Framing 101

Why Custom Framing?

If you were planning to build a new home for your family, would you ask the person working in the lumber department of your local home improvement store to draw up the plans? Or, if you were sick, would you ask the check-out person at your drug store to diagnose and treat your illness? Probably not.

The same reasoning applies to your decision to use a custom framer’s services. A professional picture framer is a person who has been formally educated to know how to preserve, protect and beautify works of art, regardless of their known value.

Some Common Sense Guidelines

When choosing artwork for a space, keep in mind the negative spatial aspects. In other words, never place a large piece of artwork on a small wall, and vice versa. Negative space, or open space, on a wall is just as important as filling the space. Having the proper open space around a piece of artwork will allow the artwork to become a focal point.

When searching for solutions for larger spaces, it is not necessary to purchase a single large piece to fill the space. Another option is to place multiple pieces on the wall, which will give you more options in terms of placement and wall coverage. Multiple pieces will also give you the flexibility of changing or rotating artwork in your home. Consider allocating a storage space for framed artwork that can be rotated with the changing seasons. This will allow you to keep your walls fresh looking.

A traditional (but not outdated) method of covering a large wall space is the utilization of a diptych or triptych. This type of artwork uses two or three panels to create one large image. This work is not as easily rotated, as the panels must remain together to create the complete image.

When choosing artwork for your home, the most important thing is to buy what you like. It is not mandatory to purchase artwork that matches your décor. Artwork can be utilized as a decorative element, but it is also an artist’s visual language, especially when dealing with original artwork. Ask yourself this: “if I owned an original Monet, would I worry about what color my curtains are?”

Designing Your Framing Package

Although a good artistic eye is something that can’t be taught, there are certain rules of custom framing which lead to good design that can. When followed, these guidelines, well known to your custom framer, produce a beautiful, well-balanced framing presentation that enhances the work of art without overpowering it.

For example, did you know that the width of the mat border should never match the width of the frame? This tends to draw the eye away from the art they surround. Or that a poorly placed decorative element, such as a French line, can detract from the beauty of the finished package?

Good design based on commonly accepted framing principles is one of the many reasons to custom frame.

Protecting Your Artwork

Perhaps the best reason to custom frame your personal and well-loved works of art is that a professional picture framer has the skills and materials necessary to preserve and protect them as closely as possible to their original condition. Acid- and lignin-free mat and mount boards contain no impurities which can damage the art they surround. Special UV-filtering glass can be used to protect art from the irreversible damage caused by light exposure.

Professional picture framers have the training and skills required to use these materials to beautifully present your treasured items in a way that will not only enhance their appearance, but also protect them for your enjoyment for years to come.

What Is Conservation Framing?

As consumers, we want to have our valuables framed for a number of different reasons. Sometimes we frame an item to create an attractive decoration for our home. On the other hand, sometimes we frame the very things we value most – whether that be commercial or sentimental value – in order to protect them from damage.

Put simply, Conservation Framing employs the use of materials that have been proven to protect and maintain art in as close to its original condition as possible.

When should I ask for Conservation Framing?

Value is, at best, a subjective thing. If it’s worth framing, it’s worth protecting. Use conservation quality matboard and glass featuring UV protection on everything you have framed. Even if a piece has value of a more personal nature, it can deserve conversation framing. A seldom recognized fact is that most pieces we bring to a framer should be framed with conservation in mind. As a rule of thumb, if the item you are framing is an irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind photograph, document or piece of memorabilia, or if it is an original work of art or a limited edition, it should be framed using conservation techniques and materials. The cost premium for conservation framing is marginal – and certainly well worth it.

Where do I go to receive Conservation Framing?

The framer that is providing you this information is doing so because he or she believes in and practices Conservation Framing. It is important that you entrust your valuable framing projects only to just such a trained professional who cares about the conservation process, has experience and the necessary skills and techniques, and who is committed to using high quality conservation materials throughout your entire project.

How can I be sure that I am getting Conservation Quality?

Let your framer know that you want Conservation Framing employed on your project. Specifically, look for the following:

  • UV protection glass. Ultraviolet light rays are one of the most dangerous elements that your artwork can encounter. It will not only cause your colors to fade to a mere shadow of their former glory, but will cause the materials themselves to break down right in the frame. Conservation Quality picture framing glass is specially formulated to protect framed works of art from the damaging effects of ultraviolet light. By specifying conservation glass, you are ensuring that over 97% of these most damaging light rays are filtered out before ever coming into contact with your valuables.
  • Conservation quality matboard. Ordinary pulp-based matboard contains acids and lignins, which can damage the artwork they come into contact with over a period of time. When going over your matboard options with your framer, ask him or her to show you only conservation quality matboard.
  • Conservation quality matboard. is free of all acids, lignins and other impurities found in ordinary “pulp” board. The result is an inert or pH neutral board, which will cause no damage to the artwork it encases as time, goes by.
  • Careful adherence to proper conservation techniques for mounting the artwork (sometimes called “hinging”) and sealing your artwork. The framer you patronize should be fully versed in the specifics of conservation hinging. A good custom framing professional will understand how much the piece means to you, and will ensure that proper conservation standards are upheld.

Framing Photography

Some of life’s most precious memories are captured in the photographs that we take: a child’s first birthday, your parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party, your daughter’s wedding portrait. Yet, more often than not, we display these memories by simply sticking the photo in a frame or sticking them on the pages of a self-adhesive album.

While this treatment is appropriate for most snapshots, your truly special photos, especially those with historical merit or those that may be irreplaceable, deserve so much more. That’s where your custom framer can be of assistance.

Lacquering – vs - Glazing

Many times, a photographer will recommend that you lacquer a photo in order to protect it. This process is accomplished by applying coating directly on to the photographic image. The lacquer seals the photo against dirt, moisture, and in certain cases, ultraviolet light damage. While this does protect the photo to an extent, it also causes a permanent change to the image. In years to come, the lacquer may yellow or crack, thus ruining the photograph.

A protective measure that is more in keeping with the methods of Conservation Framing is the use of UV-blocking glass. Conservation glass effectively blocks up to 97% of the most damaging ultraviolet light rays. And like all other glass, it protects the framed items from outside impurities which might otherwise damage it.

Special Characteristics of Photography

The very nature of your photographs will dictate how they must be framed. Some photos are printed on papers which do not take well to regular heat-activated mounting techniques. Others, especially antique photos, are very sensitive to alkaline-based framing materials and therefore must be mounted and matted using special non-buffered boards.

All photos should be framed using at least one mat made of conservation quality matboard. This will ensure that the photo emulsion does not touch the glass. If it does, temperature and humidity changes may cause it to stick. This can potentially ruin the image. An acid-, lignin- and groundwood-free matboard will protect the image from damage that can be caused by these impurities.

Bring the memories to Life

Photographs can really bring back the memories and feelings of a special time. Why not add an extra element to your memories by placing a treasured memento in a shadowbox presentation with the photo? For instance, a photo of your son’s high school graduation can be brought to life when paired with his mortarboard and tassel. Or your daughter’s dance recital portrait will do a grand jeté when framed with her ballet shoes and a program from the event.

These are just a few examples that can help to enliven your still shots. Ask your custom framer to help you find the special touch that will bring your picture-perfect memories to life!

A Mat is More Than a Color

Certainly one of the reasons we use a mat to encase art is to bring out the colors in an image while drawing in the eye. There are many creative and elegant techniques that can be used to add distinction to your framed piece. The addition of matting can mean the difference between an insignificant piece that gets lost on a wall and a dramatic one that serves as a perfect accent for a room.

Matboard, as a graphic element, can serve to highlight a color, accent a shape or increase the overall size of the framed piece. Color obviously plays an important role in this transformation process. For example, using a black mat has the effect of “lightening” and “enlarging” the artwork, while using a white mat serves to “darken” and “shrink” the image.

Careful selection of the matboards can result in a perfect complement to the picture within the frame. Visually, the matting provides “breathing room” from any distractions on the surrounding wall. Providing your framer with enough information about the environment in which you plan to hang the framed piece will allow him or her to select matboards that will tie the artwork into your overall room setting or color scheme.

Think about the effect that you want the framed artwork to create. Let the framer know if a subdued, elegant or vibrant look is most appropriate for the room where the art will hang. The mats surrounding your image can be made bold, discreet, playful or ornate. This is all very nice, but not the most important reason we use a matboard in the first place.

The main purpose of matting is to keep the cover glass from coming into contact with the framed subject matter. This also provides an area where air can circulate. Differences in temperature between the outside and inside of the frame can cause moisture to condensate behind the glass. This moisture may damage the inks and colors and can serve as a breeding ground for mold, mildew and fungi. Placing the material directly against the glass will result in buckles, wrinkles, mold formations and “sticking” to the glass.

A Word of Warning About Matboard

Using higher quality matboard is essential to protecting your artwork. Matboard that is not rated as Conservation Quality contains elements that will damage your artwork over time. These “natural” substances include acids and lignins. Through the aging process, which is intensified by sunlight and heat, the matboard “burns” or discolors the art that it surrounds.

Conservation matboard eliminates this concern because all lignins and acids have been removed. As an added benefit, some matboards feature an alkaline buffer to neutralize future shifts in acidity within the frame.

What You Should Know About Light and Your Artwork

The Blessing and Danger of Light

Without light there would be no art, as light is what allows us to see and appreciate color. It is one of the great ironies that the very thing that lets us enjoy color also works to destroy it.

Have you ever seen a faded gum wrapper, lying in the sun, bleached to a mere fragment of its original color? Perhaps the paper had become brittle as well – ready to break apart at the touch of a finger. The damage you saw was caused by the sun… specifically, the sun’s damaging UV, or ultraviolet, light rays.

Ultraviolet light rays are the same villains that your doctor warns you about. They cause breakdown whenever they come in contact with organic materials, burning noses, bleaching gum wrappers and ruining your son’s first fingerpainting. The damaging effects of UV light on artwork are cumulative and irreversible. Unfortunately, the sun is not the only source of harmful UV light rays. All light sources, whether natural or artificial, have some of their components in the ultraviolet range.

The most drastic visual effect of exposure to UV light is the dramatic fading of colors – especially those colors that contain red. Other effects include the yellowing and/or bleaching of paper fibers, sizing dyes, brighteners and fillers. Some pigments may experience the opposite effect and actually darken to black when exposed to UV light. The materials that make up your artwork – the paper or fabric on which the image is displayed – may become brittle. Photos may appear yellow or stained with ghostly silver deposits rising to the surface.

Once damage from UV light has occurred, it can never be reversed. That’s why it is important for you to understand what you can do to prevent this type of damage in the first place.

UV Protection for Your Artwork

All this talk about invisible UV light rays would seem to spell certain doom for artwork, but thankfully that is not the case. All conservation glass has a coating that effectively blocks out 97% of all harmful UV rays. The cost premium for using conservation glass is minimal, and the benefits of its use cannot be ignored. The most common types of conservation glass and plexiglas are clear, non-glare and museum grades.

Proper Lighting Techniques

  • Choose subdued lighting effects that will not reflect into the glass, especially when you are not using reflection control products
  • Add a sense of atmosphere by using wall lights or sconces on either side of your framed piece
  • Add emphasis to framed pieces by adding individual picture lights – see your framer for details
  • Do not hang your valuable artwork in direct sunlight. Even with protective UV-blocking glass, prolonged exposure to the sun’s heat can destroy your art
  • Use incandescent bulbs to light your work. Incandescent lights have only 4% of their rays in the damaging UV range. (Fluorescent lights, on the other hand, have a high concentration of UV rays and should not be used to light your work.)
  • Illuminate your art at the lowest light level possible for enjoyment

All Glass Is Not Created Equal

What are you really buying when you use the services of a custom framer?

Talent... yes, and the knowledge and ability to select the proper framing materials for your particular project. This means helping you choose the right colors, the right frame style, and most importantly, the right materials to protect your art, photo or memorabilia. There’s the matboard, the frame, the backing board and the mounting materials to consider. And of course, the glass. And glass is glass, right? Wrong. All glass is not created equal. In order to preserve, protect and get the most out of your artwork, you have some choices to make. And with a little knowledge, those choices will be very easy.

What is Conservation Glass?

We’ve all heard about the dangers of ultraviolet light rays – particularly to organic materials. Exposure to UV light causes organic material to break down. This is visible in the form of fading colors and embrittlement and yellowing of the materials that bear the artwork. These effects, once started, are cumulative and irreversible. The best way to preserve your art is to protect it from exposure to UV light from the outset. For starts, don’t hang your art in direct sunlight or light it with fluorescent light. Ask your framer to use Conservation Quality Glass, such as Tru Vue® Conservation Reflection Control®.

Conservation Series® Glass effectively blocks 97% of the dangerous UV light – protecting your artwork without affecting the visible light spectrum so your colors show true as nicely in a year as they do the first day you frame them.

What determines the glass I should use?

Your custom framer should help you select the right glass for your project. The very fact that you are having this item framed denotes its value to you. The best choice for any framed item is to use glass featuring TruGuard® UV Protection.

What other glass choices do I have?

Tru Vue® offers five types of glass available with TruGuard® UV Protection. All five types block 97% of harmful UV light rays.

  • CONSERVATION CLEAR® – Essential for conservation framing
  • CONSERVATION ULTRACLEAR® – Trueness-to-color with clarity
  • CONSERVATION REFLECTION CONTROL® – Single-sided etched non-glare
  • CONSERVATION PERFECT VUE® – Proprietary technology improves transmission and clarity
  • MUSEUM GLASS® – Anti-reflective technology with UV blocking properties

Perhaps you have a very bright room in which you will display your artwork, or you intend to hang the piece opposite a window or lamp. Anytime you think reflection may become a distraction from the enjoyment of your artwork, you may want to ask for Conservation Reflection Control®. Many framers are conditioned against using reflection control glass. This is the result of the poor quality glass that has traditionally been available. These low-tech “non-glare” glasses have a highly frosted appearance because they are etched on both sides. The resulting fuzziness and distortion made for may dissatisfied framing customers, which soured framers on the idea of reflection control.

Tru Vue® Conservation Reflection Control® glass employs etching on only one side, eliminating the reflection problem with only a subtle softening of clarity. (This “soft focus” actually enhances some images such as portrait photography and impressionist landscapes, where an atmospheric effort is desirable.) Ask your framer to see a sample of the five types of Conservation Series Glass over your piece and judge for yourself.

The most important thing to remember when framing your artwork is to consult with your custom framer. The more he or she knows about your project the better they are able to use materials that will ensure your enjoyment for years to come.

How to Properly Hang Your Artwork


Care should be taken to hang the piece in an area where it will not become damaged by heat, ultraviolet (UV) light rays or humidity. Hang your artwork out of the line of direct sunlight. We recommend that you always ask your framer to use Conservation Glass, which will filter out most of the harmful UV light rays. Never hang your valuable artwork over a heat source or in an area that will be high in humidity (such as a bathroom). Heat and humidity can cause serious damage to your art.

If it’s worth framing, it’s worth protecting.


There are two basic lighting techniques available for your home: ambient “room” lighting or “spot” lighting. Domestic lighting is often preferable for the home, because it allows the work of art to blend in with the rest of the room. Spotlights, on the other hand, make a piece “pop’ – a nice touch for really special pieces. Spot lighting can be dramatic (using can lighting or light strips that affix right to the wall or the frame itself) or subtle (using room lamps strategically placed to give ample direct light to the piece). When using spotlights, be careful not to create shadows by using strong lights on a deep frame. Remember to keep your wiring as “invisible” as possible.

The Secret to Attractive Artwork Display... Location, Location, Location

Hang your artwork at the eye-level of the “average” person in the room. If you are hanging the art in a room where more time is spent seated than standing, “eye-level” should be lower.

Hang smaller, more detailed pieces in small spaces such as hallways and corridors, where impact is less important than content, and the art can be enjoyed up close and personal. Larger, “atmospheric” pieces require more room for the viewer to stand back and enjoy – hang these pieces opposite the entrance to a room or at the end of a corridor.


Unless you are striving for an eclectic “antique shop” look, groupings should look as though they belong together. Select frame styles that are compatible, and matting styles that will work well together to create a balanced, unified look to the group as a whole.

Spacing is an important element in a grouping. The most commonly recommended way to create balance in a group is to place the entire layout on the floor. This will allow you to get a sense of how the grouping will look on the wall, and allow for adjustments and accurate measurements. Another tip is to align the tops or bottoms of the various pictures in the group.

Take care to use the proper hanging hardware for your type of wall and that will bear the weight of the framed piece. Plaster walls and drywall require different types of hardware. (Artwork that falls off the wall is not only a danger to itself, but to everyone that visits your home.) If you are uncertain what type of hanging hardware you should be using, ask your framer for advice. Tell him or her what type of walls you will be hanging the piece on.

Use two hooks to hang anything larger than 8”x10”. When determining where to put the hooks, use a carpenter’s level to ensure that the picture will hang straight. This will help distribute the picture’s weight more evenly, and your picture will hang straight without constant vigilance.