How to Frame Art Like a Professional +FREE Printables!
[Revised July 2019]
Hi there! Are you like me? Do you enjoy buying good quality frames and artwork whenever you find them for good prices? My personal goal is to always have “stash” of frames to shop from when I find beautiful art at a yard sale or thrift store. In this way, huge amounts of money can be saved.
I try very hard to regularly take time to mix and match art with frames in order to keep the frames from completely overwhelming me. I probably have a couple of hundred frames in various sizes right at the moment. Yes, I’m a bit of a frame hoarder, LOL.
Today, I’d love to show you the process I go through to frame art like a professional, and then I’ll share a number of examples with you, too. [Keep in mind that if you have artwork of high quality or photos you want to preserve, then invest in acid free mats and backing, and in protective glass.]
Other frame-related blog posts you might enjoy: Framing Vintage Flags, a Frame Upgrade, and a Frame Turned Chalkboard.
It’s not all that uncommon for me to come across a box filled with old frames at a sale. I guess they are easily accumulated, and then the owners just get plain sick of them. I often find them at yard sales for next to nothing.
I actually bought this box, just as you see it, at an estate sale for just $3.00. I’ll remove the photographs and sell them separately. Then I’ll store the frames until just the right piece of art comes along.
Like this piece, for instance. When we lived in England, I bought it at an antique shop on sale for £1 ($1.60). I’ve always loved it but had never found just the right frame for it. Of course I could have had it framed professionally, but as you know, that would have cost a small fortune–$60-100(!).
Eventually, the right frame came along, and it cost just $2, so this wall art: print + frame will cost just $3.60 since I had all the other necessary supplies (below) on hand.
How to Frame Like a Professional Reusing a Vintage Frame
This post contains affiliate links for products necessary to complete this project. This is both for your convenience as well as to support my blog, as I receive a small compensation whenever you click on such a link and make any sort of purchase, for which I thank you.
- Vintage frame with glass
- Vintage print or artwork
- Glass cleaner
- 1/2″ nails (w/o heads)
- Brown Kraft paper (or paper bag)
- Liquid acid free glue or tacky glue
- Eye screws (appropriately sized for your project–larger screws for heavier projects)
- Hanging wire (to hold the appropriate weight)
Step 1: Prepare the Frame: Sometimes when you buy vintage frames, they contain the original glass, artwork, cardboard, and Kraft paper backing. Your first step is to take everything apart. Use pliers to remove nails or glazier points that are holding everything in place.
Usually the glass is in dire need of a good cleaning, so give it a nice bath with glass cleaner. Hang onto the cardboard for reuse if it’s still in good shape. Clean and/or polish the frame as necessary.
Step 2: Insert New Art: Once the glass is dry, reinsert it into the frame. Then insert the new art, followed by a piece of cardboard to hold it in place. Sometimes a frame comes with metal prongs that can be bent to remove or enclose the glass and art, as you can see in the photo above. Re-close them tightly to secure everything in place.
Step 3: Secure Contents Into Frame: If there are no prongs, you’ll need to secure the glass/art/cardboard into the frame using small finishing nails, like those above. [Note: Use nails with small heads. Sometimes larger heads end up poking through your paper backing, and you don’t want that.]
Lay the nail perpendicularly to the frame and push them [hard] into place with the end of a hammer. You want them in there good and tight and placed about 3-4″ apart. On this 9″ x 12″ frame, I placed three on the long sides and two on each of the short sides.
You can use “glazier points” to hold the artwork in place, but I actually prefer to use nails. I find them easier to push into the wood. When first starting out, look for frames made of softer wood like pine, rather than hard wood like oak.
How to Finish Off the Back of the Frame
Step 4: Add Paper Backing: Next, you want to glue some brown Kraft paper onto the back of your frame to give it a finished look. You can often find the paper at dollar stores, or use brown paper bags. Measure your frame to determine the size to cut your paper. Apply glue to the outer edges.
For years I used tacky glue, but now I prefer liquid glue, like this Staples brand. Here’s a view of the top.
After applying the glue, then turn the paper over and adhere it to your frame. If your frame has pre-drilled holes for eye screws, then mark their location with a pencil so you can reinsert eye screws for hanging.
How to Add a Wire Hanger to Your Frame
Step 5: Use your drill to pre-drill if necessary and screw in two eye screws on opposite sides of the frame. I usually place them about a quarter of the way down the side of the frame.
(1) Run the hanging wire (available at the dollar store) through the eye screw, (2), bring it up and over the eye screw and insert it again, (3), pull tight, and (4), wrap the end tightly around the main hanging wire. Repeat on the other side.
And here’s the nice, finished off back–no, it’s not perfect, LOL. My cutting took a crooked turn and the paper’s a bit bunched up, but all-in-all, not a bad job 🙂
The frame itself cleaned up nicely and I’m pleased with how the color tones all blend together. I’m a bit uncertain of my art choice since it’s rather traditional, but I’ll bring it up to my booth and give it a try. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Examples of Artwork I’ve Framed Like a Professional
I am a huge fan of all folk art, and this painting reminded me so strongly of Grandma Moses. I had a simple beige frame in my stockpile and gave it a coat of matte black paint, which I think compliments the art perfectly. It has sold for $45.00.
I matched the patriotic book plate on the left with a simple black frame and it sold from my antique booth for $15. The Saratoga County Fair poster also looked good in black; it sold for $25.00, also from my antique booth.
The cross stitch on the left came with the frame you see here, but the glass was filthy and both its backing and hanger were missing. After taking care of that, it has sold for $45.00.
This framed bookplate of the human body is one of my favorites and it can be found in my Member Library, which you can gain access to by subscribing to my blog. Print it on matte photographic paper or [cheaper] presentation paper and it will look fantastic.
Final Piece: I snapped this handsome angel, who guards the tomb of President Chester Arthur in the Albany Rural Cemetery, a couple of years ago. I had to wait awhile for just the right frame to turn up. It finally did.
I do hope I’ve inspired you to attempt a little framing of your own. I must say, it’s a very satisfying DIY project.
Framing Vintage Flags
A Frame Transformation
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Hi, I was wondering if you use acid free cardboard and backing paper when you frame pieces, and if you do whaat are good brands to use. Thanks.
Hi Kris! No I don’t use acid free supplies because most of what I deal with when framing falls into the “vintage” rather than antique category, so I’m not as concerned about deterioration. Sorry I can’t help you with a good supplier 🙁
Love the human body one. We have several vintage medical posters, etc in our office here thanks to me! 🙂
Cool! I bet you come across a lot of them in your travels 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!!
Dear Diana, I follow your blog religiously and was taken aback when you showed a little bottle holding your small nails with the lettering ” Shearer’s Horseradish”. Shearer (unusual spelling) was my Mother’s maiden name and my uncle lived in Paukipsey(bad spelling).
I live the patriotic book plate! Will it be for sale?
Great tutorial. My favorite picture is the one with Ballston Spa since my grandmother lived there.
Great advice, Diana. I’m one of those who gets tired of certain frames after a while. I find boxes of them in my own basement and go arrgh! Love all your artwork, and thanks for the tutorial. xoKathleen
I always learn such wonderful DIY stuff when I visit. I love the picture you took of the angel; a great perspective.
Couldn’t agree more about the picture! Not only did this great post inspire me to frame some long put off items, it especially inspired me to take some photos keeping unique/interesting perspectives in mind. ~Robin
Diana, I have a stash of picture frames, too. Some are vintage, some not, but I love having them on hand when I find something I want to frame. My dilemma is not having enough bare wall space in my small ranch to hang all the artwork and wall decor that I’d like to. I dream of living in a large, old house with tons of wall space. But I don’t thing that will happen any time soon! Perhaps another life! I haven’t gotten in the habit of switching pictures and other things out for other items, although I know it’s done by decor blog people. I might try it with some of my pictures that are stowed in closets.
I enjoyed your post and looking at the items you framed and the specific frames you chose for them. Thanks for sharing.
I sell lots of frames at my booth, so I enjoyed seeing what you’re doing with them. It gives me a better idea of the kinds of frames I should be looking for and picking up. I absolutely love your angel photo. It is awesome!
I actually used up all my stash of 5×7″ frames framing US Post Office pictures of 32 cent stamps of early horror movie stars; black for Dracula, medium brown for wolfman, etc. Hope they sell for Halloween! Pix were in their original folder, marked $1 @ Goodwill for about 15! Saved a set for my daughter who LOVES decorating for Halloween.
Oh, I’ve learned MORE since my last comment. 1) Re-Store is a great place for small nails, glazier points, and even hanging wire. 2) Maybe everyone hasn’t learned to wash windows (and picture frame glass) vertically on one side and horizontally on the other. Then hold it up to the light and see which side needs more work! 3) Taught an old antiquer a new trick today. If your picture has a hanging wire, get it level on its nail, then pull down slightly on both sides of the frame simultaneously; it puts a dent in the wire so it will remain straight! Otherwise put a small lump of poster putty or candle wax or Minihold (if you’re a dolhouse person) on one corner.
Just seeing your comment today, Kathy (just one year + late, lol). Great tips for us–thank you, as always for sharing 🙂
Following on an earlier comment, as a former framing professional, I would add that if the piece you’re framing is a work on paper, you need to decide if you want to protect it from deterioration by framing with acid-free materials (acid-free paper backing and matting).
It’s not so crucial with inexpensive, mass-produced reproductions (high-volume photographic reproductions of art work), but original fine art (typically lithographs, etchings and silk-screened printed items, along with one-of-a-kind watercolor paintings and pastel art work on paper) usually are printed or created on acid-free rag paper (made with cotton fiber, not wood pulp-based paper containing acids) and accordingly should be framed with acid-free materials (usually rag board mats and acid-free paper backing) to provide an acid-free “sandwich” for the item within the frame. This helps ensure that your valuable art work doesn’t deteriorate over time.
Typically, rag board for mats comes in a limited and fairly neutral color selection (whites, off-whites, creams and greys). You can always tell if a mat is rag board vs. commercial mat board (wood-pulp based in a wide array of colors) because the surface color and the exposed edge of the mat board are the same color, indicating it is made of solid material throughout – not vastly different on the top surface and on the exposed edge.
It is possible to frame with commercial mat board (not acid-free rag board) by using a thin rag board layer underneath the commercial mat (and on top of the art work), but most high quality original art is not framed with colorful commercial mats as the contrasting mat color tends to distract the eye and detracts from the art itself, which is intended to be the focus for the viewer, not the mat or framing.
Professional framing takes time, and custom frames, mats and acid-free materials are more expensive, but ultimately they usually are well worth the investment to ensure your valuable art work is protected from deterioration over time.
Excellent tips, Leslie–thanks so much for passing them on to us. I’m thinking a better title for my post would have been how to frame the QUICK & EASY way, rather than the PROFESSIONAL way, LOL. I wanted to take out the fear factor of framing something for oneself. On a side note, when I come across art of excellent quality I don’t tend to frame it. I sell it as is, leaving it up to the buyer to frame as they choose.
Our church sale always receives donated picture frames which rarely sell. I can always find some good ones! I love the anatomy picture …. I have an old anatomy paperback I’ll need to peruse for pages I can use to do this! As the family photographer, I have always collected picture frames in order to make gifts of my photos. So, I definitely am a hoarder as well, Diana. I also have some old LIFE magazines….gonna see if there’s some old ads in those which might frame well.
Glad you enjoyed the post, Patty! So sorry to hear you’re in the hoarding camp with me, ha ha. But we will never run out of frames…
Did you know that a mat serves 2 purposes? One is aesthetic, but the other is to prevent the glass from sitting directly on the art.
Another helpful fact about framing is that pieces of art on paper need glass (and a mat); oils and acrylics on canvas don’t.
Diana, I am always drawn to picture -rames wherever I shop, but especially thri-t and antique stores. I have dozens in my stash which I delve into any time I want one to -rame something. My daughter thinks they are all a giant waste o- space because they aren’t being used, but I stand my ground! There are so many various designs and styles that I see them as art by themselves. I’ve even seen pictures in magazines o- them displayed without anything in them. Thanks -or reminding me how much I love picture -rames!
Here’s a tip for that brown paper: after it’s dry, spray lightly (mist, essentially) with water and then use a blow dryer to dry. You will see it shrink and tighten up in front of your eyes. Like magic!! Also, if the edges are not to your liking, you can use brown paper packing tape to cover it. I’ve matted and framed many pictures over the years and this was a game changer!!
Great tip. Thanks!
I too tend to accumulate miscellaneous frames. Thanks for the simple instructions.
Now maybe I can get some artwork framed. Finally.