Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Let's Talk About Framing

Let’s talk about framing. It is one of the more expensive aspects of owning art and most collectors have at least one frame that costs more than the art itself. Custom framing is always a good option and we’re happy to recommend one of the many framers that we work with who will fit your needs. However, today we’re going to talk about inexpensive frames and some pros/cons of DIY.

While many of us would love to be able to custom frame each piece, it is not really feasible for most of us. That’s where inexpensive pre-made frames come in. One of the things to look for first is the type of glass in the frame. We generally recommend plexiglass. In the event that the piece would fall,  it is less likely to break and scratch your art. Also, advances in technology have given us lots of different levels of UV protection. UV protection, however, may not be an option available in pre-made frames, but you should definitely opt for plexiglass if possible.

Another thing to be aware of is whether you need to add spacers, pieces of plastic or mat board which will keep your art from pressing up against the glass. In some cases, the media can be damaged over time if it is pressed against the glass.  Alternately the edges of the art can be discolored or worn by the spacers and spacers can also cause rippling of paper art because they can prevent the art from expanding evenly.

All materials that come into direct contact with your art should always be considered carefully such as mattes and backing boards. Matting can be bought pre-made for certain sizes and you should look for acid-free mat board to prevent damaging the paper underneath. Particularly you want to look for matting that is made out of 100% cotton rag and doesn’t have any wood content in the paper, but that information is often not difficult to come by. (These are also things to consider when you have a frame custom made as well, but a reputable framer should discuss all of these options with you.) Just as important as the matt is the backing coming into contact with the art, which should preferably be 100% cotton rag or acid-free minimally.

I want to caution any DIY-ers out there to stay away from using tape or glue on their artwork. It can go sideways very quickly. If you think that you need to float the work or attach it to a board in any way it is probably not a DIY frame project and you should contact a professional.

With those caveats, let's jump into some specifics to be aware of when you frame your own piece and how to prevent some common issues. I’m going to use one of the prints from my own collections as an example.

If you look carefully around her hat you can see the bugs that have invaded

This is a silkscreen from the wonderful Rob Schwager. (We did an interview with him a few years ago that you can find here.) At the time I got it I did not have the funds to have it custom framed, so I bought a premade frame and popped it in. That frame has lasted through several moves and apart from a few scratches is still in good condition. It does have glass and I’ve been careful with that during each move.

One of the issues I recently encountered with this frame was due to the back being unsealed. If you’ve ever had a frame made you will notice that the back is often sealed with kraft paper. This might not seem like such a big deal, but sealing the back helps keep out dust and more importantly insects. Insects like paper and more importantly they like to eat paper and certain media. This is why sealing the back of a frame is so important.

Unsealed back of my frame

Because if you don’t seal the back, this is what can happen:

Invaders! Caveat: you can still get bugs and dust inside of a frame even if it is sealed. Sealing the back just decreases the odds a bit.

I got lucky and only lost a tiny bit of ink from these little buggers (I’m reasonably sure they’re baby silverfish and I’m going to have to check the rest of my apartment for the grown ups.) If left too long they can eat through the paper completely. This little infestation was pretty easy to fix. After I removed the art from the frame I cleaned out the frame and did a dry cleaning on the silkscreen using a soot eraser.

Surface cleaning using a soot eraser.

Tiny bit of ink loss in the yellow.

People usually catch bug infestations if the art is up on the wall, but be careful when storing art. We often assume that it's perfectly safe in an attic or a warehouse, but bugs and environmental damage can happen quickly.

Print removed from the frame
Buggy leftovers stuck to the glass

One thing I noticed after removing the silkscreen from the frame was that the paper was beginning to warp a bit. This is caused by minor expansions and contractions in the paper due to changes in ambient conditions. I am not bothered by the minor distortions, but depending on the kind of print these planar distortions can be remedied using our gelatin flattening technique.

Planar distortion due to changes in humidity.

The rest of this post is going to give you some step by step instructions for sealing your own frames, a handy skill to have! You will need appropriately sized kraft paper, scissors, an exacto blade and double-sided tape. You may also need glazier points and the tool to insert them, or if you’re careful you can secure your art inside the frame using small nails and a hammer. BUT BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL and we generally would advise against this.

Basic tool you need to seal the back of a frame

Now onto sealing a frame.

Make sure to wipe the inside of the frame. Microfiber cloths are particularly good at getting small pieces of dust. Once the frame is clean and you’ve got a board behind it, you can use the glazier points to keep everything in place.

Art in frame, board holding art down and glazier points in. Double-sided tape around edges.

Measure out your craft paper, then place double-sided tape all the way around the back edges of the frame. Don’t forget to leave room for the hangers.

You may want a second pair of hands to help you place the kraft paper on evenly.

Sorry, the photo is terrible, but you get the idea!

Once that is done there are a few things to keep in mind when hanging your art. Be aware of the level of UV protection when you hang art on the wall. Direct sunlight is bad in general, but particularly if you don’t have any UV coating on the glass or plexi. Different kinds of pigments will react in different ways to light levels, so try to take this into account when hanging your work. Also be aware of moisture levels and temperature fluctuation. We advise against putting paper-based art in the bathroom or laundry room because the fluctuations in humidity can cause warping and also keeping it away from heating and air conditioning vents.

This blog is for informational purposes only. Poster Mountain is in no way responsible for how this information is put to use.

If you have any additional questions please feel free to contact us. We will answer your questions to the best of our ability as conservators and restoration artists. We can also direct you to a professional framer we trust for more specific questions.

Additional questions regarding other work or your pieces, please contact us via email at or by phone 818.882.1214.

Also, check out our websites: and  Please feel free to leave comments or questions on the blog. For daily photos and updates check out Poster Mountain's Twitter and Instagram: follow us on Twitter @postermount and Poster Mountain on Instagram. Our subsidiary company, LA Paper Group will be showcasing the fine art side of the company: @LAPaperGroup on Twitter and LAPaperGroup on Instagram.

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