Where to Skimp, Where to Splurge on Picture Frames

Written by Mark Rogers

One of the major reasons many photos, prints and works of art go unframed is the expected cost. Getting something framed is known (sometimes incorrectly) as being notoriously expensive, but that’s actually a misconception. If you know where to skimp and where to splurge on the frames depending on the artwork and its location, you can save big bucks.

The Mount Board

You may not see it in a frame package, but mount board serves an important purpose: keeping your prints securely in place and keeping out the dust. There are several types of mount board, ranging from the everyday to the exclusive.

Skimp on the mount board if your artwork is easily reproducible — a digital photo print, for example. You can safely use regular foam board instead of our higher-end mount board to ensure that your photos don’t slip around. The mount board will help keep out dust, but it won’t preserve your photographs. Off-the-shelf frames usually use a piece of cardboard, which does work in a pinch — but cardboard can disintegrate and bend, unlike rigid foamboard.

Splurge on the mount board if your artwork is a one-of-a-kind piece that you can’t possibly replace. The mount board should be acid-free, such as the AlphaRag mount board or the Artcare foamboard, to make sure that the artwork is not damaged by the acidity of paper.

The Mat Board

Mat board, unlike mount board, serves a dual purpose: it both protects and dresses up artwork. The mat board keeps artwork away from the frame while giving it a nice, symmetrical border.

Skimp on the mat board if you’re not framing one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable artwork — or you simply don’t need a mat board to make your artwork pop. If you decide to forgo mat board, however, use frame spacers to ensure that the glazing doesn’t touch the artwork. If you like the look of mat board but don’t need it to be archival, opt for Papermat mat board, our least expensive option.

Splurge on the mat board if, again, your artwork is priceless. Museum-quality mat board such as Crescent RagMat or Bainbridge Alpharag are both cotton-based, ensuring that the artwork within will last for a lifetime (or more).

The Glazing

Glazing, either glass or acrylic, protects artwork from airborne dust and, if special glazing is selected, harmful UV rays. Just like any other part of the framing package, there are different types of both: standard, antireflective, UV-filter and a combination.

Skimp on the glazing if your artwork is replaceable and it won’t hang in a particularly sunny or brightly lit room. Standard glass is the most economical option — and perfect for smaller frames — but regular acrylic works better for very large frames or those that will hang in the bathroom.

Splurge on the glazing if your artwork will hang in sunlit rooms. Even if your photographs can be reprinted with ease, sunlight is surprisingly quick at fading colors — it may only be a few weeks before you notice the difference. Opt for UV-filter glass or UV-filter acrylic glazing to guard against sun damage.

The Frame: Skimp and Splurge

The frame is the last piece of the puzzle and arguably the most important. But there are no advantages of a wood frame vs. a metal frame, except if you are prone to damaging them; the sides of a metal frame can be replaced.

Unlike the other materials in the frame package, the price of the frame doesn’t relate to any special features — it simply means the frame is either larger, comes in unique colors, or has fine details. Once you’ve saved your money everywhere else, you can feel free to splurge or skimp on the frame as much as you like!

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