Not everyone needs a custom frame, especially when your photo or artwork is a standard size. Ready-made picture frames are plentiful—you can find cheap ready-made picture frames at craft shops and local big-box stores—but, unfortunately, they are generally not the best choice for picture framing.
The Problem With Cheap Picture Frames
Off-the-shelf picture frames are convenient, of course, as you can just pop in a photo, slide it shut and put it on display. However, these picture frames are often anything but high quality. Ready-made picture frames from the big-box shops often feature a “mount board” that is simply corrugated cardboard, which is highly acidic—and acid is art’s natural enemy. Over time, depending on other factors such as sunlight and humidity, the photograph will discolor and deteriorate.
In addition, the glazing is often poorly cut glass or plastic, and you often don’t have the choice of selecting the type: UV-filter, anti-reflective, glass or acrylic. The frame itself may also be made of inferior metal or wood, the latter of which may be improperly joined.
The materials aren’t the only problem with ready-made picture frames from non-specialty stores. There is often no mat board included, which is common with ready-made frames; however, the frames were not made to accommodate spacers, and the photograph or artwork sits flush against the glazing. The result of this is that the picture will eventually adhere to the glazing, causing irreversible damage.
When looking at off-the-shelf frames, you can tell whether it is high quality by the inclusion of mat board and framing mount board, as well as any labels that state the glazing has UV-protective or anti-reflective properties. Examine the frame for any dings or dents, and make sure that the corners of wood frames are securely joined.
Finding High-Quality Ready-Made Picture Frames
While there may be the odd high-quality ready-made picture frame at the drug store, you’ll most likely find them at specialty shops—though the number of brick and mortar custom frame shops has dwindled, falling from 28,000 at its peak to 8,000 in 2012.
But even though they can be few and far between, custom frame shapes are still a great source of ready-made picture frames. Custom frame shops can offer ready-made picture frame packages that include the frame, mount board, glazing and sometimes hanging hardware; archival packages will include mat board. Buying straight from a brick and mortar shop can be pricey, however, as retail shops have a high overhead; they price these frames, even though they are not custom-made, to factor this in.
An alternative to the expensive but high quality custom frame shop is an online store that specializes in framing. Online custom frame shops have the ability to offer a wide variety of ready-made picture frames, including archival ready-made frames that feature UV-filter glass and acid-free mat board and backing board.
Online shops can also more easily offer bulk discounts, which is useful for professional photographers and artists who wish to present their work in the quality frames they deserve. Ready-made frames are readily available—you just have to know what to look for and where to look.