How to Get a Large Picture Frame With a Small Opening

Written by Mark Rogers

Playing with frame size and style is a great way to change the look, feel, and visual impact of your art. A popular trend in gallery framing and home art display is to use extra-large frames for smaller photos and art work. This creates a dramatic visual and draws the eye to your art display, no matter the size of the actual piece.

Getting a large picture frame with a small opening is simple and provides a lot of design and aesthetic options. Start with these photo framing steps:

  1. Measure your actual photo or art to obtain the correct mat opening size
  2. Decide how big you want the overall framed piece to be when finished
  3. Choose a frame style
  4. Choose a mat board style and color(s)
  5. Order your custom frame and mat board

Measure the photo or art size

While the frame can be as large as you want, you’ll need to know the size of the photo or art you’re framing as a starting point. Measure your artwork so you’ll know how large to cut the mat board opening.

This measurement will also help you decide on the dimensions of a custom frame. For instance, if you want five inches between the art and the frame on all sides, you’ll need a frame that is five inches plus the size of the artwork. Keep in mind that the frame’s lip will cover part of the mat board on all four sides. So, if you want exactly five inches of visible mat board, you’ll need to account for the lip’s width in your calculations.

Decide how big you want the frame to be

Visualizing the completed frame size in the space where the art will be hung is a key step in ensuring you get the desired finished look.

Using painters tape, frame the dimensions of your art or photo in the area you plan to hang it (you can also temporarily tape the art itself to the wall if it won’t damage the art or the wall). Next, make a second frame out of painter’s tape that represents the frame size you’re envisioning. Once you have your “frame” size right, carefully measure the frame dimensions. Don’t worry about keeping to traditional frame sizes, you can have a custom frame created that is the perfect size for your needs.

Choose your frame style

When you envision your frame in its space (and using the painters tape to get the exact size) don’t forget to take into account the type of frame you’re imagining. A sleek, contemporary frame won’t take up much more space when hung, but a large, chunky frame that creates a bolder look will need more wall space.

When you create the tape outline are you envisioning that as the outer edge of the frame or the inside-frame space? Frame dimensions measure the inside or “frameable” space. If you’re envisioning the tape outline as the overall real estate of the frame (all the way to the outer edges), deciding on the style of frame you want will have a major impact on the mat board size you need. Browse Frame Destination’s selection of frames to get an idea of how wide you’d like your frame to be.

If it’s helpful, you can add another tape box so that you have one representing the art, one for the inside of the frame, and one that’s the outer edge of the frame. This will give you an accurate understanding of what the finished product will look like.

Choose a mat style

Mat board is the material needed to fill out your frame when you’re looking for a large frame with a small opening. Mat board gives you plenty of options for additional customization to achieve your desired look. Mat boards come in a range of colors, from pure white and earth tones to bold, bright hues.

Beyond selecting the perfect mat color for your framing project, you’ll need to decide if you want a single layer of mat or multiple layers that will create a deeper-set, tiered look. When you opt for a double mat or triple mat, each subsequent layer will have a slightly larger opening, revealing the mat layers below. You can opt for mat layers in single color for a subtle look, or multiple colors to add a dynamic border around your art in its large frame.

When using large frames with a small opening, think carefully before selecting a boldly colored mat. A lot of mat will be visible with this framing style and a bright color could overwhelm the smaller art or photo. If you want to use colorful mat with this framing style, opt for a double or triple mat. Use a bright or bold mat for the first one or two layers and finish with a natural colored top mat. This will create an eye-catching border around your art without being overwhelming.

Order your custom frame

When you want a large frame with a small opening, you won’t find the right style and materials in a ready-made frame from a store. For this framing need you should order a custom frame. Once you have your style and dimensions in mind, visit to create your perfect frame package.

Select the style of frame that fits your vision – particularly in regard to frame face width and design – then enter the custom inside dimensions you’d like. Through the frame customization options, you can then select the mat style you’d like and the exact dimensions of the artwork itself. This fully customizable frame option ensures you get exactly the look you’re envisioning.

How to work with an existing frame

If you fall in love with a frame that’s bigger than the dimensions of your art or photo, you can still use it. First, clean up the frame and decide whether the backing and glazing (glass) is in good enough shape to reuse. If you’re all set, then measure your art size, decide on your mat board preferences, and order a custom mat to fit your art and frame.

If you have a frame without a back (say from an antique store or flea market, for instance), you’ll also need a mount board, mounting supplies, and a fresh frame backing to be able to successfully use the frame.

Whether you’re working with a beloved existing frame or ordering a brand new frame package, using a large frame for a smaller photo or art piece is easy and creates a dramatic, different look.

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