How To Make Cheap Frames Look Top Notch

You know the drill, you've bought some lovely art prints, but they're all sitting in cupboards in postal tubes because you can't afford to have them framed.

I've written about the importance of framing art before, and I'm a firm believer that if you can afford to, spending money on bespoke frames is absolutely worth it. Framing can make or break a piece of art. But what if you can't afford to? Should you suffer with bare walls? No. Most certainly not. And that's what today's post is all about.

How To Make Cheap Frames Look Top Notch. Monochrome Gallery Wall.

Last year I collected nine limited edition prints by one of my favourite artists, Stella Vine. However, I could not find a spare four hundred plus pounds to have them framed. I had my heart set on a gold coloured moulding for them, and started to look at various places for ready made gold frames, but when I finally found some that were the right size, they were £39 each, and I would still need custom mounts. The cost was edging back up to a bespoke framing price again, so they were also out of the question too.

I really wanted to get the prints framed and up - especially as I'd moved my beloved Juju hat up into my studio, leaving a big blank wall in the dining room, so I decided to go rogue and see just how inexpensively it was possible to frame them.

After much hunting, I found some cheap plastic, but GOLD frames on Amazon that were the perfect size. However, when I ordered them, several arrived smashed or there was damage to the moulding. Thanks to my Amazon Prime membership (no not an ad!) - I just kept returning and re-ordering them until I had a full set of pristine frames. They cost just under £10 each.

How To Make Cheap Frames Look Top Notch. Grid Gallery Wall Gold Frames And Brown Mounts

Then I had some mounts cut to size. This took a LOT of measuring and re-measuring, as each print is a slightly different paper size and image size. Ideally to create a grid like I wanted, your prints would all be exactly the same size, but as they only differed by a couple of centimetres tops, I felt I could get away with it, as they were all going in the same sized outer frame, just with slightly differing mount apertures so it wouldn't ruin the overall effect (even if it did fry my brain).

Perhaps controversially, I decided against white mounts for these prints. In my mind, they would be either orange, red (definitely controversial as I'm not a big fan of either colour, but next to the blush pink walls, and gold frames it's a different story!), pink or brown. I know.

In the end, after much thought, I went for brown, which not only looks lovely with the colours of all the prints, the gold of the frames, and the blush pink walls, but it also ties in with the wallpapered backs of the shelves in in the living room, which are diagonally opposite the prints. Hanging them in the perfect grid (well, as perfect as is possible, with old wonky walls!), was surprisingly painless as the backs of the frames have uniform hanging hooks which really helped. I had to do lots of that maths thing again, so it did hurt my head, but I'm so pleased with the result.

How To Make Cheap Frames Look Top Notch

In the end it cost me less than £140 to frame all nine prints. That's around £15.50 per print. Not bad, and I think they look great and that the frames look much more expensive than they were. If you didn't know the frames were plastic, you wouldn't be able to tell. So don't tell anyone okay?

My other framing challenge that I took on just before Christmas, was to frame a Debbie Harry print, and two tea towels that my husband had bought because he loved the print, but we didn't have the money for the actual print. I unpicked all the hems and ironed them flat and although the fabric and image areas were again different (grrr), I was able to make them work in off the shelf A1 frames, again with custom cut mounts to fit.

How To Make Cheap Frames Look Top Notch - Monochrome Gallery Wall

A custom cut mount to fit an off the shelf frame, is my favourite framing trick. Suddenly that print you thought you couldn't afford to frame, becomes the print you actually can afford to frame, which is actually pretty exciting. Just make sure you have a minimum of 5cms border width (so your print should be at least five centimetres smaller than the inner frame size), otherwise it starts to look a bit off. It doesn't matter if the border width at the top and bottom is a bit different to the border width at the sides. Then figure out what the closest standard frame size available to fit that size is, and have your mount cut accordingly. Don't forget to allow a 5mm overhang so that your artwork sits nicely behind the mount - your mount opening (aperture) should be a little smaller than the print. Use masking tape or framing tape to attach just the top of the print to the top of the back of the mount, and pop it in your ready made frame. It's amazing how a mount elevates the piece no matter how cheap.

I spent around £50 each for the big frames and custom mounts, which is not nothing, but they're big, and that's a fraction of what it would have cost to have them framed on the high street. And I didn't have to wait. I'm nothing if not impatient.

One day I'll upgrade the frames for my Stella Vine prints, because I really treasure them and want them properly preserved, but they're not in direct sunlight, and at least they're up on the wall so I can enjoy them now.

The Importance Of Framing Art

The Importance of Framing Art - French For Pineapple Blog

I've talked about buying art before, but I've not really touched on the very important subject of framing, other than when I did a little tutorial for turning a cheap frame into a box frame here.

I'm a firm believer that a frame can make or break a piece, but I'm also hyper-aware of just how prohibitively expensive framing can be. Hands up who has prints hanging around in postal tubes and card-backed envelopes because they can't spare the cash to frame them!

Let's talk about when to spend the big bucks and when not to.

It would be madness to spend £200 plus framing a print that cost you £20, but it would also be crazy to spend £40 on a frame for a print that cost £1000 or more.

It should be relative. Nearly always. But there are of course exceptions to the rule, and rules were made to be broken!

My husband and I are big art fans. For us, buying art is predominately about surrounding ourselves with pieces that we will love for a very long time. Hopefully some of these pieces will at least hold, or perhaps even increase in value if we're lucky, but more importantly our children will hopefully want to hang some of it on their walls one day too.

Framing is so important. I never buy anything without considering how I want to frame it, and how much it will cost to frame first. I learnt my lesson there years ago, when I didn't ask how much it would cost to frame a scarf, and nearly fainted when I went to collect it and they told me how much it was. Let's just say it was more than five times the price of the scarf, and the scarf was not cheap! Ouch. That said, it looks amazing, and as I said, rules were made to be broken.

If you're spending upwards of £200, then does the piece have special requirements? Does it require specialist mounting or conservation glass? Would it be best float mounted? Or if it's a textile for example, does it need to be expertly stitched to the mount board before framing?

If yes, then you really need to be talking to either your local framing shop or a specialist fine art framer. 

If you're spending big money on art then it's makes sense to spend a decent amount on framing. After all, framing is not just for looks, it's preservation and protection for years to come.

That said, a cheaper frame is better than no frame at all, so long as you're not damaging the piece, so go ahead - it's much more fun to have your art on the wall, that have it hidden away waiting, right? And you can always upgrade as and when you can.

If you're buying a piece of art for less than £100, my advice would be to put it in an off-the-shelf frame if it's a standard size. However, if you want something of higher quality, to choose from a wide range of mouldings, a mount, or if it's not a standard size, you'll need to consider a bespoke frame, and this is where eframe might become your new best friend. I buy art that I perhaps wouldn't have otherwise bought, because I know I can get a bespoke frame for a very reasonable price from them.

The Importance of Framing Art - French For Pineapple Blog

Recently I needed to fill in a few gaps to complete a new gallery wall in our living room. There were two spots that needed a piece of art, so I decided that I would design a tropical inspired abstract print for one spot, and for the other, I would re-print a photograph of my mother that my father took in the 60's (yes, a proper cliched model/photographer situation).

For the smaller print it was a standard 40x40cms size and I already had loads of white frames from my print business in my studio, however, I wanted black, so I just painted it and stuck it in. Done.

I wanted the print of my mother to be more special, and to be a specific size which was non-standard. I scanned the original print in a super high resolution because I knew I wanted the new print to be much bigger than the original. I was working with an old photograph, not the negative, and it's a bit scratched and faded, so I retouched it photoshop, and cropped it to my desired size, and had it printed on fine art photographic paper. It looks incredible and yet cost very little, and I used eframe to supply a perfect, simple black gallery style frame in the bespoke 40x70cms size. Strictly speaking, I should have a double mount to hold the glass away from the photographic paper, but it wasn't the look I was going for, so I broke that rule. Because I can.

It looks great on the gallery wall, and you honestly can't pick the difference between the high quality acrylic glazing that eframe use, and the glass of the other pieces on that wall. Nor can you tell which frames would cost £50, £100 or £200.

The Importance of Framing Art - French For Pineapple Blog

I've actually been using eframe for years, both for my personal framing and my business frames (I have a print in one of their frames in our bedroom too), so I can honestly say that they're a great choice for anything that might be either a non-standard size or a piece that you know you don't want to shove in an off-the-shelf frame. There are hundreds of frame mouldings to choose from - simple gallery style to highly ornate, as well as and a big selection of mounts. They have a great interactive website where you can upload your artwork if you want to so you can see how it will look with your moulding choice. You can even get them to print an image for you (only if it's your own artwork of course) and frame it, or just mount it. The possibilities are endless.

You just put in your artwork dimensions, and when your frame arrives, remove the protective plastic from the acrylic, and pop in your artwork. Make sure to add mounting tape to your basket if you're using a mount, and backing tape to tape up the back of the frame. This is particularly important with larger frames that may warp without the tape support, but it also makes for a professional finish which makes all the difference.

The Importance of Framing Art - French For Pineapple Blog

Be mindful of dust and stray hairs, as there is nothing more annoying than thinking your art is ready to be hung only to find a hair or piece of fluff right in the middle of your image and you have to start again, so check before closing the back!

And if all of this sounds too hard, they offer a full framing service too, where you send them your artwork and they'll frame it according to your choices so you just have to hang it when it arrives.

Now you have no excuse not to frame those prints!

Disclaimer: This article is posted in conjunction with eframe, but as always I only post about companies that I genuinely like.

Box Frame & Float Mount Tutorial (a.k.a Frame Pimping)

When the lovely Stella Vine sent me an original 'Rainbow' painting I knew I wanted to frame it to show off the torn edges of the paper. I also know that specialist framing is expensive and I've recently been spending way too much money, so rather than having it sit around in an envelope until I could afford to send it to my framer, I decided to pimp a frame to turn it into a box frame, and float mount it myself.

DIY Box Frame And Float Mount - French For Pineapple Bog

A float mount allows you to see the entire piece of paper that your artwork is on, as it's mounted on top, as opposed to a traditional mount that hides around 5mm of the paper all round because your art is hinged to the back of the board, with an aperture or opening covering the edges.

By using double sided sticky pads on the back corners of the artwork, it will be held away from the mount board, and appear to float.

I'm also adding 'fillets' or 'spacers' into the frame rebate, to hold the glass away from the mount board and artwork, thereby turning it into a box frame.

The rebate is the lip inside the frame moulding where the glass sits - the glass and backing board of a frame will always be slightly bigger than the actual front opening of the frame. Depending on the frame moulding, it's usually just a few millimetres to a couple of centimetres.

Essentially I'm making a small frame within the frame, and the result is a high end frame on a teeny budget.

DIY Box Frame And Float Mount - French For Pineapple Bog

What you'll need:

Don't be put off by this long list - you probably have at least 3/4 of it already!

Balsa wood strip that is the right width to fit the rebate on your chosen frame. It's important to check that it won't stick out past the rebate.
Cutting Guide (optional)
Wood Primer
White Eggshell Paint (or any colour to match to your chosen mount or frame colour)
Liquid Nails or Wood Glue (optional)
Frame with a rebate to fit your fillets or spacers*
Mount board
Cutting Mat
Scalpel or Stanley Knife
Double sided sticky pads or tape
Your chosen artwork
Frame backing tape (optional)

* Please note that the frame should be larger than the piece you're framing - how much larger is up to you, but I chose a frame that's 1.5cms larger on each side than my painting as the painting is quite small. If I was framing a larger piece I'd go for more space around it.

Start by marking and cutting your balsa wood to size. You'll need four pieces - the top and bottom pieces should be the full width of the internal frame size, and the two side pieces should be the height of the internal frame size minus the width of the top and bottom pieces of balsa wood.

DIY Box Frame And Float Mount - French For Pineapple Bog

Once they're cut to size, give them a coat of primer, and one or two coats of your eggshell. You can paint all sides or leave one of the wider flat sides/back unpainted as you won't see it.

When the paint is completely dry (no tackiness at all), you can either just place them into the rebate or glue them in place. You may find that glue is totally unnecessary as the top and bottom pieces will be held in place by the side pieces.

Cut your mount board to size. You can use the backing board of your frame as a template and just cut around it.

DIY Box Frame And Float Mount - French For Pineapple Bog

Stick one double sided foam pad on each back corner of your artwork. Make sure you don't stick them too close to the edge - you don't want to see them from the front. Mine were quite thin so I doubled them up for a more exaggerated float, but make sure that it won't actually touch the glass.

Stick your artwork onto the mount making sure it's centered!

Put your mounted artwork into the frame. It should sit on top of the fillets/spacers and not touch the glass. Before you close up frame check for stray hairs and dust.

Add your backing board (make sure it's the right way up if it already has a hook on it), close the frame, and tape it up. Taping is optional, but it does make for a more professional and secure finish, and if you're working with a larger frame it will prevent bowing, so I highly recommend using it.

DIY Box Frame And Float Mount - French For Pineapple Bog

DIY Box Frame And Float Mount - French For Pineapple Bog

Before you embark on this DIY, it's worth noting that your frame probably won't have been made to allow for the fillets, so make sure it will work. The metal tabs on my frame were just long enough to bend over the very ends once I had added the fillets, mounted artwork and backing board. So save yourself a lot of frustration by checking first.

DIY Box Frame And Float Mount - French For Pineapple Bog

So would you give it a try and save some serious money? I had nearly all the 'ingredients' already, so the only thing I needed to buy was the balsa wood from my local craft shop, which cost me a grand total of 65 pence!