June 25, 2004 10:15 PM   Subscribe

Framed! I'm moving into a new apartment, and I have about three dozen pictures, posters, and prints that I'd like to frame. Has anybody discovered an inexpensive way to frame pictures? Is it possible to frame them yourself, by, say, getting glass cut at the hardware store? The last picture I got framed cost nearly $90, which was way too expensive.
posted by josh to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've just been through this too, and ended up stalling for months with bare walls while I researched, and then spending at least that much once I accepted that if picture framing could be done well for less then the framing shops charge, then they would have been undercut by competitors by now, which they aren't even here in NYC where there are a million of them.

For one thing, I'm convinced that there's a conspiracy among the framers and their wholesalers to keep uncut framing stock off the DIY market - just try to buy nice picture frame in 8-foot lengths.

Even if you can get some frame, you still have to spend hours mitreing and gluing up the frames, and then mounting (or dry-mounting) and matting the pictures, and assembling it all, and papering the backs. Turns out that $100 per isn't a bad price, if you don't want pre-made frames.
posted by nicwolff at 10:49 PM on June 25, 2004

posted by scarabic at 11:42 PM on June 25, 2004

Yeah I went to a "U-Frame-It" store around here, where they supply the materials and you do the labor yourself. The damn things were still going to cost $100 for a 36"x24". I swear there's some sort of price-fixing going on.
posted by falconred at 12:08 AM on June 26, 2004

11x14 are costing about $15 here. Simple black metal frame with glass, mitered & L-fastened frame, you supply the mat.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:11 AM on June 26, 2004

Are they standard sizes?

There are lots of cheap options for standard sizes. Clip-frames / float-frames or box-frames are all dirt cheap. Wood or metal frames aren't that expensive if you're willing to buy them premade in a standard size.

If they're not standard sizes, I'd just invest a little bit in a metal straight-edge (ie, a big aluminum meter stick) and a mat-cutter so you can cut mats with your nonstandard opening that will fit in pre-bought frames.

Try looking in hobby/art-supply shops instead of framing stores. Nicely framed and matted 8x10 -- 11x14 range pictures should cost you in the $15--40 range depending on the frame. Framing and matting several 16x20 photos cost us a bit over $50 each. For large posters, I wouldn't bother matting them unless you need to to get them into a premade frame.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:19 AM on June 26, 2004

Or, for the really cheap approach for stuff that doesn't have sentimental value to you:

Get it dry mounted, and attach hangers directly to the foamcore with crazy glue or whatnot. It works fine.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:24 AM on June 26, 2004

Seconding ROU_Xenophobe about the clip frames, at least for posters and prints. Look for "swiss clips"--they're usually under $10 the set. Then you go to a hardware store and get a piece of glass cut to the size of your print, and a piece of masonite the same size for backing (or just buy some foamcore and cut it to size with a mat knife). Sandwich the print between glass and backing, use the clips to hold the whole thing together, voila.
posted by Kat Allison at 4:19 AM on June 26, 2004 [1 favorite]

In the past I bought large pre-framed artwork from pier one or similar places just to get the frame. This usually set me back about $25, and then buy a sheet of matboard, cut it to fit in the frame. BTW, if you can't cut Matboard yourself, find an art student to do it cheap.
posted by renyoj at 6:18 AM on June 26, 2004

Garage sales. Buy the crap art and recycle the frames.
posted by konolia at 6:58 AM on June 26, 2004

Where I used to work (as a framer) the largest chunk of the price was usually the frame itself, followed by any matting (the coloured board between the art and frame) and the labour charge (framing equipment ain't cheap, and neither is a good framer!). With a couple of exceptions, glass and hooks and stuff are almost incidental, they barely cost anything.

With this in mind, when someone wanted stuff done really cheap, what I recommended was for them to pick out, or bring me a standard size frame that they liked and suited the picture, and I'd cut a mat to fit it, plus backing and glass (if it didn't come with the frame). I'd give them a quick lesson on properly fixing art to matting, and then send them on their way. That way they'd cut down significantly on the price of the frame, they'd eliminate the labour costs, and they'd still get acid-free mat and backing (unless you hate the picture you are framing, BTW, do pay for acid-free materials. it costs more, but normal paper materials will lose their colour and ruin your art in about 6 months).

Not all frame shops will do this because of the perception that these practices will hurt their bottom line, but if you ask around you should be able to find a place that will do it happily.

If you want to do drymounting, keep in mind that although they say it's reversible, it's safer to consider it permanent.

And also, ask for volume discounts, we gave them on any order involving more than three frames.
posted by renderthis at 7:30 AM on June 26, 2004

You should also be able to take the work to a framing store and just get it matted. We used to do this all the time for the art school that was attached to the frame shop. Archival matting and backing for about $20- 25. (That is if you don't want to do it yourself, which is also an option) And a standard frame for $30 from a discount frame store or one of those home goods stores or a frame from a yard sale or Ebay (although the last time I tried Ebay the frames were about the same as department stores.) That's the least expensive and least time consuming way I've found to frame things. Old window frames are also an option for something of a more unique look.
posted by rodz at 9:04 AM on June 26, 2004

The "Art Guy" speaks.

[ Disclaimer : This information is provided on an "as is" basis, and the author disclaims all responsibility for accidental death, mutilation, or any such injury and/or damage to life, property, or art objects that might result from the framing of art. ]

First, a gentle point of advice, kind reader : although I have taken pains to ensure that this primer on the framing of pictorial art is reasonably thorough, bear in mind that my advice is not unlike the consciousness of many artists - in that it contains digressions, peregrinations, and occasionally spurious points but even more so for the slightly tangled non-linearity of the narrative structure. But hey - if you desire simple, logical unconvoluted adornments - you can of course choose to bypass my offering here, and glue white or colored lucite cubes, and simple geometric shapes of various sizes to your walls. Even better : no art! - make everything in your life - clothes, furnishings (I mean everything) and your entire living space - a stylistic homage to Stanley Kubrick's "THX-1138". You can probably get white molded plastic 60's era lookalike chairs at Ikea or Target or perhaps even the slightly yellowed real deal on eBay. Which you'll have to - of course - bleach or paint white. Hint - use an industrial high gloss sprayed on catalyzed epoxy. It the most durable coating. The fumes are rather toxic but - hey! - white is a general unnatural color anyway except in the arctic [and the Polar Bears and treacherous ice floes will do you in pretty quick there]. You could spray everything you own, in fact, with the white industrial catalyzed epoxy paint and obtain good results. But industrial strength ain't cheap. You get what you pay for. Still, if you're on a tight budget (or just stingy) a better than average high gloss white latex paint will do. So : rent a professional paint rig and spray your entire apartment [ caution - keep spray gun tip away from flesh. Human internal parts are not designed to be injected with white latex paint ] gloss white and install high intensity but diffuse and non-directional lighting. Eat only white corn chips and white cheddar off of white plates while drinking white wine. Only be Nordic, pale, and anemic. Even better, be an albino. Don't ever cut your thumb in the electric can opener and bleed on all your carefully constructed whiteness. OK, you're done. Relax.

Oy vey, I'm running off the rails a little. It's cool!.....I'm an artist. So back to the issue of framing.

Keep your framing environment clean :

First, a word on cleanliness. This author holds the "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" principle to be - in many cases - a soggy crock of crap : recent research on industrialized-world populations which are highly insulated from non-manmade environments, natural organisms, pollen, germs, and all the normal elements of that biological kingdom from whence humans so recent sprang (or fled) indicates that children's immune systems require exposure to those elements for normal development. Hence, "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger" or - perhaps more to the point - "the immunodidactic value of pathogens". A new technique for the treatment of Crohn's disease and Colitis involves feeding humans a type of whipworms that normally infect pigs. The worms, which only can live for a few weeks in the human body, pass through the digestive tract but - in the process - "tune up" the host's immune system, teaching it how to function normally rather than attack it's own body (auto-immune system dysfunction). BUT.....with matte-ing and framing your art, CLEANLINESS IS ESSENTIAL. Expertly framed art with smudgy fingerprints always looks like crap and the converse can also hold true - crappy art or even actual dried feces can look like a million bucks with the proper presentation and lighting. It's all in the presentation, as with sushi. Why is sushi so expensive ? Well, would you want to take your hot date out to eat a plate of raw fish and rice (even of impeccable pedigree) when it looked like some elementary school chef's "mystery surprise", "I've got to get rid of all these slightly funky leftovers and stretch my inadequate food budget" creation, while in the buzz and flicker of dim, cheap florescent lights and the stench of two year old fryolator grease, cigarette smoke, sweat, and the acrid tang of vomit that's exiting the mouth of the drunk person in the stall next to you ? No, of course you wouldn't. Art, as with Sushi - or most things in life really - is exalted through a thoughtful, impeccable presentation. So - no greasy fingers or smudges on the matte - board, please.

What stuff to buy

Go to a hardware store and buy 1) glass stock (very cheap) and a 2) glass-cutting tool (about $1.99). You'll need 3) a straight edge at least 24" (two feet) long. Hardwood might work, but metal is better. A stainless-steel "L" carpenter's framing ruler works well for this and has other handy home applications too, like carpentry, home-defense, and murder. I'd estimate the price of one of these at between $10 and $20. But, if you want something less industrial, you can pick up a straight-edge ruler at the art supply store. It might cost more, though, and for less metal. [ But hey - the Chinese need the steel to build the infrastructure for their coming, World-domineering, 21st century industrial economy. ] 4) Chinese reduction of credit card-happy Americans to the status of servile debt-slaves aside, you'll also need a few small to medium-small finishing nails or screw-in hooks to attach your art to the wall (and something, if you're to use nails, to bash them in with - although a rock or a coconut will work in a pinch and even - maybe - a loaf of very stale French bread). I'd advise buying 5) a little spool of braided steel wire too (light gauge) because some of the pre-made art/picture frames you may desire to purchase (see below) could have an insufficient picture-hanging system, as well as 6) some of those little wood screws with "O's" at the end - which can be screwed into the back of wooden frames, braided steel wire between the two hooks, for a proper and very stable method of attaching your art to the wall.

Next, proceed to an art-supply store where you will buy 7) matte-board in whatever color you want for your matte frame : that will be the border between your art or picture and the border of your frame. 8) A good exacto-blade tool for trimming, a straight edge. You can also use one of those construction-job tools with a retractable razor. You could even use a fifty cent single edge straight utility razor blade if necessary. [ WARNING - Avoid using box cutters (though they'd probably work fine) - nosy neighbors might see and report you, as a potential terrorist, under the USA PATRIOT Act and you'll wind up in Gitmo, tied to a board with your head under icy cold water or stuck in a black box, with no water at all, in the hot Carribean noonday sun. ] 9) A matt-board cutting tool : these are designed to allow you trim cut matt-board at an angle for that X-tra fancy look that costs so much "from the store". [ WARNING - razor blades are sharp and can cut your flesh. Never eat razor blades (which could prove fatal) unless you're in a federal penitentiary and trying to get into the "Guinness Book of World Records" and/or preparing for a post-prison career as a carney show "human garbage disposal" freak. Or just a geek - biting heads off chickens would be a snap after surviving eating glass. ]

As a technical tip (gained from a Soho basement Gulag-art framing sweatshop - at the cost of only a mild beating), be careful to practice on very SMALL squares of your newly purchased and expensive matt-board - so you'll get the hang of the matt-trimming technique without destroying an entire $10 sheet of matt board. There are subtleties involved. For example : keep your matt-board trimming tool extremely level. In fact, don't make your matt-board cut-out (which will define how much of your picture or art which is visible from behind the matt) with your straight razor tool. Measure out the cut-out and mark the lines lightly in pencil, then do the cut with the matt-board cutting/trimming tool . Because this tool will be cutting at an angle, the tool's blade point of entry will be a few millimeters back from your pencil line. [ NOTE TO DYSLEXICS : be careful not to confuse the front and the back face of the matt board - see below ] Pardon my omission, but this job will also require a good clean, level , well-lit work surface and a 10) large piece of cardboard - that you can get at the art-supply store I'm sure - to prevent your razor tools from slicing into your work surface as you make the cuts. As I mentioned, matt board has a front and a back. Place the matt board FRONT face DOWN on your "slice-guard" cardboard piece so that you'll be measuring and cutting from the BACK of the matt-board.

If your art is original and you expect that it will increase substantially value (or if you just like the art and want to protect it) make sure to purchase acid-free matt board and 11) backing-board (usually cardboard) as well as 12) acid-free masking tape or non-chemically reactive art-glue - see below. [ WARNING - art glue is usually highly toxic. Use in a well ventilated area and never "huff" art glue unless necessary to destroy excess brain capability which is causing undue suffering. Also, though the fumes from art-glue solvents don't tend to bio-accumulate, many solvent fumes have been implicated in neo-natal abnormalities. If pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or trying to get someone pregnant - use acid-free tape, instead of glue, from your local, friendly and overpriced art supply store.]

Obtaining the appropriate size glass panes :

If you glare long enough or, better, choose to walk the "soft path" and ply your sullen and underpaid local hardware store nebbish with treats and soothing blandishments ( or light sexual flirtation if appropriate ), he/she might be convinced to instruct you in the fairly simply art of glass-pane cutting. Most hardware stores will - further - cut panes of glass for a nominal fee. They have fancy machines that can be operated by chimps (dumb ones at that) and zip! zip! zip! ....It's done. You should probably go that route : buy your frames FIRST, make exact measurements for the size of the glass panes you'll need, and have the now-subdued or mollified hardware store worker-bee cut all the panes you'll need at once. [ WARNING - glass breaks easily. Never eat broken glass and never attempt to eat whole panes. If you grind your glass panes up into a VERY fine silica powder, you can probably then eat them and survive, but I would gently caution the reader that this is unwise and could potentially lead to digestive tract distress, disorders, and - one again - possibly even death. Some American convicts, however, do eat ground glass as a hobby or to pass the time. But, this may be less an indication of the relative gustatory merits than it is an indictment of the current US penal and criminal justice system. If you desire to eat weird things and objects not usually considered by humans to be food, you may have a dietary deficiency, so consult your doctor or a trained dietician - and, of course, get lots of medical tests. If you do not turn out to have a dietary deficiency, you may suffer from untreatable pica. Or - it may be a sexually related fetish. Don't be ashamed or embarrassed though - a short internet search will connect you to an appropriate sexual subculture where your tastes will be duly appreciated. Further, you could choose to become a practitioner of the ascetic arts, a Hindoo Fakir (or, more properly speaking, "Sadhu". Some fakirs eat weird things (and do strange tricks as well. If you ascend to the level of a Sadhuguru, you can pretty much eat whatever the hell you want ]

For the final assembly of the art, matte-board, and backing ( a piece of cardboard that squishes the art and matte-board against the glass )...........

Look, it should be obvious at this stage. What, you're an adult, or do I have to walk you across the street or something?

( next week : properly positioning and lighting your newly framed art )
posted by troutfishing at 9:13 AM on June 26, 2004 [6 favorites]

I'm sorry, could you repeat that? I was woolgathering.
posted by jfuller at 12:38 PM on June 26, 2004

jfuller - that's cool as long as you spin that wool into yarn to make art. Or at least warm socks.

I was actually woolgathering, in a sense, when I wrote that.

Now, back to business.
posted by troutfishing at 1:05 PM on June 26, 2004

I second Konolia's garage sale suggestion. My SO is an artist and she frequently recycles expensive ($100-$200) frames that she finds for $10-$15. Finding the right frames for your art can be time-consuming, though. So you have to invest either time or money to find the good frames.
posted by kamikazegopher at 1:49 PM on June 26, 2004

FWIW, can frame things for much cheaper than your typical in-town framing shop. I sell a lot of my photography prints and use them to provide an affordable way to offer framing options for my customers. I framed an 8x12 the other day, matted and using relatively archival materials for $36, iirc.

It doesn't beat a good garage sale find, but if you need to frame that non-standard piece of art, americanframe can help you out.

They even have a nifty online preview application... go to the site, click on a frame type, and then use their application to upload a pic to see how the final result will look in real time.
posted by Hankins at 7:43 PM on June 26, 2004

The key to way-cheap framing (other than the above mentioned Ikea, which is really low-effort) is frame clips. They come in metal or plastic, various brands like this. One of the cheapest and nicest looking frames is made of cheap ol' foamcore board, glass or acrylic, a matte, and frame clips. Matte cutting optional, you can just lay the print/photo/whatever on top of the matte board, or just leave off the matte and use nice foamcore. You can save more money by finding the glass first, like asking at an art or glass shop what they have that's pre-cut left-overs or unpaid and abandoned.
posted by Stoatfarm at 7:46 PM on June 26, 2004

Hey trout? Your disquisition on sushi really makes me want to hear the promised tutorial on lighting.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:11 AM on July 5, 2004

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