Custom Picture Framing Vs Store-Bought Or Standard Frames – Which and When to Choose

Many people wonder whether there’s a difference between custom picture framing and purchasing a “standard” size, store-bought frame from a department or craft store. A frame is a frame, glass is glass, matting is matting — what does it matter? Why should I pay a little more money when there’s really no need? There is a difference, it can matter greatly, especially if the art or item you intend to put in that frame has any sort of value or is of a specific dimension, and the additional cost of having it done right is well worth it. Not everything requires a custom frame, but for certain types of art or items there is really no choice. Additionally, it pays to be wise in your choice of custom framer. Not every facility that advertises itself as offering custom framing is truly providing that service. The following information and guidelines should help you in your decision making process.

The benefits to having your art custom framed:

• No force fitting — the size of the art dictates the final size of the mat and frame — perfect symmetry (I.e. if your art has a dimension of 6″ x 17″, you are not forced to purchase a mat and frame at 16″ x 20″ resulting in “odd” borders)
• Unlimited choices in moulding and matting
• High quality, acid-free materials to protect your art and keep it in pristine condition
• It’s more affordable than you may think (call around and price compare)
• Value retention – improperly treated art will quickly deteriorate and lose its value
• Confidence in knowing the job was done professionally – different types of art require their own special treatment — a canvas should not be framed in the same way as a charcoal sketch, as a needlework, etc.

The drawbacks to purchasing a store-bought, “standard” size frame and doing it yourself:

• The frame (often plastic or resin)
• The glass (probably not UV, or worse, a sheet of acetate)
• The mat (usually made from wood cellulose product)
• The backing (generally cardboard)
• All of these materials will damage any type of art because they contain high levels of acidity, which is extremely harmful to the art
• The glass won’t be of much help either because it lets in ultra violet light, another “art killer”
• Size limitations – you won’t be able to find a frame at 6″ x 17″ if that is what you need
• You don’t have to struggle trying to trim a photo, cut a mat, “glue” the art down, or force the art into a too small or too large space
• You may have to pay to have the job done over, especially if damage was done by you or a non-professional

Any professional framer should be using acid-free materials and UV or museum glass in order to protect the art or item from environmental conditions such as sunlight, acid, air pollutants, etc. It is always a shame to see a lovely, original piece of art that has been tucked into a store bought frame with the intention of having it done by a professional later. When it is removed from the unprotected environment, the damage is clear: fading of color and inks (which can clearly be seen when observed next to the area that was under the edge of the frame), yellowing (evident when the mat is lifted off the borders), evidence of trimming or cut edges on the art because it had to be forced into an inappropriately sized frame (sure to decrease the art’s value if there is any), and on and on. Once something has been improperly handled, there is often little to be done to make reparations (at least as far as the value is concerned).

There are all sorts of ready to buy picture frames available. You can find them almost anywhere you shop from retail and home stores, to craft stores to the local “dollar” store. They are perfectly fine if you have a snap of the family dog or a greeting card you want to display. These types of frames are not acceptable for much more than that though. Do some research, make some calls to custom frame shops in your area and by all means, do not be afraid of asking these questions:

• Does your facility use acid-free materials and offer UV or museum glass?
• Is the framing work done on premises or “farmed out?”
• Do you have the resources to cut your own frames to size, or are you ordering factory, “standard” size frames and then fitting the art to the frame?
• Are you familiar with handling different types of art? (E.g. canvases, needlework, pastels, 3-D objects, textiles, etc.)
• Are you familiar with the proper treatment, mounting and framing of fine or valuable art?
• Are you insured?

By taking the time to assess the importance of the piece of art you are interested in framing, doing a little research and asking some pertinent questions, you will be fully equipped to make the right decisions. Again, not every little photo needs to be professionally framed, but you’ll thank yourself in the long run for having made the right choice for the art that should be.

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