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Making Fine Art Prints: Framing

Making Fine Art Prints: Framing

We’re really coming along on this series! Almost to the finish line now! In this article, we’ll be covering the topics of matting, mounting, and framing your fine art prints. These are really the final steps in producing the artwork, and they’re equally important as the other steps.

Some artists insist on defining and providing the matting and framing as part of the final display, while others are okay with leaving it up to the recipient of the work. There’s no right answer — you’re in charge and you get to decide what to do. Personally, I’m more inclined to let the buyer mount, mat, and frame the print so that it fits well in their home or personal gallery. For the work (of other artists) that I hang in my home, I like to do these final touches myself so they all match each other.

So if your work is going to a private collector, you might just ask them what they want in terms of matting and framing. If the work is for a gallery or exhibit, they might have strict guidelines for the final presentation. Every situation will be different, so be flexible!

THINKING AHEAD

Your print and paper dimensions will be determined by the intended matting and/or framing (along with where you sign the print). You’ll want to leave a bit of extra space around the photo so that it can be properly displayed. The mat will sit over top of the paper, so account for at least 1/8″ to 1/4″ of extra space for this. If you want to leave a white border around your photo in addition to the mat, be sure to leave that much extra space. As a rule of thumb, I tend to leave 1/2″ to 1″ of extra paper around my prints — depending on the intent for final display. You can always cut off the extra paper, but you can’t add paper back to the print. So leave lots of room if in doubt.

Also be aware that standard mat windows are slightly smaller than the stated size. An 11×14 mat or frame will be a bit less than 11×14. If you print at exactly 11×14, you will cover a small amount of the image around the borders. I’ve found that it can be a real hassle trying to fit my photos into standard windows due to the fact that the images are captured at a different aspect ratio. So I save myself the headache and go for a custom cut mat. Just keep that in mind through this discussion — mats and windows can be cut to any size you need.

MOUNTING

Mounting a print involves adhering the back of the paper to a board of some type. This keeps the print nice and flat while ensuring that it doesn’t move around in the final display. Mounting boards can be things like foam core, poster board, mat board, or (my favorite) Gator board. High quality boards can be quite expensive, but keep in mind that this is a fine art photo and quality is the name of the game. Don’t skimp on the mounting board if you go this route.

When mounting (and this goes for matting as well), be certain that you’re using a non-acidic and NON-PERMANENT archival quality adhesive. Why non-permanent? Once you adhere the print to something permanently, it will likely lose value in the eyes of some collectors. The actual print is the valuable item here, so it’s best to leave the possibility of removal. But, as with any advice in this series, the decision is up to the artist.

MATTING

Matting a print involves placing material on top of the print in the form of a border. This does two things: provides a predefined viewing space for the print, and protection. The mat border can be as large or small as you wish — as long as it looks good with the photo. It also sets the photo back from the top plane of the piece, which keeps the print surface away from other surfaces (like the glass of a frame).

When it comes to mat materials, you basically have your choice of colors. You can also get mats with different colors in the core (usually white if different than the main color of the mat) — this gives the border of the print a little extra complexity and separation. Most mats come in 4 or 8 ply, with 4 being more common and available. The ply just designates how thick the mat is based on how many layers of material are used. Mat windows are commonly cut at a 45 degree bevel to show the depth of the material, but there are other types of cuts available to suit your tastes.

If you want something truly unique and perfectly matched to your particular print, go with a professional framer! These folks have a huge number of mats available to them, and they have the equipment and knowledge for cutting the stuff. Unless you do a huge volume of matting, it’s totally worth it to use a professional framer.

FRAMING

The wall was framed
Creative Commons License photo credit: Leonski

Framing is the really expensive part of the final presentation. A good frame setup will cost far more than the mounting and matting. Framing is also the main part of the piece that needs to match with the surroundings of the display location. Change the frame from wood to metal and you have a totally different artwork. People are generally picky about the framing of their displayed artwork because it needs to match what they already have on the wall.

I generally don’t frame my photos unless the recipient explicitly asks for it. Even then, I try to find out exactly what they want so they’re not disappointed with the final piece. I’ll try to let the buyer do their own mounting, matting, and framing so that shipping costs are lower and so they can present the artwork in a way that suits their own tastes.

And as I said before, use a professional for your framing needs. Don’t go buy a cheap plastic frame that happened to be on sale and stick your “fine art” print in it. The quality of the frame will completely diminish the quality of the artwork. Not trying to be snobby about this stuff, but I’m just sayin’!

USE A PROFESSIONAL!

Ok, I know, I said this a few times already. But I have to say it again. Unless you create a large volume of mounted, matted, and/or framed fine art photos, save yourself the trouble and use a professional. PROFESSIONAL is the key word here. A pro will be able to provide you with a top quality product and a top quality experience. You’ll pay a few dollars more than a craft store framing service, but it’s worth it.

I use Artistic Endeavors here in San Diego, and these guys are REALLY good at what they do. A professional will work with you rather than just for you to produce exactly what you want.

For my personal collection (of other people’s works) hanging in my living room, I choose to mount the photos on black Gator board and mat them with a 4-ply black mat and white core cut at a 45 degree bevel. I usually leave a 2-3″ mat border depending on the print size. I hang the prints on the wall without a frame — just the mat and the board cut to the same outside dimensions. It gives me a trendy display at minimal cost.

WHAT’S YOUR EXPERIENCE?

In this section, I’ve spoken mostly in generalities because we don’t have the time or bandwidth to get into the technical details of this topic. But I’d like to hear what the rest of you do for your fine art prints. Do you mount, mat, and/or frame them before sending them off? Do you do it yourself? Do you have experience with a professional framer? And if you collect prints, how do you display them in your own gallery?

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BACK — SIGNING
NEXT — SHIPPING

Making Fine Art Prints: Introductions

Making Fine Art Prints: INTRODUCTIONS

Making prints sounds simple at first — just hit the print button, right? Well… yes and no. Prints can actually be quite involved depending on how far you want to go with them. Once you cross the line of producing a signed print, you’re basically putting your integrity on the line. A signature is a “seal of approval” when it comes to prints, and this is something you shouldn’t take lightly.

UPDATE: I’ve changed the title of the series from “Making Prints for Display” to “Making Fine Art Prints”. I think it’s more fitting for the topics we’ll be discussing.

Signing prints seems to be a “hidden secret” for those who haven’t done it yet. Nobody really talks about it! In addition, signed prints tend to go beyond just a signature: prep, print, frame, ship, etc. But don’t get overwhelmed — there’s a common theme among all of this: “the photographer is in-charge of the final product.” Whatever you decide to do, there’s no wrong answer. The discussions that follow are not intended to be hard-set rules, only suggestions and guidelines.

DISCLAIMER: Let me get this out of the way right up front… I’m not a professional artist, I don’t do this every day, and I don’t know all the answers. I’m going to rely on the audience to help fill in some of the blanks along the way. I’m also not a lawyer, and the discussions in this series may or may not apply to things like “limited editions” from a legal sense.

I also have to give credit to Justin Korn for instigating this discussion. He asked a question about signing prints via FriendFeed, and the discussion exploded (see here). I quickly realized that the topic was of value to more than just one person, so I figured we could open things up here on the blog.

Since the subject of producing prints for display covers many aspects, I thought that a series would be in order. Here’s what I had in mind for a few upcoming blog articles:

  1. PREPARING – Making decisions prior to making the print and how those decisions will effect subsequent steps.
  2. PRINTING – How to produce the best quality work and how to handle the finished product.
  3. SIGNING – Placing your “seal of approval” on the print and a discussion of the various methods for doing so.
  4. FRAMING – Mounting, matting, and framing of prints as an optional step in the process.
  5. SHIPPING – Once everything is done, we’ll talk about how to get the print packaged and shipped to avoid damage.

This whole series of articles will be quite open to discussion, suggestion, and modification. Right now, I’m asking you to provide feedback on the main topics and the subtopics contained within. Are those 5 main topics enough to cover all of your questions? And what specific things would you like to see discussed in each one?

As we dive into each topic, I’ll present material based on what I know. Then, I’ll ask all of you to provide feedback and additional knowledge on the subject. After posting each article, I’ll let the comments run wild for a few days and then I’ll take some of the better comments and place them back in the main article (with attribution, of course). In the end, we should be able to produce a good resource for the topic of producing prints for display… maybe even another eBook.

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NEXT — PREFACE