How to Select the Perfect Frame

Whether you've got a print or an original, getting the right frame for your art will uplift its impact in your space.  In this post I'll share some considerations for both style and places to shop, based on personal experience selecting frames for my own art collection. 

1. Price

  • Frames that are small, simple, synthetic, mat-free, and standard in size -> cheaper. 
  • Frames that are large, ornate, premium materials, have a mat board, and have a non-standard size -> pricier. 

TIP: When I have a new piece to frame, the first thing I do is go to a frame shop in person, art in hand, and browse the standard frames.  Even if my art is a non-standard dimension, if it is paper-based work it can be trimmed, or a mat can cover up parts of it to squeeze into a standard size.  This won't work for every piece of course, but is nice when it does! 

2. Style

  • I would prioritize a quality frame that suits the piece over a frame that perfectly replicates other frames or furniture in your home.  
  • Shiny Gold/Silver attract a lot of attention from the eye- use sparingly, with thinner rims, or with a larger piece of artwork, and pay attention to the lighting once displayed. 

A variety of frame styles can add to personality in the home and help the artwork stand out.  For example, I was recently helping a collector select a frame for one of my watercolor beach paintings.  Their home had a lot of natural oak furniture, so at first we were looking at oak-colored options. After trying out some different frames at a local shop, we ended up going with a more driftwood-style frame with a narrow mat that looked fabulous with their beach scene, even though the house itself was not generally "beach house" in style.  Now their artwork is kind of a vacation-on-the-wall space in their house that is special because it does not follow the rest of the decor in lock step. 

3. Quality

  • Select frames with solid materials.  
    • Frame Materials: Avoid paper-pulp frames (common at IKEA) as they will warp easily and be ruined with any splashed water.
    • Glazing Materials: Both glass and acrylic can be good options.  Interestingly, most art shows require non-glass glazing, presumably because it is more durable in high-traffic areas.  Museum-quality low-glare acrylic is one of your best-quality options if you are going custom. 
  • Inspect for defects.  
    • Frames: Look for misaligned corners/bevels, chips, scratches. Look for an equivalent elsewhere if you love the style but can't find one that is defect-free. 
    • Mat boards: inspect the bevel for defects and the straightness of the edges (wobbly edges are common if not cut properly)
    • Glazing: inspect for scratches or chips on edges. 

4. Best place to get the frame? Tradeoffs:

  • Buying art with frame included:
    • Pros: The absolute winner in terms of convenience- no more work is needed, this will ship to you ready to put on your wall. Excellent quality. 
    • Cons: limited selection, pricey/more expensive to ship for larger sizes, sometimes includes a markup. 
  • DIY from Online shop:
    • Pros: Nearly unlimited selection, some bargains.
    • Cons: Much harder to get a feel for match, material, style. At very large sizes, shipping gets complicated. 
  • DIY Brick and Mortar shop:
    • Pros: Much easier to get a feel for the framing options.
    • Cons: Limited selection of standard frames. Custom framing can have a long backlog (the waitlist near me is 6mo!) and can be very expensive.  

Bottom line: Buy it framed if you are time-strapped (this is an option for prints on my site).  If you're framing yourself, and have the time, shop for the frame in-person first, even if you end up ordering the frame online later. 

5. Online resources for frames and framing (places I've personally used and recommend)