7 Unspoken Rules for Hanging Framed Pictures

Written by Mark Rogers

Have you heard the story of the little boy who complained that his mom gave him too many green beans? When she told him he could just eat half, he bit into half of each green bean, leaving the remnants on his plate.

Often we assume people know things that they don’t. Not because the process is too complex, but simply because no one ever told them explicitly what to do. This certainly applies to hanging framed pictures. Some (maybe all) of these guidelines will be perfectly obvious to you. Others may be new information.

Let’s give a voice to some of these unspoken rules, shall we?

1. Prioritize the Process

Choose your frame style first, art location second and arrangement (if multiple frames) third. How do you choose your frame style? That depends on the look you’re going for, and it probably depends on your interior design preference. If you can hone in on the vibe you lean toward—i.e., Coastal, Contemporary, Modern Farmhouse or Mid-Century Modern—then it’s easy to choose frames that suit the ambience you’re creating.

2. Not Every Art Piece Needs a Mat Board

Not all art needs a mat board

Mat boards are a great way to enhance a painting or a photograph, and they give an extra presence to smaller works. However, they aren’t a must in every situation. For example, you can go sans mat with watercolors and artwork on textured paper. Because of their large physical presence, framing movie or concert posters are also good to go without needing a mat.

3. Mix Wood and Metal Frames—but Unify

Wood tends to be traditional, while metal has a modern feel. Can you display both in the same room? Yes! But I do suggest unifying them in terms of color or texture. For example, using a textured black metal frame with a textured wood frame such as Profile 543 in Black Dune. For more on wood vs. metal, see our article on How to Choose Between a Wood and Metal Frame.

4. Symmetry Isn’t the Only Way

Wood and Metal Frames

If you’re displaying a group of paintings or photos on a wall, a symmetrical design is the usual format. For example, six frames that are the same size might be placed three-by-three, evenly spaced. Using an odd number of frames creates asymmetry for a more casual, relaxed look. Five frames of varying sizes placed in a staggered arrangement would be an example of asymmetry.

5. Venture into Unexpected Rooms

Bathroom Picture

Like your closet. After all, we step into them every morning to get dressed. Looking at a piece of art, particularly something inspirational, is a great way to start the day. We know of one boutique hotel company that hired a local artist to create hand-drawn birds and palm leaves in the closets of their Miami property. What a lovely surprise for guests! Bathrooms are another room we enter every day. Because of the high humidity and changing temperatures in bathrooms, metal frames or art will be a better option than wood. In fact, we have a special list of tips for hanging art in bathrooms.

6. Consider the Spacing Between Frames

Spacing between frames

I’ve seen groupings spaced as close together as 1/32” and as spread apart as several feet. Very tight and wide-spaced groupings can work in some applications like tiny rooms or giant walls. But the standard is around two to four inches, with six inches being the maximum to keep the viewer’s focus. To dive deeper into this topic, see our post on “Creating an Art Gallery—at Home.” Of course, rules can be broken. It’s just good to know the rules before we break them.

7. Straighten Up

I’m easy-going by nature, but I have to admit that crooked pictures drive me slightly crazy. It’s all I can do to keep from straightening the offender if I see a tilted picture at a restaurant, or heaven forbid, a friend’s house. Our post on How to Keep Picture Frames Straight addresses this very issue, with clever tips like using two hooks rather than just one.

A Few Bonus Notes

Advanced Framing

Glazing is an overlooked, but critically important, part of framing.
• Cardboard does not make good backing for photos or art, and will accelerate your art’s decay. Choose a specific backing material such as acid-free PaperMat Backing which is ideal for artwork protection and support.
• Don’t hang your frame on a nail hammered into the wall. Use quality hanging hardware with wire.
• Finally, if you’d like to go a bit deeper, check out these advanced framing tricks which give you insights into using spacers, additional backing for Museum-worthy presentations, and creating special effects with floats and glazing.

Now that you’ve got the lowdown on hanging your framed pictures, you’re all set to fill a wall with something beautiful. If you have any questions, we’re always here to help.

Last Updated November 2, 2020

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15 thoughts on “7 Unspoken Rules for Hanging Framed Pictures”

  • Janis Senungetuk
    Janis Senungetuk September 4, 2020 at 9:09 am

    Thanks, Mark. That was good, practical advice. I also find it difficult to tolerate crooked framed images. I've had to give up on the three small old family photos hanging by our apartment front door. They're on a shared wall with the next apartment. Every time our neighbor forcefully closes their door, all three shift either a little or a lot. We've lived here twenty years and like our neighbors, so it's something I can live with.

    • Robin Macke

      Hey Janis, Try adding a little bit of the poster putty stuff teachers have been using forever to hang posters on walls they're not allowed to put in hangers. Just roll a little ball and add it to the back side of the frame on both sides. Push slightly to secure. It works great for holding picture frames straight and you can't see it.

  • John

    THANKS, GOOD tips. 70 years old and STILL learning NEW TRICKS??

  • Carol

    Some Diagrams would help -- such as how do you hang a two-sided glass picture since you can see thru to the wall (and the wire?)

    • Laura W

      Hi Carol - The two-sided glass is a bit tricky. Usually, it needs to be built by a manufacturer that is set with specific hardware for the glass or acrylic. I've seen it done where the frames are hung by the top as well (with twine or wire) and attached at two points on the top of the glass.

      • Joe Pianta

        I built a custom frame for a Salvidor Dali piece, it was a 3D relief with coloring on the font and just a good view of the pieces full dimensions on the back. I made a custom frame by sandwiching to like wood frames together after removing the rabbit from the rear frame via a table saw! Museum glass on both sides exacts mats on both sides with corners and flanges holding the art in place. Barrier tape all around! My father built a custom brass hanger from a door kick plate and a matching brass wall hanger so the piece could be displayed either way out. It was a super fun piece to build. I wish I could find the images I took of it.

        The hanger slot was routed out with a table router and screwed in place. The frame itself was biscuit joined if I remember so it is a semi-permanent piece, as nothing is forever... brads and putty would not do! The wall hanger was simple shelf-like support with side braces. Something my dad came up with and the customer loved. It had a 'T' like notch so the framed artwork could not easily be removed or tipped off the hanger. One of the most expensive and most fun pieces I did in my framing career.

      • Ron

        Or..... simply put a single hole hanger on each side ( to help with added weight of 2nd glass) and use two wall hooks. No special manufacturing needed.

  • Scott

    It would be nice to have a printer-friendly version of this article.

    • Laura W

      Hi Scott - If you use the Print option from the webpage and then change it to the portrait layout, the article should come together pretty neatly. You might need to disregard the last pages that have the comments, etc. on them.

    • Joe

      or print from the reader mode in Firefox and other web browsers.it clipped some images but the main gist of the article showed through.

  • Yar

    Good tips, all. Just a minor snark: you can't hang 6 pieces of art in a 3x3 pattern.

  • Patti Brown

    Use rubber bumpers on bottom corners to stabilize frames. Or, if leaning on mantle or floor, position the bumpers on upper corners.

  • Gail

    Good thoughts. I was expecting the general list of rules and even was guessing them before reading this. (Space between pictures, eye level, etc.). You provided some fresh ideas. I carried my love for Paris over to one of our bathrooms, going with a French theme. NEVER thought I would be hanging my Paris oil paintings in the bathroom but it really works! (Albeit, this guest bath does not get a lot of humidity since it is seldom used.)

  • Tricia

    I’m a watercolor artist and understand that watercolor paintings should not be in direct contact with the glazing. Mats provide that separation. So if you want to frame a watercolor without a mat. It would be best to use some type of spacer.

    • B. Foster

      Agreed. I've framed pictures professionally for 41 years. It's a must to prevent the glazing from touching the paper.

  • AH

    An overlooked mistake re: hanging art is that most peoplehang them too high. People view them from a seated position, so art must be hung with that in mind

  • Ellen O'Reilly

    The one clarification I was looking for was how high or low. I was told years ago that art should be hung on the lower 2/3 of the wall. Sometimes that seems too low. I am thinking eye level is best. For a grouping, eye level on the middle piece. Any suggestions on this?

    • Laura W

      Hi Ellen - I've always used the eye-level rule of thumb for art. It's up to your aesthetic, but I would agree with you.

  • Inge von Roos

    You should add that mat boards are to keep the picture from touching the glass. Giclees don’t matter, but original paintings should not touch the glass.

  • Cynthia

    I've had clients who think they must hang a picture by nailing into a stud, even if it is over a sofa, and it's on it's own on the wall, and not centered over the sofa...oh, and then there's the addage that pictures should only be hung at eye level! Whose eye? If they're being hung over an article of furniture, the art or objects that are hung should not be visually divorced from what's below them. I think of it a bit like a large still life painting, there has to be a balanced composition of everything on that wall. In an entry hall devoid of furniture below is it, eye level is a good guide, as long as it's the comfortable eye level of the homeowners who look at, and enjoy the art or photographs on a daily basis. If you have a Victorian home as I do, you can stack and/or arrange pictures and paintings in a variety of ways that would not look at all good in a Mid Mod decor. Then, there's the big void due to fear factor...I could never live in a home without ornamentation, but many people live with bare walls due to fear of making a mistake...take a jump into the world of mirrors, art, photographs and other ornamentation. Lay each item down on the floor and arrange them in the way you want to put them on the wall. If they are a mixture of things, such as a wall clock, and art or pictures if different sizes, make sure the frames are all one tone & style if possible and use an odd number of item's as you would decorate with candlesticks, 3, 5, 7, odds are best. If you're hanging a group of all one size, it looks best if they are in the same color frame, and frame material.

  • Jane

    I suggest that the frame is selected for the piece of art...not your interior design style unless if the art is similar such as prints or photographs.

  • Taylor Hansen

    I appreciate the advice about using a different number of frames for a more relaxed look on the wall. Since we just moved into our new home last month, I want to hang more pictures in our living room. I'll be sure to consider the spacing between each frame in the room. http://picassogallery.com/in-home-custom-framing/

  • Glenda K

    Thanks for all the good suggestions.

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