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.

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4 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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