Tips for Framing Works on Paper

Tips for Framing Works on Paper

First things first, if you take anything away from this blog post it should be to ALWAYS wire your pieces properly. Don’t expect galleries to hang your work if you use sawtooth or other metal clips on the back. (NOTE: I had to put that up front for my friend Josey and all the other people hanging exhibits in the world.)

Second, the following tips are just based on my own experience framing works on paper. I am not a professional framer; I am an artist.

Finally, if I could afford to always have my artwork professionally framed I absolutely would. Honestly, framing stresses me out. If only I was an independently wealthy artist, but alas, I am not.

#1 – The cheapest frame probably isn’t the best frame for your work

Over the years I have tried many ways to save money on frames. Ultimately, I have determined it is worth it to purchase the best quality frames you can afford, preferably a simple black or neutral frame made of real wood or metal. I’ve found cheap, particle board frames are usually a bigger headache than they are worth and don’t hold up well.

While I don’t recommend it, if you purchase frames from big box craft stores, make sure to check under the cardboard corners before you head to the checkout. You don’t want to find a surprise dent or scratch when you get home.

The large art supply companies sell a variety of standard-size frames, many are of decent quality at a good price. I also recommend custom frames from (If you happen to be on the U.S. West Coast, they are a small business in Eugene, OR, and ship quickly!)

I rarely find frames that are appropriate for my work at thrift stores, but if I need to replace glass/acrylic, I may purchase thrift store frames just for the glass. Make sure to bring a tape measure with you!

#2 – Try to work in a few consistent (standard) sizes

This is something I wish I had figured out sooner. Work in a few consistent sizes, preferably a standard size, and buy a few quality frames to fit those sizes. Of course, the goal is always to sell your artwork, but if you exhibit a piece that doesn’t sell, you have the flexibility to remove it and put something new in the same frame…. because you have plenty of work in that same size!

I have a handful of simple black wood frames that are 10” x 10” and 12” x 12”, because they work for much of my smaller, square format pieces. Right now, I’ve been trying to figure out a consistent size and a standard size frame for working larger.

#3 – Learn these terms: Rabbet, Spacer, and Points

Before I started framing my work I didn’t understand what “rabbet” meant. I highly recommend taking time to understand various parts of a frame and the supplies you’ll need for framing. As seen in the below photo the rabbet has a width and depth. The depth affects how much space you have for your artwork, glass, mat, etc…in the frame, while the width affects how much will be hidden behind that front lip. For a full glossary of framing terms CLICK HERE.

Diagram of a frame by Vermont Hardwoods

While a nice top mat may be enough to give your artwork a little breathing room under the glass or acrylic, another supply I suggest learning about is spacers. In the past year I’ve done more float mounting (without a window mat) and using a spacer has become a must.

Spacers are usually thin plastic strips that sit on the backside of the glass or acrylic and are hidden under the rabbet lip.  You can make your own by cutting very thin strips of foam core, just make sure it won’t be visible.

Here’s a video on how to use spacers:

Points are those little metal tabs that hold everything inside the frame. I don’t have a points driver, so when I buy frames from an online framing shop, I’ll usually have them place the points in the rabbet. But that means I need to know how much of the rabbet depth my glass, spacer, mat, artwork, and backing board will take up. Most companies will figure this out for you if you are buying a framing package.

I have used the method for adding push points with a flat-head screwdriver, watch this video to see how. Just be careful not to push too hard and accidentally damage the frame or break your glass.  

#4 – Make sure your space is clean when framing

This seems obvious, but we’re artists and often have all sorts of projects in various stages lying about. When you’re ready to frame your work make sure your work surface is cleared off and maybe wipe it down too. You don’t want something leaving marks on your frame or mat, or excess dirt sneaking in when you’re trying to put everything together.

#5 – Mat your work properly, with the right supplies

I have a different blog post on matting works on paper using a window mat. Click here for the step-by-step instructions in that post. (Hint: Always attach your artwork to the bottom mat, not the top mat.)

Unfortunately, I don’t have a mat board cutter, so I currently purchase window mats pre-cut. I try to save money by purchasing in bulk. Several online retailers offer discounts if you order multiple or show kits. I’ll keep a mat cutter on my wish list for the future.

Also, keep it simple…buy white mats. Don’t get cute or colorful because most people just want white.

#6 – Now is the time to take a photo of your art

Put the matted artwork inside the frame without the glass/acrylic and take a photo. It is a pain to deal with glare once you finish framing a piece, so now is your opportunity to get a good photo of the finished piece without a reflection of you in the background.

#7 – Don’t forget the dust cover

Once it’s all put together, add a dust cover, just do it. It makes your framing look more professional and keeps dust or dirt from getting inside.

I attach the dust cover with double-sided tape or a very thin line of glue. If you use glue, don’t wait for it to dry, trim the excess paper right away, trust me on this!

Here is a quick video showing how to attach a dust cover:

In the video, he uses a razor blade to trim the excess paper. I am not good at this technique, so I use a straight edge or craft ruler and Xacto knife along the back edge.

And, don’t forget to add a label with info about your piece and some felt bumpers in the lower corners.

#8 – Wire your piece for hanging

I mentioned this upfront, and I’ll say it again. Nothing infuriates a gallery more than an artist who brings in a large piece of art with a sawtooth hanger or similar clip on the backside. Please remember to wire your artwork and choose D-rings and a wire that are the appropriate size and weight for your frame.

Here’s a video showing how to attach D-rings and wrap the wire:

If you purchased a frame from a big box store that has a backing board with those cheap metal clips…DON’T USE THEM. Wire the back and attach the wire to the frame, not that backing board.

Believe me, after writing all this information I’m wondering why I don’t just work on wood panels all the time. But some of my pieces are meant to be framed and will look best with a clean, crisp white mat and a thin black frame.

Let me know if you have any tips and tricks for framing your artwork. Good luck!

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Re #4: Before installing points, flip the piece to find any bit of lint or pet hair. Then install a couple of points and flip again. There exists on the market a manual point driver, much less $$ than the mechanical. Much simpler than screwdriver and adjustable to thin style frame thickness.Sorry, I can’t remember where I bought mine 25 years ago.

E S Desanna

Thanks, Jackie! Glad it helped.

Maren Oates

Thank you. You answered many of my quwstions.

Jackie A.

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