Framing Suggestions

by Philip Greenspun; revised February 2007

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Digital photo titled man-fighting-serpent-on-illa-de-la-discordia

First, all pictures should be matted. This is to separate the photograph from the glass. If this is not done, the emulsion of the photograph will stick to the glass. This looks unpleasant and ruins the photograph. Thus, the standard consumer technique of sticking a photo up against a glass desk frame or whatever should never be used for art photos. If you don't like the look of a mat for some reason, dry mount and use frame spacers.

Second, use a professional framer if you can afford it. You are probably earning more per hour than the people who work in frame shops. It looks easy to frame photos, but it will take you at least one hour to do a decent job, the worst part of which is cleaning the glass (if you must do it yourself, try Ajax cleanser in the bathtub; nothing else really gets the glass factory grime off). If you purchase the same kind of acid-free materials and pro-grade materials the frame shops use, you'll find that it costs you almost as much as the total framing price. There are easier and more fun ways to save $15-50 than by trying to frame something yourself.

A maximum of 10% of the frame shops in any town will be competent. The others will ruin photos either by incompetently dry mounting, using other bad mounting techniques, using non-archival materials, etc. Ask at an expensive lithograph gallery to find out who does their framing. Be very careful when any mounting technique other than linen tape is proposed; it probably won't be reversible should something go wrong. There is no law that says a photograph has to be perfectly flat for display. Nonetheless, if you want it flat, dry mounting onto Fome-Core isn't so bad when done by a super-professional (less skilled shops do work that begins to separate after a year or so, leaving unsightly bubbles).

Third, if you can't think of a really great color, go with a pure (bright) white mat and a black metal frame. This is what I use. Not only is it inexpensive, but multiple photos on the same wall share the same presentation.

(In Boston, I recommend contacting Richard Siegel at Stanhope Framers,, in Union Square, Somerville, at 617 666-2000. Artists and photographers get a 20 percent discount when framing their own work.)


Text and pictures copyright 1995-2007 Philip Greenspun. Photos are from Barcelona.