Art Framing Basics How to Frame Guide

You've probably heard that a picture is worth 1,000 words, but that's not true if it never makes it up on the wall! In addition to enhancing artwork, frames also protect art pieces. But most importantly, frames allow you to customize artwork so it becomes something you'll be proud to display on your wall.

This guide will equip you with the knowledge and tools to understand the basics of framing art. You'll discover:

  • The difference between standard and custom frames
  • What to look for in the quality of a frame
  • How to mat art
  • The size variations of frames and mats
  • The equipment you'll need for framing and matting
  • Where to find frames online and in stores. 

After exploring the basics of art framing, you'll be ready to discover all kinds of ways to frame your artwork with the next blog in my Framing 101 series. Happy framing!

    Standard Size vs. Custom Frames

    Custom framing is expensive and often unnecessary, especially when the art you want to frame fits in a standard, off-the-shelf frame. What if the artwork you want to frame isn’t a standard size? Make it a standard size by matting it or mounting it on acid-free board/paper using an acid-free adhesive like artist tape. If you don’t want to deal with framing, skip to my other ideas above.

    How to frame artwork of all sizes

    Frame Quality

    • Look for frames with tight-fitting corners. Wood frames looks great, come in a variety of colors (and can be sanded and repainted easily) and are often more environmentally friendly than plastic frames.
    • Most frames come with glass or plexiglass. Plexiglass doesn’t always mean cheap – it’s more lightweight than glass and can be UV protective. Steer clear of plexiglass that makes an art piece look cloudy. Custom framing is often more expensive because the glass has been treated to be anti-glare and UV protectant. If you choose a non-UV protective glass or plexi, be sure to avoid hanging the artwork in direct sunlight or it will fade more quickly.

    Frame Quality


    How to Mat Art

    Matting refers to the border space between a photo and a frame, and it can add elegance, size and focus to your artwork. Matboard is a thick board that’s acid-free, so it won’t erode or fade or yellow your artwork over time. “Archival quality” is another common expression referring to the absence of acidic materials.

    Matting Artwork with matboard

    A lot of art can look great directly in a frame with no matting. But some art will look fantastic with matting, or even multiple layers of matting. Matting can certainly add cost, so try to stick with pre-cut standard sizes that are available at frame or craft stores. If a frame shop custom cuts your mat, expect to pay at least $40. You can also order pre-cut mats online at sites like at a lower cost, especially if you're matting more than one piece at a time. 

    If you want to frame your artwork without a mat, then look for a frame size that’s the same dimensions as your artwork. Most of my artwork has a lot of white space around it, so it will look nice even if it's not matted. 

    If you mat your artwork, look for a proportionally size frame to the art. For example, if the art is 11x14", a 16x20” frame will give it about a two-and-a-half-inch border all the way around which will look really nice. If the art is a panoramic 24x8" piece, look for a 28x12" frame that will allow for a 2" mat border all the way around. 

    Art Frame and Mat Sizes

    Just like artwork, frames and mats come in various shapes and sizes. Use this Proportion Size Chart to help you choose the right size frame and mat for your artwork:

    Frame Proportion Chart 

    Note: As a rule of thumb, frames cover about .25” of the art all the way around. Pre-cut mats typically cover about .25” more of the artwork than the advertised size. So trust what the description says! An “11x14 mat with an 8x10” artwork will fit your 8x10 artwork beautifully, leaving enough margin to cover the edges. 

    Supplies to have on hand:

    • Acid-free tape or adhesive like artist tape or scrapbooking glue. Regular clear tape will become brittle over time and can leach chemicals into art, causing it to discolor and erode.

    • Glass cleaner and a paper towel or cloth

    • Flathead screwdriver

    Here's a photo sequence of how I frame my own artwork. I start with taping the piece squarely to the back of the mat. Then I clean both sides of the glass. I put the glass and matted artwork in the empty frame, add the backer board and then use a screwdriver to seal the metal tabs securely. Viola! 

    How to frame step by stepHow to frame steps 2



    There are many ways to find frames depending on what’s important to you. Cost, quality, shopping local or online are all considerations. 

    Buy Frames Online:
    Art to Frame, Frame DestinationDick Blick and check out small business like Signed and Numbered and B Davis Design Co on Etsy. 

    Buy Frames in Brick & Mortar Stores:
    Some of my favorite local frame supply stores in the Greater Seattle Area are: 
    NW Art & Frame - West Seattle
    Queen Anne Frame & Gift - Queen Anne/Seattle
    Artist & Craftsman Supply - University District/Seattle and Tacoma

    HomeGoods and department stores like IKEA, TJ Maxx, Walmart and World Market carry a good selection of common standard size frames. Craft stores like Michaels, Hobby Lobby and Ben Franklin usually have the best frame selection, including less common sizes and oversize frames.

    Custom Framing in the Greater Seattle Area:
    Anabel's Framing and Gallery - Everett
    Artisan Custom Framing - Mill Creek
    Christopher Framing & Fine Art - Edmonds
    TSUGA Fine Art & Framing Bothell
    Lake City Picture Framing Lake City - Lake City/Seattle
    Queen Anne Frame & Gift - Queen Anne/Seattle
    Annie’s Art & Frame - Ballard/Seattle
    Tacoma Museum Quality Framing - Tacoma

    Other Ideas for Finding Frames:
    You can find frames at thrift stores, antique stores, estate sales and online or app based sites like OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace. You can also get creative and make your own frame using wood or non-traditional materials like old wooden yardsticks or clothing hangers. Below are gorgeous frames crafted by one of my customers - check out his woodworking on Instagram. 

     Handmade Frames by Six Eight WoodworksFrames crafted by 6_8woodworks

    After purchasing art it's easy to let it collect dust before finding a frame, so I hope this blog series will be helpful to make the process less intimidating and expensive! Check out my next blog in this series, Framing 101 blog - How to Frame Art Cheap and Easy, to help you kickstart the process. 

    Inspired and in need of some fresh art for your walls? Browse my latest work here


    February 06, 2023