Tips for choosing the best Frame for wall art - Part 1

Updated: Jul 29, 2021

In these articles, I'll explore what frames are for; what the choices are; how to make good choices around framing art.

[Credit and disclosure: photos in this post are either from Nations Photo Lab, who do a lot of my printing, or are from my own shops.]


Why do you need a frame for wall art?


"A frame is a way of constructing a little world around something."

- Brian Eno, "A Year With Swollen Appendices"


Put a piece of art onto your wall, and you've brought in a piece of another world into yours.


A picture acts like a little window (with a frame): it is an opening into that other place, and we need boundaries around windows and doors to distinguish the "inside" from the "outside".


And the picture may need a boundary, just to tidy up its unfinished edges, and to make it clear where it ends (if it's a "field" painting or a pattern). Long, wide art can readily be perceived as a landscape, even if abstract.


But what kind of frame is best to "introduce" the art to your world?


Is That All a Frame Does?


Like your window and door frames, you need to make some choices about your art frames:

  • Does the frame help the picture (by showing you where it is; by guarding its space)

A "gallery wall"of several framed pictures over a desk
You notice the framed pieces first
  • - or does it take over and distract? Is it giving the art enough room (or is it cramping its style)?

Light green abstract art in dark wood frame
A light picture, but dark frame shouting
  • Does the frame's texture, colour, tone and width suit the walls (and the picture)?

Wall art with wood frame against brown cement wall
Natural brown frame matches art, earthy decor
  • Does the frame style contradict the art, other decorations, and the room, or enhance them (e.g. by creating a pleasing pattern)?

Large grey room with four empty square black wall art frames on wall
Bold square of squares, neutral frames, large room

Example of framed art harmonizing with the room
Loose, black casual cat with loose, black casual art

  • Is it worth the expense? - Good quality frames can cost a bit. And you might prefer a casual approach to art. (One of my customers used a design as one of a string of pictures, hung up like flags, over her new-born's crib.)

Can You Frame Art Without a Frame?


"No frame! Freedom!" (says the picture). "The paper is my boundary!" "No framing costs!" (says you). You could just blu-tak, staple, pin, tack, glue or paste, paper-printed art onto the wall. But beyond these cheap-looking methods, you can also consider:-


Use a Single Hard Backing Sheet

This is quite inexpensive, and allows you to fix the picture to the wall without it distorting or necessarily needing the support of hangers.


Foam-core is very light so it can be made quite thick. It can be made in black, white and some colours.


A picture mounted on thick foam core
Foamcore gives prints depth + presence

Gatorboard or "matboard" is thin but harder to dent. The choices are usually single- or double-weight.

Three gatorboard-mounted photographs
Gatorboard: stiff for wall mounting

Block Paper Mounting wraps a paper print around an in-built wooden frame (rather like how canvas is framed):

Edge view of paper print wrapped around frame
Art runs into wall; invisibly framed


Metal printing This has been very popular recently. They make the print into something more solid, with vibrant colours. They're made by infusing an image onto raw aluminum, and applying a coating. Mounting can be Float mount:


Corner of a metal-printed photo with metal standout against wall
Light metal: stand-outs on metal art

a stand-off mount:

Back view of a stand-off block-mounted picture on metal
Just put a screw or rawl plug into the wall and hang it

or just leaned against a wall, or an easel.


Canvas with internal frame: no apparent frame

If it's the lack of a visible frame that appeals, then (like the paper wrapped frame above), canvas prints can be mounted around an internal frame.

Two canvas pictures showing canvas wrapping
Canvas with inside frame; art on the edge

Now we are getting into actual framing. Before we do that, let's summarize:

  • Think about how you want the art to "talk to" the wall and the room, and choose whether/what framing will suit both

  • You can make wall art paper prints sit well, without too much cost, using various backings.

In the next article I'll talk about:


  • Styles of Frames (traditional; modern; minimal; expressive)

  • Materials: (wood, PVC, metal)

  • Techniques (standard frames; floating frames, etc)

  • Mattes and other considerations







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