Float Mounting vs. Floater Frames: What’s the Difference?

Written by Mark Rogers

When it comes to framing artwork, there is a lot of lingo to learn: rabbet, hinging, moulding and points, to name a few. Two terms that are often confused — and often incorrectly used interchangeably, when in fact they are very different things — are float mounting and floater frames.

The confusion lies in their names, as they both use the word “float.” The word is used in both terms to describe the effect they produce: one is a type of mounting technique that “floats” the artwork off the mounting board inside the mat, while the other is a special type of frame for canvas artwork where the art appears to be floating inside it.

Float Mounting: An Overview

Float mounting does not refer to a frame but to a certain type of mounting technique. The standard methods of mounting artwork uses a mount board or uncut mat board with no window to which the artwork is usually attached with hinging tape, tissue, spray adhesive or dry mounting. Although photo corners and strips may also be used, they will be visible. Note that using permanent adhesives in mounting artwork is not archival, and they should only be used with replaceable prints and items.

In the standard mounting method, the mat board, which has been cut slightly smaller than the artwork to reveal an opening in the center, is placed over the print. This covers a portion of the artwork’s edges.

However, for some artwork — such as those with an important signature in the corner or unique edges, such as a worn-down document or a deckled watercolor — covering the edges is undesirable. To display the entirety of the artwork, framers will opt to float mount the piece. This means that no parts of the print are covered: either there is no mat board, or the mat board opening has been cut larger than the artwork itself. A typical float space around the artwork ranges from 1/4" to several inches depending on the look desired.

In order to add more interest, some framers will float mount on uncut mat board blanks instead of mount board — instead of just black, white or cream, the standard mount board colors, you can use a variety of eye-catching hues to draw the eye and complement the artwork and its striking edges.

Floater Frames: An Overview

A canvas floater frame, also called a floating frame or float frame, is a style of picture frame specifically for stretched canvas artwork, available in both wood and metal. When using this frame, the edges of the artwork — generally canvas on stretcher bars — does not touch the inside edges of the frame, making it look as though the art is floating within it.

The canvas is attached to the frame on the back with offset clips, which are simply screwed into the stretcher frame. Though it looks like magic, assembling and hanging this type of frame is just as easy as standard wood and metal frames.

Can You Combine Float Mounting With Floater Frames?

No: while they have similar names, they are not the same thing. One is a technique and one is a product, and they’re also not used with the same types of artwork. Float mounting is used with photographs, charcoal and pastel artwork, prints, and documents, while floater frames are used with stretched canvases. Canvases cannot be mounted or matted, and prints cannot be attached to floater frames.

If you’re going for a distinctive, ethereal style for your prints and canvases, try your hand at some framing magic — float them!

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