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The Fine Art of Art Framing

So, you acquired a print, a photo, a graphite image, or a canvas painting. Whether you bought it, received it as a gift, or inherited it, it's yours and you think it's good enough to display. Most people will go out to to their local big box store or dollar store to get it into a frame and call it good. Depending on the value of your artwork, document, or might want to think twice about how you frame that print.

Artwork on papers need to be framed otherwise you're silly putty, acid filled masking tape, and general atmospheric influences, or UV light will destroy the art. Paper has a tendency to do this thing over time called...breaking down. It becomes yellow and brittle and decomposes because lets face it...everything has a shelf life.

Art on canvases don't always need a frame but should have one in order to protect the edges and give it a professional look. Frames for canvases don't need all the stuff a paper work would need such as glass and matting. We'll go over this in the frame components you should consider below.

1. The frame:

Wood: Excellent choice. Hardwoods like oak and maple will be better at withstanding scratches and dents than softwoods cherry or cedar. They are also easy to touch up or completely repaint or stain. Recycle right?

Metal: another good choice because it doesn't warp as easily as wood, but if it gets gets scratched, it's not as easy to fix.

Plastic: a horrible choice! Don't every get plastic. Plastic will get brittle and break at the corners faster than wood. In my day as a framer, we had to use volatile glues for the corners before underpinning them together and it was just so nasty and toxic. Furthermore, if you want to get a new frame in the future, that darn plastic is now in out landfills! Please avoid this frame at all costs!

2: The glass:

Before we get into types of glass, canvases do not need glass. Glass provides wonderful protection from outside harmful elements, but most art on canvas receives a top coat of varnish that acts as the protection from UV and atmospheric damages. This way, the viewer can appreciate the texture without obstruction. Oil paint specifically can take quite some time to cure and needs the open air to do this. Glass can potentially create problems for the paint down the road.

One thing to be aware with glass is that anything sealed behind glass can build up with moisture in hot humid environments. This is the case for canvas and paper alike. Try to keep expensive artwork out of areas with high humidity, such as bathrooms, to avoid potential damage. Okay, now with the disclaimer out of the way, here's three option for glass for art that's not on stretched canvas.

Normal glass: This is fine and an inexpensive option BUT, the glare will make it difficult to see your image and doesn't keep harmal UV rays from altering the colors of your print. Yep, over time, that sunshine or UV rays from certain lights will fade you art.

Anit-glare and Anti-UV glass. This glass has special coating to achieve more of a museum quality protection and display. Fairly expensive but worth it.

Plexi-glass. This is an acrylic or "plastic" glass. I know, I know....I just ranted about plastics! This option has it's pros and cons. It's benefits are that it is naturally fairly non-reflective so it displays the work well. It's lightweight and easy to hang and transport. It doesn't break as easily, and it's price is mid-range. It's downfall is's plastic. And it can scratch more easily than glass, and it has more static than glass and therefore attracts more dust to the surface making you clean it more often.

Those aren't all the options but are the main three that will be offered when you step into a framing shop. If you purchase frames online, or a framed print online, you'll notice that you have the option of getting plexi-glass, or no glass and that's simply for transport reasons. The chances of glass breaking in shipping is quite high.

3: The Matboard:

This is an important aspect to framing paper artwork. If you're thinking of getting a pre-assembled frame with no matboard - just stop right there. Letting your paper touch the glass is a big no-no. Moisture goes up and down in our homes and offices, and can create moisture within the frame too. Without the matboard to absorb that moisture, your paper can stick to the glass, potentially ruining it. So matboard isn't there just for visual pleasantries, it has a purpose.

Now, there are all different kinds of mats but it comes down to it being acid free. I don't know how much matboard is not acid free these days, but I sure don't want to take my chances. Look for a core that is NOT yellow or beige or brown or grey on the inside of the matboard. It should be white. There are some cores that are black but have been acid-neutralized. If you see anything but white or black, it means it is not acid free and has the potential to "burn" (turn yellow or brown, and brittle) your artwork where the art touches the mat.

One doesn't normally put matting around canvas art but to get that look, framers use linen liners. Think of a frame, that's framing another frame that's been wrapped in linen and sometimes embellished with gold or silver, and then the painting is behind that. It's a lovely way to give substance to s smaller painting or make painting look important, but it is also a more traditional look and is not required unless you want that specific look and feel.

4: The backing:

When you get a pre-assembled frame, it often comes with a wood back, like hardboard. This isn't good. remember the acidic matboards? Those matboards were made with wood and wood has something in it called lignin. It's a fibrous substance that creates acid as it breaks down. So you want to avoid that, obviously. Professional framers will use acid-free adhesives to stick you're artwork to the acid free matboard before you sandwich that with the acid free foam core backing.

This kind of brings you back to the frame. Why would I use a wooden frame if it has lignin? You're artwork will not get acid burned if it does not touch the wood. Hence the purpose of the mat and backing keeping it from touching anything else. Canvas artwork skips this step.

5: Sealing the back:

The last part of framing is sealing the back. It's not only to avoid air pollutants from getting in and slowly killing your print or artwork, but it helps to keep those nasty bugs out too! Yep, I won't even mention what kinds of dead bugs I've seen fall out of old frames-yuck!

So with a wood frame, the framer will glue paper, usually brown craft paper or butcher paper to the back with a full seal of glue - no gaps!

For a metal frame, after the frame and the whole artwork sandwich is assembled, the framer has these awesome "springs" that slip between inside of the back of the frame and the backing, creating a a nice, tight seal. Canvas, framed or not, should get a paper seal too.

Now that you have an understanding of framing components and why they're used (or not used), you'll understand why getting something locally framed costs so much. They're bringing in the best for your artwork to last for generations.

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