How to Frame a Print Without Paying for the Pros

Nailed it.

Updated 10/14/19

Design: William Hunter Collective, Styled by: Emily Henderson Design, Photo: Sara Tramp-Ligorria

Often, we find ourselves splurging on a beautiful art print, imagining exactly where it will go in our homes—only to leave it sitting around in a closet because we just didn't find time to frame it. While some prints can easily be popped into a store-bought frame without much effort, sometimes it's hard to find the perfect frame for every print. And while you could just tack up that print directly on your wall, a frame feels so much more adult and complete.

Whether you have a single art print to frame or you're finally tackling that stack of artsy Etsy-bought prints sitting under your bed, here's the down-low on everything you need to know. The good news? It's neither difficult nor expensive to finally display your art the right way.

Materials to Frame a Print

  1. A store-bought frame
  2. Acid-free mat paper
  3. Scissors
  4. Artist's tape
  5. Ruler
  6. Picture wire
  7. Glass cleaner and a cloth

Find the Right Size Frame

So you've been dreaming about the perfect gallery wall, planning and drafting up exactly where you want each piece of art to live. But before you can start hammering, you have to find the right frame for every print. If you have an unusually-sized print that is hard to find a frame for, you may need to special order one. But for most of your prints, you can probably find a frame that works just fine at most craft or home decor stores (or even your local thrift store).

If you want to add a mat to upgrade your print, opt for a frame two to four inches wider and longer than your print. Between wood, plastic, metal, patterned options and more, there's an endless amount of variety when it comes to frames. If you're torn, go for a simple matte frame to let your print really shine.

Disassemble the Frame (And Paint It, If You'd Like!)

If you purchased a frame from your local craft store, taking it apart is probably pretty self-explanatory. On the other hand, if you're repurposing a vintage frame, it might require a little light handiwork to take it apart. Many professionally framed prints have a layer of brown craft paper on the back. Carefully cut through this and remove any staples or nails holding the core board together. Pop the print out and set the glass aside for later.

This is also a great time to customize that frame with a coat of paint. Use a fine or medium-grit sandpaper to strip down any leftover paint before you grab a foam or bristle brush or a can of spray paint. If you are working with a large gallery wall, painting a few frames a bright, bold color can be a great way to add visual interest to your wall.

Cut Your Mat to Size

If your print is on paper as opposed to canvas, a mat helps elevate the look and give it a more professional feel. Most frames will come with a mat cut to size, but if you want to adjust the white space or your frame is mat-free, you'll need an X-Acto knife or a box cutter and a mat board. Measure your print and cut the window mat to allow a width of between 1/2" and 1.5" thickness, depending on the size of your overall print.

A mat cutter tool is the most precise way to ensure straight, even lines, but a ruler, an X-Acto knife and a lot of patience can get you there as well.

Clean the Glass

Now that your print is almost ready to reassemble, take a clean cloth and a bottle of glass cleaner, and remove any fingerprints and debris from the glass. Make sure to clean both inside and out, so you don't have to take the frame apart later. A microfiber cloth is the best way to avoid leaving behind fuzz that can cause damage to your art print.

Line Up the Mat & the Print

Once you have all of your pieces ready to reassemble, it's time to center your print on the frame backing. Use a weight such as a sock filled with sand and carefully place it in the center of your picture to keep it from moving as you center it on the board. It's a good idea to center the print horizontally, but try to leave more room at the bottom of the print.

Using artists or archival tape, create a hinge to attach the print to the backing. Take two thin pieces of tape and place them on the back of the artwork (so that the sticky side doesn't touch your mat). Then place two more thin pieces sticky-side down across the vertical edges to attach the print to the back. Doing this keeps your print steady as you lay the mat directly on top.

Attach Picture Wire

Even if your frame has a hook already attached, a picture wire makes adjusting your frame on the wall a little easier. If your frame is missing a wire, use two D-ring hangers on either side of the frame and twist a picture wire through the rings. Leave a bit of slack, so it's not entirely taut against the back of the frame.

Clean Remaining Smudges

Now that your frame is assembled and ready to hang, give a quick spritz and wipe down the glass to remove any lingering smudges. A dirty frame is almost as bad as no frame at all.

Hang it

The hard part is almost over. You've finally given that art print the beautiful frame it deserves, but now it's time to show it off. If curating the perfect gallery wall stresses you out, you can always opt for a simple picture ledge. Layering framed art on a ledge is a great way to add visual interest to your space and give it a laid back, approachable feel.

If a gallery wall is more your style, there are a few services that can help you create a perfectly arranged wall.

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