How to Hang a Picture

Written by Mark Rogers

When you find the perfect picture frame for your photograph, painting, or print, the next step is hanging it correctly. Mistakes in this step can be bad news for a number of reasons, including falling picture frames, unlevel frames, and even damaged artwork. Before hammering away at your wall to display your pictures, know what to do — and know what NOT to do.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO:

1. Find the right spot — before you drill.

2. Fasten brackets and hangers to a stud.

3. Only use quality picture-hanging fixtures.

1. Find the Right Spot Before You Drill

When you're preparing to hang your picture frames, identify the right place first. If you're using a one-hook picture frame, you can figure out approximately where you want to hang it, and then nail or screw in the fastener. But when it's time to mount a picture frame that has multiple brackets, things get a little trickier.

Hold the picture frame against the wall, then check to see if it’s level. You could try eyeballing it, but to be accurate, use an actual level. Once the frame is level, use a pencil to mark the corners of the picture frame on the wall. (It’s easier to erase a pencil mark than a nail hole. Truly words to live by!) Next, measure the corner of the picture frame to the point where the brackets should attach, again using a pencil. This is where you'll drill or nail the fasteners or bracketstips to hang picture frames.

If it turns out that you marked the points incorrectly, you can easily fix them. Use a clean rubber eraser to remove them from the wall. Wipe the wall down with a dampened rag to make sure it's clean. Always let it dry completely before you attempt to hang anything. Pencil lead can streak on wet surfaces.

2. Fasten Brackets and Hangers to a Stud

Some rules are made to be broken, but securing a picture into a stud is one that you shouldn't break unless you want to risk creating a big mess.

A wood stud provides something solid to brace the fastener in. It’s way stronger and more stable than dry wall, and can safely secure your picture frame. Sometimes you can get away with fastening the picture wherever you want if it is lightweight enough. Thumbtacks and print images can be hung almost anywhere, but as soon as you add in the weight of even a typical metal picture frame, you run the risk of the frame falling and breaking. To find the stud, thump on the wall and listen for a “solid” sound. (No stud will elicit a “hollow” sound.) For a better shot at success, you can use a stud finder.

3. Use Only Quality Picturing Hanging Fixtures

Yes, you could use thumb tacks. You could even use finishing nails. But the fact is, if you want to make sure your frame keeps cradling your beloved artwork, give them something solid to hold onto. Cheap plastic brackets and plated metal brackets typically won't do the trick any more than inexpensive finishing nails.

Find good, quality fixtures to hang your frames with — and pay especially close attention to the weight limit. Most good brackets come with a breakdown of the weight you can safely hang from one, two, or more brackets. Do not go over this weight. You might not think a pound or two will not make that much of a difference, but it can. Also remember that there's nothing wrong with using a stronger bracket than you need.

When you get a piece of artwork in a beautiful picture frame, make sure you hang it properly. Following these tips will help you to do it right the first time and leave your walls just as beautiful as before.

WHAT YOU SHOULDNT DO:

These are some common mistakes people make when hanging pictures:

1. Using improper hanging equipment

2. Eyeballing the height placement

3. Eyeballing multiple piece arrangements

3. Lack of planning for gallery walls

1. Using Improper Hanging Equipment

A single nail usually won’t do the job, especially with heavier pieces. While using a single hook might work for some smaller pieces, most of the time it’s extremely difficult to get the artwork perfectly straight without using another hook. Using two hooks, one on each side, ensures that the weight of the piece is evenly distributed on each side, keeping it from tilting. There are also picture-hanging kits available at most retailers that include the correct brackets, wall mounts, and other hardware needed to hang your piece correctly according to its weight and size. Just any nail won’t necessarily work — and if it does, it is still generally not secure for the long run.

Even though adhesive hooks are not ideal, sometimes renters don’t have a choice in the matter; most landlords and property managers don’t allow renters to put holes in the walls. If you fall under this category, the “two-hook” method still works. Just be sure to get the right adhesive hook for the weight of your piece. Otherwise, you’ll defeat the purpose of using the hook when your artwork falls to the ground.

2. Eyeballing the Height Placement

Nothing is more frustrating than trying to eyeball the placement of artwork. It may look straight while you’re up close to the wall, but once you step away, it could be crooked or too close to the floor.

Before you begin to hang your artwork, measure 57 inches from the floor — that’s the ideal height for the center of the artwork to be. This height is at eye-level for most people, and it is the most commonly used measurement in art galleries and museums. Using a leveler will also ensure the piece does not tilt one way or the other.

The 57-inch rule is not where the hook should be; that must be calculated using the placement of the wire on the back of the frame. Using our inexpensive Picture Hanging Tool is an easy way to mark the spot to put the picture-hanging hook on your display wall.

3. Eyeballing Multiple Piece Arrangements

When hanging multiple pieces next to one another, the 57-inch rule is even more important. Otherwise, the pieces won’t flow together properly. Hanging all of the pieces at eye level will create consistency. When hanging an arrangement of pieces in one location, you can use the “string and pushpin method,” where you measure 57 inches from the floor, marking each desired picture-frame location with a pushpin and running a string between them to ensure everything is lined up.

4. Lack of Planning for Gallery Walls

When creating a gallery wall, pre-planning where the frames go saves you the headache and hassle of continuously rearranging the pieces on the wall, creating dozens of holes during the process. A commonly used and effective method for pre-planning a gallery wall is to use craft or butcher paper. Lay a large piece of paper flat on the floor and arrange your frames in a way that looks appealing to you. Larger art placed toward the left can create a sense of harmony.

Trace the frames out on the paper — including the placement of the hooks — and tape the craft paper to the wall with painter’s tape. Hammer the nails for the hooks through the paper on the wall where indicated. Take the paper down (careful to not damage the frames) and use the craft paper as your guide. Voila! The artwork is exactly where you intended.

Last Updated February 27, 2021

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One thought on “How to Hang a Picture”

  • Leviticus Bennett
    Leviticus Bennett March 8, 2017 at 7:38 am

    I like your point that it's easier to erase a pencil mark than a nail hole. I just repainted my bathroom and want to hang up some framed pictures. I'm a little bit obsessive when it comes to keeping things level and evenly spaced, so I'll be sure to plan everything out with a pencil first.

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