

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