The Motivation
In the spring of 2010, I took part in a local “tweed bike ride” (Velocipede & Tweed Indeed). For the event, I purchased a used beach cruiser which I’d been eyeing at a local bike shop for almost 2 years; for me, the event was the perfect excuse to finally buy the damn thing rather than just ride it around their floor and their parking lot – and for the manager, it was the perfect opportunity to clear some floor space that had too-long been dedicated to an apparently hard-to-sell item. I walked – or rode, rather – out of the store with the bike for a song and a Benjamin.The local newspaper – The KC Star – did an 8-shot photo-spread of the event, and low-and-behold, my brand new beautiful bike was the cover photo! On a side note, another of the 8 pictures was of me – taking a picture, go figure. Somehow, I managed to comprise 25% of the presentation, but I digress – back to the picture of my bike, shall we? Not only was my orange beauty the subject of the cover photo, but the image itself was gorgeous. I had to have it – I had to have it printed, the print had to be large, it had to be framed, and it had to be hanging on my wall.I e-mailed the photographer and asked him what my licensing options were – and he sent me the full-size JPEG and carte blanche in response. Woohoo!! I ordered a 16 x 20 print from Kodak’s online print service (which, by the way, farms their work out to Miller’s Professional Imaging, aka MPIX; tip of the day: bypass the middle man and save a few bucks). A few days later, with print in hand, I was off to the local print shops for quotes!3 shops later, for a 26 x 30 simple black frame with white 4-ply matting, I had 3 different quotes ranging from $98 to $220. Not knowing any better, I went with the $98 frame job. I was pleased with the results – the frame and mat look really nice, and given that the print is on Kodad’s 100-year-rated metalic pearlescent paper, I probably came out OK; even if they didn’t use archival materials, the print will probably outlast me.

And then several months later, I took another – smaller – print to the same shop and asked them to prepare it in exactly the same way they’d done the first one – only smaller. ~$80 and a few days later, it came back – with a black mat instead of a white one. I should have taken them to task immediately, but I decided to hang it on the wall to see what it looked like first. I decided I didn’t like it – but not enough to actually haul it back into the shop.

After that, I had 3 prints – an 11 x 14 and two at 5 x 7 – that I wanted framed. Having learned my lesson with the “cheap” shop, I committed to spending the extra cash to “have it done right.” $400 later, I had 3 beautiful wall-hangings. Huh?!? There has to be a cheaper – and maybe better – way, right? As it turns out, there is – frame your stuff yourself.

So over the past couple months, I’ve undertaken a couple of my own framing projects – and so far with acceptable results and a large savings in cash outlay. The journey, however, has been fraught with frustration. I hope that by sharing my experience and knowledge, perhaps I can save you some of your own money – and maybe some blood (literally), sweat, and tears, too.

The Goal
A friend of mine proofed this article for me a few days ago and asked a very valid question: “If I have the digital image, and if I can get a replacement print for a couple bucks, why the hell would I spend more than $10 to hang it on the wall? Who cares if it sticks to the glass or turns yellow?”With few exceptions, people don’t generally make consistent and regular backups of their digital images. A (different) friend of mine had the hard drive in her laptop fail about a year ago; the laptop was almost 5 years old, she had gigs upon gigs of photos stored there, and she’d never once backed-up the system. Not once. She was able to recover many of her pictures from Facebook – but those weren’t the hi-rez versions. For many more of her pictures – by no coincidence, her most cherished images (as evidenced by the fact that she cared enough about them to order prints) – she was left with only the hard copies in her photo album.So I suppose that if you’re one of those anal types who backs-up on a regular basis and stores at least one copy of those backups in a fire safe and / or off-site, then archival framing may not be for you. A $10 frame from Walmart, so long as you’re happy with the way it looks on the wall, is fine – and this article is not for you.

On the other hand, if you’re a typical computer user, or you give a damn about what your print looks like on the wall (or both), then read on.

Right, so now you’ve decided that a $10 frame from Walmart isn’t for you – and you have to decide what is for you. At the one extreme is museum framing with specific aesthetic features (e.g., framing and matting custom coordinated to match the print) and which will preserve the print for literally hundreds of years while still allowing the print to be viewed on display (as opposed to dark storage, which can conceivably preserve a print for thousands of years – but nobody gets to see it). At the other extreme is the aforementioned cheap framing from your local variety store; often, these cheap frames will actively deteriorate your prints.

You have to balance asthetics, cost, and the degree of protection – and somewhere in the middle is the flexibility to mat and mount your print as you see fit (e.g., off-center or in a non-standard frame) with archival materials which will both sufficiently preserve your print and look good on the wall. It’s this middle ground for which I strive.

With that in mind, a couple notes…

    • I am not a framing expert, and any information presented here is probably suspect. This document is presented with absolutely no warranty or guarantee. If you decide to act on any of the information I provide here, you do so with the understanding that you’ll hold me blameless for any harm or loss which might occur through the application of any of this information. Straight up, XACTO knives and mat cutters are sharp and dangerous and framing materials are expensive. Taking on a framing project represents both financial and physical risks (at the extreme, conceivably even death). I’m not kidding; if you take on a framing project armed with the information provided here, you’re on your own.

    • The information here is gleaned from over 30 web sites and 3 books. I’m a lazy bastard, so I’m not citing any of them. I’m not quoting any of them, either, so I fear not the copyright police.

    • I don’t like metal frames, so to be quite honest, I haven’t even researched them. I know nothing about them, really. I’m going to talk here about wooden frames. I assume that some (perhaps large) part of this documentation will also apply to metal framing, but I don’t know that for a fact. Your mileage may vary.

    • I’m a wannabe photographer; I frame photographic prints. I have little or nothing to say regarding the framing of other types of art (or even photos printed on older papers), and you should be advised that framing your kid’s 3rd-grade art project on construction paper will require some additional effort by comparison to modern professionally printed photographs. If not done correctly, construction paper – as just one example – will discolor and curl, even if framed in archival materials. If framing stuff other than modern photographic prints is what you want to do, then I encourage you to look elsewhere for information. I’ll get you started by telling you to research “deacidification”.

    • Your goal should be to be able to put together a frame that will look good and, at a minium, that will do so without actively damaging the print. You are in control of what you’re willing to spend, how the finished frame will look, and how archivally safe it will be.

    • My goal here is not to give you a step-by-step this-is-how-to-frame-your-print. Lots of web sites already have procedures posted, and how-to video tutorials on the topic literally abound on eHow and YouTube. What I found, however, is that while many sites detail the “how”, very few explain the “why” and even fewer tell you where to source the referenced tools and materials. With that all firmly in mind, my goal here is take apart the diagram at the top of this page, share what I’ve learned about each component, and point you towards appropriate associated online resources.
Before diving in, I should share some general notes on “archival framing”. As I note above, if you’re opting to “do it right” versus spending $10 at Target, you should be using archival materials and employing “archival technique”.

  • In glazes, this means that (regardless of what I might say later in this article) you should be using UV-blocking materials and that you should be mindful of where you hang the frame relative to direct or strong sunlight.

  • In mats, foam boards, and tapes, this means you should be using high quality materials that are both acid- and lignen-free. For mats and foam boards, I’ve found that only two manufactures make products that are affordable and accessible to end-consumers in the U.S.: Lodima with their “ArtCare System” and Crescent with their Conservation line of products. If your supplier doesn’t specify one of these brands, or doesn’t specify a brand at all, be suspicious. For tape, only one company’s name comes up time-and-time again: Lineco. You may be able to find other makes and brands of archival tape, but definitely do your research before purchasing anything else.

  • In glues, this means that you need to go out of your way to find acid-free variations. Unlike mats and tapes, it seems like nearly all glue manufactures make at least one adhesive intended for use in art archiving. That is, acid-free glue from a variety of companies is easy to find.

  • From a construction perspective, everything you do should be undoable. Most importantly, be mindful of how you mount the print itself; you should use only archival photo corners or tape hinges crafted from archival tape made specifically for the purpose (see Lineco, above). In short, nothing about how you build the frame should be permanent in nature. This is true whether you build the frame to last 3 years or 30, and either way, somebody is going to eventually need to reframe your print – and reframing can’t be done if the frame tear-down destroys the artwork.
The Frame (aka Moulding)
The frame should be metal or aged wood. New wood can off-gas chemicals which will harm your print.In my research, I found that it’s not economical to build my own frames. The cost of the required tools – if you don’t already own them – is prohibitive, and buying moulding in sufficient bulk to make it cost-effective presents two problems:

  1. It’s expensive; you have to front hundreds of dollars.

  3. It’s a lot of moulding. Your situation may be different, but I don’t have room in my town home to store that much moulding.

Make sure you buy a frame with a sufficiently deep rabbet to hold the whole stack pictured at the top of of this page (as of this writing, has a good definition of “rabbet” if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Basically, you’re going to have to measure the width of all the components you’re going to stack inside the frame and make sure you get a frame that’s deep enough that all the pieces will fit with room to spare.

  • I haven’t been able to find any documentation that suggests a minimum of excess (the distance between the back of your stack and the very back of the frame), but I’d guess that you don’t want any less than 3/16″. Less than that, and your points (I’ll talk about points later) are likely to split the wood.

  • I also haven’t been able to find any documentation which suggests you can have too much excess rabbet. If in doubt, get a rabbet that’s over-the-top too deep.

Some of the sites and at least one book I dug into recommend that wooden frames should be sealed. This is usually done with tape (check out this picture at Blick’s to get an idea) or by painting the rabbet with clear acrylic sealer. The idea is to keep the wood – especially younger wood – from off-gassing acids and other harmful things into the frame’s interior. And that said, several of the sites I ran across indicated that such sealing is only necessary for the finest artwork being given the museum treatment, and even then it may be not be necessary. As always, and as I’ve stated elsewhere in this article, the truth is probably somewhere in between, right?

Go ahead and order a custom-sized frame. As of this writing, the half dozen or so online frame retailers I’ve checked charge at most a couple bucks (literally) more for custom frames than for standard-sized (presumably already built and in-stock) frames. My favorite retailer, in fact, charges less: $21.71 for a standard 20 x 24 frame of my favorite moulding vs. $21.60 for a custom 19 x 22 frame of the same moulding (yes, I know that’s more per inch of moulding, but the example still illustrates my point beautifully, so STFU).

Skip the hanging hardware kits offered up by the online retailers and head to your local hardware store instead. Not only will you save money, but you’ll quite possibly avoid ruining your frame. All of the online retailers I’ve checked put the same-size screw (the screw size varies from retailer to retailer) in all their hanging kits; the only thing that varies from kit-to-kit is the length of the included wire. If they ship you screws that are too big for your frame’s width, you’ll split the wood if you try to put them in – and if the screws are too long, the points will come through the front of the frame.

The Glaze
Ultimately, what glaze you use will be a combination of personal preference, budget, how large the framed image will be, and where you’re going to hang the print. Here are my notes on the matter:

  • The general consensus seems to be that plexiglass should be avoided for various reasons. That said, however, it would appear that “plexiglass” is another name for “acrylic”, and that both are names for PMMA. Many, many shops recommend acrylic and acrylic-based glazes, and many shops list acrylic as “acrylic (plexiglass)”, so I’m not sure where the disconnect is.

  • Acrylic glaze is a lot lighter than and more shatter-resistant than glass. This means lower shipping costs, greater ease in hanging and handling, and peace of mind if you have kids of any age (my 16-year-old still throws balls in the house, WTF??).

  • Acrylic does scratch more easily than glass, but if it’s hanging on your wall and you’re being careful with how you clean it (see below), what are the odds of it becoming scratched at all??

  • Kodak’s metalic pearlescent, e-surface, and true-black papers are rated for 100 years under “home display” conditions (and 200 years in dark storage). If you are having your prints professionally done (i.e., not at the corner pharmacy), then – unless you intend to display your print in direct sunlight – you do not need UV-protective glaze. Note also that all but the most expensive UV-protective glazes will be slightly tinted – usually green – casting a hue distortion on your print. See a little further down for some additional observations on this topic.

  • If lit correctly, anti-reflective glazing isn’t necessary either. Anti-reflective glazing – affordable reflective glazing, that is – will always reduce the clarity of the glaze, making your print look “fuzzy” (for lack of a better word).

  • Some sites claim that acrylic and acrylic-based glazes will cloud with time; others claim that their acrylic glazes will remain cloud-free for decades. Who knows the truth?

  • It would appear that glass cleaners like Windex(R) or Formula 409(R) should never be used on acrylic glazes. Instead, you should use a cleaner designed specifically for plastics; commonly recommended products are Novus #1(R) and Brillianize(R). On that same note, paper towels and newspaper should not be used for acrylic cleaning, either – and neither should a dry cloth. Instead, a soft cotton cloth or microfibre cloth should be used for the job, and it should be wetted with your cleaner first. Finally, acrylic is porous – so before you clean the acrylic at all, you should blow off as much dust as you can (e.g., with a vacuum or with canned air). Be mindful that you should always wet the cloth and not the acrylic; you don’t want drips to go down inside the frame!

I’ve looked at the glazes at 2 local frame shops. At one shop, the UV, anti-glare, and UV + anti-glare glass were all unacceptable. At the other (more expensive) shop, these same types of glazes had less impact on image viewing – but were still not acceptable. This week, however, I ordered glaze samples from my favorite online supplier and looked at them all against a white 4-ply mat and both black & white and color prints. Frankly, I was shocked. All 4 Acrylite(R) samples were acceptable. The 2 UV blocking glazes had a noticable yellow-green tint when I held them up to the light, but when put against the mat and print, I had to look hard to see it. The lesson learned? Get a sample before out-of-hand dismissal of UV-protecting glaze, and if you don’t like the way it looks, try another brand. If you can find a UV-protecting glaze with which you can live, your print will love you for it.

Finally, the most important thing to remember when selecting a glaze is that your goal is to preserve your print for maybe a couple decades and to make it look good on the wall while doing so. If you put the frame together correctly, you can always quickly and easily replace the glazing. If the glaze stops meeting your criteria for clarity or print protection for some reason (e.g., it shatters, clouds, or becomes scratched), simply replace it.

The (front) Mat (aka Matboard aka Window Mat)
From an archival perspective, the matting (front and back) comprises arguably the most important pieces of the frame. The matting comes into direct contact with the print, and if it’s not acid- and lignin-free, it will damage your print; cheap matting material will degrade your prints with alarming and amazing rapidity.

  • Always use a mat. Never mount a print in direct contact with glaze. Photographic prints pressed against glass and glass-like substances will adhere to the material over time, and this will absolutely ruin your prints.

  • With the above in mind, the window mat only needs to be thick enough to keep the print from touching the glaze. I’ve seen some 2-ply mats that do the job, but I don’t like the way 2-ply bevel-cuts; 4-ply grants some additional protection and, in my opinion, looks better. Generally speaking, 6- and 8-ply mats are overkill in terms of print protection, and so are generally selected for asthetic reasons.

  • You don’t need to pop the big bucks for cotton rag. Cotton rag is used for museum framing intended to last longer than the couple of decades we’re targeting. Additionally, alpha-cellulose fiber mat is thought by most to perform as well as (or potentially better than) cotton rag.

  • Obviously, whatever material you use should be both acid- and lignin-free. In the U.S., look for Crescent and Lodima product lines (note that Lodima is the new name for Bainbridge, and that Bainbridge is also known as Nielsen & Bainbridge).

  • Invest in a mat cutter, and don’t skimp. You can get a nice Logan medium-sized cutter for about $200 – even less on sale. Logan’s mid-sized cutters will handle mats up to 40 x 40, and since standard raw matting is sized at 32 x 40, this means that one of these cutters will be capable of nearly any framing job you might throw at it. They’re also amazingly simple to use, and their web site is a treasure-trove of instructional and informational video and documentation. A cutter will quickly pay for itself – in my case, just 3 frames was enough to justify the purchase.

  • Always buy raw uncut mat board and cut your mats yourself. Always. With a Logan bevel cutter, cutting a perfect mat is so simple even I can do it. A custom-cut 19 x 22 mat with an 11 x 14 hole costs only a couple bucks less than a raw board, and whoever does the cutting gets to keep the excess board – which is useful for mounting smaller prints (or, in the case of a retailer, selling as a smaller custom-cut mat)!
The Print and The Mount
The print will need to be mounted to something in some fashion so that it remains stationary within the frame. Exactly how it’s mounted will depend on the type and size of print as well as personal preference.

  • Consensus seems to be that most prints should be attached to the front mat with a T-Hinge using acid-free cotton tape. This technique attaches the tape to the back of the print and the back of the (front) mat, allowing for remounting should it become necessary.

  • Optionally, the print can be T- or V-Hinged to the Back Mat (see below) or dry mounted to a Back Board (see below) instead. I prefer a T-Hinge to the back mat, but your mileage may vary.

  • Yet another alternative is dry mounting, which is basically gluing the whole print to a board – typically foamcore or gatorboard. Dry mounting is difficult to do correctly, and should only be done by a professional. If done incorrectly, dry mounting will absolutely ruin your print.

  • Again, optionally, if the print is tape-hinged to the mat or the back mat, the mat and back mat themselves can – and should – be hinged together along one side – typically across the top. Doing so is arguably a good idea, as it can prevent nasty surprises – and possible damage to the print – if the frame is ever dismantled. The goal is to protect the print, right?
The Back Mat (aka Mountboard)
The back mat is optional, especially if the print is T-Hinged to the window mat, and I’ve seen some tutorials that recommend simply pressing the front mat and print against the back board. In the name of protecting the print, however, a back mat is highly recommended.As noted above, the mat doesn’t have to be museum-quality, but you should make sure that the stuff is both acid- and lignin-free.Also as noted above, to prevent any surprises in the case of a frame tear-down, the back mat should be hinged to the (front) mat with acid- and lignin-free tape along one (the top) edge.
The (Mysterious) Impermeable Layer
Very few of the resources I found even mention this part of the frame stack, and none of them mention the exact nature of the material. A friend of a friend who does occasional work for The Smithsonian (no kidding) says that this piece is normally “mylar”, but that he has “used aluminum foil in a pinch”. He’s the kind of guy that I don’t want to pester – so I haven’t.The few references I’ve found on the topic say that it’s primarily a humidity-control mechanism; this layer helps keep the humidity inside the frame from changing too rapidly. As an example, here in Kansas City, the average relative humidity in the winter will drop to about 30%; in the summer, it will climb to over 90%. As the humidity in the room around the print changes, the humidity inside the frame will change too – and this is OK, just so long as the change doesn’t take place too rapidly: rapid humidity change inside the frame will cause the print to curl.In spite of the lack of specific information, given the purpose of this layer, the little bit of what I do know, and what I know about collecting comic books, I can take some educated guesses…

  • The material doesn’t have to be thick or rigid.

  • Since the material is going inside the frame, it doesn’t matter what it looks like – all that matters is that it be relatively impermeable, chemically inert, and acid-free.

  • The piece should be cut to as exact a fit as possible to minimize the gap between the edge of the material and the side of the frame.

I did a lot of searching for thin mylar film or other material designed for this specific purpose (think search terms like “print framing impermeable layer thin film mylar”) – and came up almost dry. I did find a few plastics and photographic supplies retailers who will cut mylar to order or sell you rolls – but all are out-of-this-world expensive (hundreds or even thousands of dollars for shockingly very little of the stuff). After some thought, it occured to me that you can buy over-size print mylar and polypropylene protectors from literally hundreds of online retailers (not to mention your local comic book shop) – and these (polypropelene) protectors are dirt cheap, inert (for the most part – see below), acid-free, and easy to cut.

I found these cool 24 x 36 ClearBags(TM) which work perfectly. My favorite format is the 11 x 14 print in a 19 x 22 frame, so this size will cover the vast majority of my applications. Conceivably, for larger frames, you could pop the big bucks (they’ll sell you a roll of 42 x 42 bags for $176) or you could use ATG (see below) to knit a couple of these “smaller” pieces together.

One last note on this topic: if you go the route I’ve described here, be aware that these bags are made of polypropelene, not mylar. Similar mylar protectors are available, but are significantly more expensive. The reason that I’m noting this is that while polypropylene is exceptionally stable in – and recommended for – dark storage, mylar is more chemically stable and UV-resistant than polypropelene (in fact, Mylar-D is exceptionally UV-resistant). Polypropelene, on the other hand, is particularly susceptible to UV radiation – and releases acids as it breaks down under exposure (and, on a side note, will do the same thing at high temperatures). Since this layer is deep inside the dark bowels of the frame, however, polypropelene should work exceptionally well for this application. You would be well-advised to be mindful of how you store the stuff outside the frame.

The Back Board (aka Backing Board)
The back board is the load-bearing piece in the stack, and should be stout enough to hold everything stacked in the frame when the frame is held back-to-the-ground.Typically, this piece is a slab of 8-ply mat, foamcore / foamboard, or gatorboard. Of course, it should be acid- and lignin-free. On a related note, I’ve read on some sites that “acid-free foamcore” isn’t really acid-free; only the outer paper / rag shell is acid-free, and worse, the inner foam is prone to crumbling. On the other hand, I’ve found numerous sites that claim that their archival “foamcore” and “mountboard” products – especially the ArtCare foamboard products made by Lodima Archival Materials (previously known as Superior Archival Materials, Inc) – are acid-free through-and-through, and are rated for museum framing. The truth – as always – probably lies somewhere in the middle. I’ve decided it’s OK to use archival foamboard, and that I’ll keep an eye on my framed hangings. If it looks like the foamboard is degrading, I’ll just tear-down the frame and replace it.Don’t skimp on this piece; if you ever need to pull the inserts (aka points, see below) out for frame disassembly, you’ll be thankful for the extra layer of protection between your pliers and your print.
The (Almost) Final Assembly
To hold the whole stack together, you need something to wedge the stack against the front glaze. With a wooden frame, this is most commonly done with small sharp metalic shims referred to as “points” or “inserts” which literally get shot into the frame’s rabbet.Before taking on my first project, I had no idea what a “point driver” is. Basically, a point driver is a sideways stapler that fires points instead of, well, staples. A couple quick notes:

  • You can use rigid or flexible inserts. The flexible inserts will bend a number of times before breaking, which allows you to do a frame tear-down without having to remove the points. For large heavy frame projects, flexible inserts are inappropriate, as they’ll bend out under heavy load.

  • I personally have a Logan F500-2 dual point driver, which fires both rigid and flexible inserts. It gets abysmal ratings, but my experience so far – knock on wood – has been that it works well. Your mileage may vary.

  • As of this writing, you can see a good picture of both points and the Logan point driver (along with some really negative reviews) at

  • Inserts can somewhat easily be removed with a pair of needle-nose pliers.

  • As noted above, be certain that your rabbet is deep enough that when you thrust a point into it, you won’t split the wood. Frames are expensive, split frames fall apart, and prints damaged by a frame that has fallen apart may be irreplaceable. Feet cut open by shattered glaze are no fun, either. I’m just sayin’.
The Backing Paper (aka Dust Cover)
Backing paper covers the back of the frame, serves as a barrier to dust, and keeps bugs out of the frame. Amazingly, a lot of the local shops use standard “brown kraft paper” for this piece – which bothers me for a couple reasons:

  • kraft paper isn’t acid-free, and it will release acid into the frame over time. In theory, if you’ve used archival pieces everywhere else in the stack, this isn’t a huge deal – but dude, come on. You’re gonna use archival materials for all the other pieces and then throw a piece of crap regular paper on the back? Really??

  • kraft paper isn’t lignin-free, and it will discolor and become brittle over time. After a couple years (or less), it’s going to have to be replaced. Again, I ask, if the goal is to preserve a print for a couple decades while making it look good on the wall, how the hell does brown kraft paper fit into the equation??

Right, so I went on a search for archival backing paper. This endeavor was almost as frustrating as trying to find suitable mylar for the impermeable layer. As it turns out, The Big Boys use Tyvek(R) and Tyvek-based products – and I, for one, can’t afford the stuff.

Only one company that I could find makes an affordable archival backing paper – Lineco. They sell the paper in 4 packages: three at 16″ x 72″, 20″ x 72″, and 24″ x 72″ and – get this – 36″ x 300′. That single quote isn’t a typo. 36 inches x 300 feet. The small packages (good for one to three frames) go for about $12 + tax and shipping from various online retailers; on average, they work out to about 0.8 cents per square inch. The 300′ roll goes for about $60 – which works out to about 0.04 cents per square inch. The 300′ roll is a no-brainer – and the smart guy would cut the stuff up and resell it in smaller sheets. In fact, appears to be doing just that. I ordered the 25-sheet package, and the stuff appears to be identical to the paper in the 20 x 72 package I found at the local hobby shop.

Once you have your paper, you need to attach it, right? This is most commonly done with 3M’s 908 acid-free adhesive and an Adhesive Tape Gun (ATG). Basically, you apply the adhesive to the back of the frame around the 4 edges (or however many edges your frame has) and overlapping at the corners so that when the paper is applied, a good seal is formed all the way around. Once the adhesive is down, you lay down the paper and then trim off the excess.

A couple notes:

  • Lay the paper down on the glue first, and then trim it.

  • The adhesive doesn’t allow for repositioning, so get the paper down right the first time, eh?

  • The adhesive “tape” that goes into an ATG isn’t really tape – it’s adhesive, like a non-liquid glue, that’s attached to a paper tape. The ATG lays the adhesive down on the surface, and when it’s done, it’s very much like you just ran a bead of Elmer’s Glue – only the adhesive is archvially safe, it’s not liquid (so it won’t run), and it doesn’t require any cure time.

  • It is possible to apply ATG adhesive by hand – I’ve done it – but doing so is messy and time-consuming. Buy the gun. No, really, buy the gun. You won’t regret it.

Finally, they make special knives for trimming the excess paper. I found a video that shows how to use the knife – it’s basically a beveled carpet knife that uses the outer edge of the frame as a guide to make the trim nice and straight. I also found a handful of sites and videos that mention the existance of such a knife. None of these sites and videos, however, mention the official name of the tool and neither do they tell you where you can buy one. The good news is you don’t need it; an XACTO knife, some patience, and some care will work just fine. Just be careful that you trim to the inside if the frame has an outer shell or treatment. Remember also that this is the back of the frame, and your trim doesn’t have to be perfectly straight; in theory, nobody will be looking at it, right?

The Final Assembly
The final piece in the frame – not pictured in my illustration – is the hanging hardware, which is usually comprised of two screws, two hinges, some wire, and a couple bumpers. Many web sites and tutorial videos speak to hanging frames, so I’ll only make a few quick points.As noted above, skip the hanging hardware kits offered up by the online retailers and head to your local hardware store instead.Use screws that are sized correctly for your frame; if in doubt, take the frame with you into the hardware store (before you frame the print, right?).

  • If the screws are too small, they won’t hold the frame.

  • If the screws are too big, you’re going to split the frame.

  • If the screws are too long, the points will come through the front of the frame.

And to be perfectly clear: yes, the screws go through the backing paper.

Finally, the bumpers are typicallly small pieces of rubber, silicon, or felt glued to the bottom corners of the back of the frame. These keep the frame from damaging the wall and, in the case of rubber or silicon, keep the picture from swaying off level.

General framing information and tips from the AIC (PDF warning!)

Marketing information on ArtCare(TM) products by Lodima.

Frames by Mail – Custom and standard frames and framing supplies on the cheap, but they say little or nothing about the archival qualities of their products, and they do not appear to offer UV-protective glazing. I have not ordered from these folks, so cannot speak to the quality of their products.

MatShop – Standard-sized frames, mats, glaze, and backing via web site, custom sizes over the phone. Pricing seems reasonable. I have not ordered from these jokers, so I cannot speak to the quality of their products. – Custom and standard frames, mats, glaze, backing, and more – and boy, do they seem to be proud of their products. These guys were the most expensive of any retailer I researched. I have not ordered from, so I cannot speak to the quality of what they sell – but for the prices they’re asking, the stuff had better be f’ing fantastic…

American Frame – Custom and standard frames, mats, glaze, backing, and more. Pricing seems reasonable, and they sell good archival mats from two reputable manufacturers. They claim their backboards are acid-free, but don’t name a make or brand. I have not ordered from these guys, so I can’t speak to their product quality, but on the surface, it looks like exceptional product at great pricing.

Frame Destination – Custom and standard everything except dust covers. Reasonable prices, fantastic product. I’ve done business with these guys on several occasions, and not only do they sell a good product line, they also have an ace customer service department.

Framing4Yourself – Custom and standard everything. Great for hard-to-find pieces that other retailers don’t carry, like non-kitted hanging hardware and acid-free backing paper. Prices are all over the place by comparison to other vendors, but they have good customer service, order-fulfillment turn-around, and shipping times.

Logan Graphics – Information on mat cutters, point drivers, and more. Particularly useful for how-to documentation and videos.

Blick’s – Massive and highly respected art supplies retailer, good source for misc art and framing supplies, like Lineco tapes.

3M ATG Product Page – Information on 3M’s ATG products. Two quick notes:

  • 3M’s 908 adhesive is the acid-free stuff, and
  • you can get better prices for both the guns and the tape elsewhere.

How to hinge a print into a mat. This YouTube video is perfect!

This article last updated April 23, 2014.

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