Some would say a canvas – or even a photograph – is only as valuable as its frame.

While that statement stretches the truth, we can say, with some veracity, that your masterpiece's palette, shading and light are set off in the nicest way by a complementary frame.

Whether you have just learned how to draw a standard poppy in a field or are an expert at portrait drawing, decent framing can contribute to the aesthetics of any picture and are as much a part of specialist art supplies as pencils or a good drawing tablet.

Framing not only gives your work more value and make it look more professional, but it can also provide important protection for your paintings, photos and prints over time.

The trouble is that unless you are a carpenter as well as an artist, you likely don't have the skills for cutting your own frames in the right sizes.

In these days where you can learn to do anything from the Internet, DIY'ers might be tempted to frame their painted canvas themselves. While it is possible and could be less expensive, there are lots of issues involved.

Firstly, a novice woodworker would obviously not create a final product of the same quality as a professional. You may also go through a lot of things like moulding, before getting the cutting and setting exactly right. A bit of a waste if you ask me!

There are also a lot of online choices, like Framebridge, but the shipping part of these services can often be pretty pricy. They also work best for canvases in standard sizes, as opposed to custom sizes.

This probably means that your only option is to employ the services of expert framers, which can come with some pretty high costs.

This is especially true for artists that are working with larger canvases, because of course, the bigger the canvas, the higher the price. Still, unless you plan to leave your favourite pieces from drawing classes rolled up in a closet, framing services are probably necessary.

From mounting to shadowboxes, the range of choices for displaying images can get pretty overwhelming, but the service of professionals can make all of these choice clearer and more simple.

Choosing the right option for your type of picture

Showcasing your art in an ornate frame can be quite costly

It's important to note that you can buy ready-made frames for much less in standard sizes, both on the web and from professional workshops.

If, however, you wish to have a custom display crafted for your artwork, be it a large, costly canvas or a small work on paper, you should expect a bit of a cash outlay.

When we calculate the final fee, we must consider aspects like the materials involved, the tools and precision and the time to set the frame.

These are some of the different materials you'll need to consider:

  • The frame itself
  • The glass
  • The mat/s and backing

And then, you may consider different levels of protection for your art:

  • Conservation framing ensures the highest level of protection for your masterpiece.
  • Commended framing could be considered a baseline of protection.
  • Budget framing offers a minimum of protection from dust and stains

In all cases, you must also consider the dimensions: the larger the canvas, the costlier the frame.

Should you have painted an epic à la Jackson Pollock, you may fare better by simply stretching your canvas on an internal frame.

Of course, none of these questions will arise should one pose their design on a virtual canvas with your drawing tablet.

So let's look at how to choose the right style of frame, and what it could cost you:

The type of image

Any artisan would tell you that you should not be framing a charcoal sketch the same way as you would a watercolour.

During your drawing lessons, you drew a lovely line drawing from a one-point perspective, and wish to display it to its greatest advantage in your dining room.

For such a charcoal drawing, you would probably need a wood or metal frame, composed of four mouldings, which would rest on an intermediate frame, or mounting, also called a Marie-Louise.

This would stop the actual graphite from touching the glass, avoiding damage.

By contrast, framing a watercolour would require a bevelled mat, otherwise known as a passe-partout, and a glass cover, to protect it from dust or stains.

A print or a photo would require a different style again, probably something quite thin and simple.

The colours in the picture

A passe-partout and a Marie-Louise or any other type should also provide a colour contrast to your displayed image.

For example, if you have painted a seascape, your matting should not be aquamarine in colour because that shade would likely feature prominently on your canvas. An off-white or ivory might provide a more effective contrast.

However, the frame itself could be aqua coloured, which would give a special accent to the hue you used to depict the crashing waves.

For coloured images like those created on an interactive whiteboard, you can try to match the dominant colour with the frame, making it stand out. In general, black and white photos or prints should only be surrounded by the same two colours, so as not to distract from the image itself.

The style should complement the subject of the work

If you've painted an epic canvas, you may consider a narrow frame

You probably haven't seen many Renaissance paintings in a museum that are surrounded by a minimalist frame. This is because we generally try to match styles and periods.

This means a classical style of painting is probably displayed to best effect with a traditional, gold leaf style of framing (which is likely to cost you a little more).

Another option is a shadowbox, which can give your painting depth. This type of framing works wonders on pastels and watercolours, as well as photos and prints.

An abstract painting made on a drawing tablet is probably going to look great with a style that is more natural and minimal, reflecting its modernity.

Of course, framing is an art in and of itself, so you are free to break any of these rules. Contemporary artists do sometimes use more ornate frames to make a point or show contrast.

The important thing is that you really keep the image itself in mind when considering all the options.

Remember that framing specialists have seen all kinds of works in all kinds of frames, and have a pretty good idea of what works well. Don't be scared to trust their opinions!

Here are some basic prices taken from different professional frames in Australia. All prices are A4 dimensions:

  • Simple synthetic black, 3.5 cm wide- $25
  • Classic gold with a bevelled edge, 8cm-$50
  • Wood box, 2.1 cm wide $80
  • Stained walnut, 6.5 wide $140
  • Ornate gold-leafed, 8.7 cm wide- $180

This is just a small example of the endless options you have when choosing the perfect display style for your project. Prices may also vary store to store and online.

Of course, it's not just the obvious part that we need to take into account. Let's take a look at some of the different aspects that you'll need to consider when calculating the final amount you'll spend on framing your most recent project:

 

Other costs that are included in the framing process

Before we get into any special extras like moulding or gold leaf, let's consider each part of the process, and see how it can add to the pricing.

Mats

When you look at a framed photograph and see a white border around it, or maybe multiple borders of different colours, what you're actually looking at is called a mat. It might surprise you to know that there are heaps of options when it comes to mats, all affecting the final amount.

First, it's important to note that you don't necessarily need a mat, but it generally helps in making your artwork look as great as possible.

This is especially true for works done on paper, as you might create as part of drawing classes in Perth.

You can choose to have a single or double mat, meaning you either have one border or two around your image. Having an extra mat can help draw the eye towards the image, but be careful. Too many may be a distraction.

The same goes for the colours of the mats you choose. Most people go with classic black and white, but professional framers usually offer many colour options, which can display your own personal style.

Finally, we need to consider the material of the mats. You can use anything from paper to regular mat board, to cotton and even archival board, made to give high levels of protection to the picture.

Based on prices from Frameshop.com.au, an online store that can customise frames, a simple, white mat board at around A4 will add about $10 to the price, while having two of higher quality would be around $50.

There are many choices to make when buying a frame
The mats you choose can make a big difference to the final style and final cost | Photo credit: Monstera from Pexels

Different backing styles

The backing is the board that covers the back of the frame, and most specialists use MDF wood for this part. This is because it's relatively cheap, durable and is easy to remove if you want to change the image.

However, there are other choices that can create a more flattering version of the image, as well as more protection, like foamcore which is light and very ridgid and can be adhesive, meaning the print is directly stuck onto the board.

For an A4 sized image, MDF costs around $5, while foamcore comes to around $12.

Type of glass

You may be surprised to know that there are actually different qualities of glass that specialists use in their projects. And, maybe less surprisingly, the higher the quality, the more it will affect the pricing of the whole job.

The basic option is simple clear glass with no bells or whistles. While the advantage of this choice is that it's generally cheaper, it has some disadvantages.

It's highly reflective, meaning you might just be looking at your own face instead of your print, depending on the lighting. It's also quite heavy, which may affect the pricing of shipping. Finally, it doesn't really offer any protection.

If you're worried about sun damage, you can opt for UV Clear glass, which blocks UV rays. There is also non-reflective types you can choose, or you can even get a type that helps in both aspects!

A final option is perspex or plexiglass, which is usually just a clear, can be UV resistant, doesn't reflect and offers the added bonus of being light, meaning the shipping cost will likely be lower.

The one you choose will have a pretty big effect on the final cost. The simple clear choice for an A4 sized version will only cost around $10, whereas choices like UV Non-Reflective glass can add around $45 onto the final amount.

Calculating the final amount

So, to summarise, costs will vary based a range of different materials.

If we want a basic black with limited protection and no extras, the calculation would be:

  • Simple black frame- $25
  • One paper mat- $10
  • Clear glass- $10
  • MDF Backing- $5

So in total, this option would set you back around $50. Let's compare that to something a little higher quality, with a higher degree of protection.

  • Ornate gold frame- $180
  • One museum grade mat- $40
  • UV Non-reflective glass- $40
  • Non-Adhesive Foamcore Backing- $10

This would bring our total to $270.

Clearly, the choices you make during the process will have a huge effect on the final cost of framing your project.

There is one more aspect we haven't considered just yet, size:

 

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The costs involved in more ornate framing

As you could most likely figure, the desired format and framing mode – or whatever recommendation the professional framer makes, as well as the style and size of the canvas impacts the final cost.

So far, we've mostly considered pretty simple aspects like size, style and colour, but artisan framers have a lot a beautiful tricks up their sleeves to add ornamentation and beauty to your final product.

The Marie-Louise

You may recall from this earlier in the article that a Marie-Louise is a type of mounting used in framing, especially for portraits or perspective drawing.

Initially conceived as a way to keep charcoal, pastel  and the different types of pencil off of the frame's protective cover, today these mounts serve as an additional aesthetic element to the overall effect of the artwork.

Imagine Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party without such a mount: such scandalous representation would simply not be possible!

Even if for only a still life drawing, opting for a mount between a drawing and its protective cover would increase its overall value. Marie-louises also vary in pricing: the thicker the mounting, the higher the cost.

The more ornate your frame is, the more it will cost
A more ornate frame could be a great choice for a very special piece | Photo credit: Jackie Hope- Unsplash

The Mouldings

Are you of a Baroque state of mind, hoping for ostentatious goldleaf around your picture?

Or have you created an Art Deco project that would be highlighted to the greatest effect by a narrow, black, metal frame?

A wooden style painted gold, with an ivory coloured mount that bears an ebony bevel would certainly cost more than a less ornate showcase, coming in at around $150 for a 40 x 50cm item. And, the wider the mouldings, the more costly the final product.

You can easily estimate prices for framing your artwork online, at sites like Frames Now, but you may want to also speak to someone in person about your project.

One good reason to consult with a professional – as opposed to a website, is that they would be able to make solid recommendations, maybe put forth ideas you'd not yet considered, or that you didn't even know were possible.

Indeed, as your every brush stroke carries value, so does the expertise of one who showcases art for a living. As an artist, you need to choose your brushes carefully, and a framer also carefully selects the tools he needs to make your art stand out.

To properly display your drawing, consulting with an artisan who specialises in intricate design and art may run you more than $200, but the effect on your drawing and painting would be priceless.

The Passe-Partout

We didn't mention before that mats can also vary in style, and one of the most popular is the Passe-Partout. This mat's profile is clean-cut and regular, with fine detail.

That is why this beveled mount is usually custom-made, to specific dimensions that would complement your art, whether you draw animals or prefer drawing people.

It is important to not confuse the two types of mountings.

This mount's bevelled edge adds mystique and distinction to whatever depiction it surrounds, be it a graphite pencil rendering of a rain-soaked forest or a realistic drawing of the human face.

The good news is that, should you plan a series of portrait painting, you can order such mountings in bulk, for a lower cost.

 

What types of images can I frame?

There is a persistent idea that only artworks by famous artists are worth spending the money to get framed.

However, if you or your child takes drawing classes in Sydney, you might find that you have the house absolutely full of hand-drawn images. Wouldn't you want to protect those images and keep them as memories?

Custom framing costs a fair amount, so it's natural that you probably won't display every single paper. But if there is one drawing that's special to you, perhaps because it was the first drawing you were really proud of, it deserves to be displayed!

You could even create a small series of drawings, meaning the cost of framing might be less if the pieces are smaller.

Framed pictures also make a beautiful gift for any occasion, especially if the image inside is hand-made. For example, for a grandparent, a photograph of them from their younger days, placed in a beautiful display case could be really appreciated.

You can also get important objects put on display, like medals, special clothing or collector's items.

There are no rules when it comes to this process, as long as whatever you want to display is special to you, it's definitely worth it.

Plus, imagine how happy your little one would be if they see the effort that goes into displaying their nicest piece from their drawing classes in Melbourne!

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Jon

As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.