If you’ve ever had anything custom framed before, you probably already know how expensive it can be. I know a lot of people are apprehensive about starting the process because of the cost. In custom framing there is a broad spectrum of price points, which is determined by several factors. If you understand these variables, it will be much easier to keep the cost down to an area you are comfortable with. So stay with me, because I’m going to go into specific detail about how to save money on framing with 10 tips that I’ve picked up over the last decade as a framing professional.
My Top 10 Tips for How to Save Money on Framing
1. Use Ready Made Frames
Using a ready made frame will almost always be less expensive than ordering a custom one. Most frame shops carry a selection of pre-built frames for you to choose from. If your artwork doesn’t fit exactly into a ready made size, you can add a mat to fill in the extra space. They vary in price, but the advantage to using ready made frames is that you can see the price ahead of time, rather than falling in love with a frame during the custom selection process only to be crushed at the end when you realize it’s way out of your price range.
2. Use an Old Frame You Already Have
Even better than buying a ready made, why not look around your house and see if you have any old frames that could be repurposed for your current project? I have customers bring in their own frames all the time. Sometimes they’re not in the best shape, but I always offer to touch up the finish or reglue corners – whatever it needs. You’d be surprised how good an old frame can end up looking after a little TLC!
3. Understand Frame Quality and Decide on Your Priorities
The biggest variable in custom framing is usually the frame itself. They range in price starting around $5 to nearly $100 (per linear foot.) That is a BIG difference. Take the photo above as an example. The frame on the right is a sturdy wood composite frame with a smooth espresso finish, priced at $12 per foot. The frame on the left is a solid walnut with an ebony stain finish and a gorgeous curve on the backside, priced at $63.50 per foot. That’s a difference of $345 for an 11 x 14 frame. Certainly the frame on the left is of superior quality, but not everyone is in a position to afford something so luxurious.
If you’re looking to save money (which, let’s be real, most of us are) simply give the designer a rough idea of your budget before you get too far into the process. Decide what is important to you in a frame and what you can live without.
Things that drive up the price of a custom frame include:
- Size. In general, the bigger the frame, the more expensive it is.
- Finish. Finishes can get extremely elaborate with custom frames. Some are hand-painted to give an artistic feel, some are golf-leafed, some have a beeswax finish, some use exotic wood overlays, etc. Anything beyond a basic flat finish adds to the cost.
- Type of wood. The higher the quality of the wood on the inside of the frame, the more expensive it will be. The higher priced frames usually have a decent wood on the inside, even if it’s covered over with a surface design. The lower priced frames use various types of wood composites.
4. Keep it as Small as Possible
Everything in custom framing is priced according to size. The smaller you are able to keep the finished size of your piece, the more you’ll be able to keep the price down. This isn’t always possible, but some examples of ways you could reduce size may include trimming down unnecessary borders, skipping a mat, or folding up a jersey to a smaller display size.
5. Skip the Mat
Speaking of skipping the mat, this one deserves its own category. Matting is another big variable in framing. Any decent frame shop should be using acid free, archival mats, which are costly. They are also hand cut to very specific sizes on large, expensive equipment by skilled workers. All of this means more money. Eliminating the mat will take a big chunk out of your total, so it’s something to consider. Although matting serves both aesthetic and archival purposes, it’s not always necessary for every piece. Movie posters, for example, often look just fine with a frame right to the edge and no mat.
6. Skip the Spacers
In lieu of a mat (which serves the archival purpose of keeping the glass from directly touching the artwork) framers use thin strips of plastic around the inside edge of the frame called spacers. They are cut to fit exactly inside your frame, and a thin paper is pulled away from one side so they become self-adhesive and stick to the glass. Your artwork then lays on top of the spacers, preventing it from ever being able to get stuck to the glass. They don’t cost as much as a mat, but they still cost extra money. If you’re on a tight budget or don’t plan to ever take the piece out of the frame, I would say just skip them.
7. Do Your Own Fitting
This might not be a feasible option for everyone, but it is an option. A fitting is the labor charge for the framer to clean and assemble your piece. It varies according to size, which makes sense. If you think about it, cleaning and assembling a 4 foot by 4 foot framing project is a heck of a whole lot more work than doing a 4 inch by 4 inch project. So tread lightly with this one. Framers are very well set up to do this kind of labor. They make sure every fingerprint is cleaned from the inside and outside of the glass, every speck of dust is blown out, every tiny detail is perfected during this stage. They also have the proper tools and supplies to secure the artwork inside the frame, and finish off the back with a craft paper dust cover and hanging hardware.
That being said, maybe you’re set up well enough to do this yourself at home, in which case you’d be able to save yourself another good chunk off the total bill. Just something else to keep in mind.
8. Dry Mount Canvases Instead of Stretching Them
This tip is getting pretty specific, but I think it applies to a lot of people and hardly anybody knows about it. If you have an unstretched canvas that needs to be framed, having it dry mounted instead of stretched will save a LOT of money. It’s far more work for someone to custom cut and build stretcher bars and stretch your canvas than it is to adhere it down to foam core in a heat press.
I once did a large order for a woman opening up a restaurant in town. She had dozens of extra large canvas prints that she needed framed, but the combined cost of stretching AND framing was out of the question for her budget. We opted instead to simply dry mount the prints onto foamcare and frame them without glass, as you would a stretched canvas. This, combined with a discount, saved her literally thousands of dollars.
*Side tip – Remember to always ask if they have any discounts available! Even if you don’t have a bulk order, most frame shops are more than willing to work with you on the price, within reason.
Dry mounting works well for canvas prints, or for tattered canvases that are in such bad shape that stretching may not even be an option. I do NOT recommend it for valuable, original paintings, as dry mounting does decrease the resale value and is not the traditional, proper way to display a canvas.
To learn how to stretch your OWN canvas, check out my article here.
PlakIt is a trademarked name, and it’s one of the very few services that we send out to have done. You can see sort of how it works in the picture above. They take your picture and mount it onto a wood composite board, with a beveled edge in the color of your choice. The surface is then covered with a protective laminate. The back has a notch for hanging, or you can ask the framer to add more secure hanging hardware before you take it home.
Ask your framer is they offer PlakIt, or a similar service. It’s not technically framing, but it does protect the surface of your picture effectively and allows you to hang it on the wall without fear of warping. It is also far less expensive than any framing option.
10. Leave the Back of Your Frame Accessible to Swap Out Pictures
Lastly, my number 10 tip to save money on framing is to leave the back of the frame accessible so that you can continue to use the same frame but change the picture inside from time to time. Normally in custom framing the back of the frame is sealed with paper. It prevents dust and moisture from getting in, and also gives the back a nice finished look. Alternatively, you could skip the paper and have the framer use turn button hardware that you can loosen and tighten to get in and out of the frame. I probably do this the most often for parents who plan to swap out photos of their kids over the years.
And that is it! My best advice for how to stay within your budget and make the custom framing process a viable option. Do any of you have any ideas of your own for how to save money on framing? I would love to hear them! Any questions about any of the topics I’ve gone over? Please leave them below, and I will be more than happy to answer them for you.