Doesn't everyone have a growing pile or rubber-banded roll of art prints, photographs, posters - maybe even a painting or two - that are intended for framing?

Correctly mounted and framed paintings, prints, posters and photographs can turn an otherwise generic room into a place that creates a mood and says something about the resident. But that would require learning how to do it yourself - buying a bunch of specialized tools, finding a large flat work surface, with the possible result being something you wouldn't want to look at. It's either that, or a possibly daunting visit to a framing shop - and all those questions.

"The intimidation factor can be fairly high," Nathan Saxton says of the first visit to a framing shop and all the decisions that involves. Saxton, owner of Borealis Arts, 150 S. Camino Seco and 119 E. Toole Ave., said it doesn't have to be intimidating.

It comes down to aesthetics and conservation, Saxton says, and he finds customers usually have the answers. "My job is to figure out what your goals are and to guide you to the decisions that make the most sense."

Barbara Robinson, owner of Barb's Frame of Mind, 319 E. Eighth St., agrees. "I'd say a little over half the time people say, 'I don't have any idea what I want.' But they usually have the answers, it's a matter of asking the right questions."

And sometimes she gets help from modern technology. It's not uncommon to have a customer come in with an iPhone photo of the wall or room where the framed piece will be hung.


The aesthetic questions may be about the frame style and mat color, but the answers have to do with what best complements the art.

Robinson said she starts with the mat. "Generally, we try to steer them neutral to start with. But if they want a color that's in the room, that can work, too. But, generally, light-neutral (is best), something that works with what's in the art. You can key the frame or mat to a portion of the art by matching the color," says Robinson.

Another answer is to use a double mat, with the neutral color the largest part of the exposed surface and a less neutral colored mat on the inside edge, adjacent to the art, to key off a color in the art or in the room that the customer want match.

"There are no hard and fast rules" about the ratio of mat-to-art area. "You don't want the mat to be just another line. It needs to break the art from the surroundings," says Robinson. "It gives it a buffer. On a 16 (inch) by 20 (inch) maybe a 2 to 2 1/2 inch mat, and it goes up from there. It tends to look a little more contemporary if you have a wider mat.

There are hundreds of choices in frames - patterns, finishes, colors, width. Most commonly used frame sells for between $4 to $20 a foot, Robinson says.

"Does the client prefer a more modern, more distressed, a Southwest look," Saxton says, "or sometimes it's what the rest of the décor of the house is."

Robinson has a fairly simple rule of thumb. "Basically, you don't want the frame to take over the art work. The frame can be interesting," she says, "But we try not to bully people."


Saxton's question about conservation has to do with the value of the art, whether it's highly valued because of collectability or sentimental worth. If the value of the art is high, it will probably be suspended over a frame. Less valuable items will be dry-mounted to acid-free foam core board or rag board.

One of the questions from the past - "acid-free or not?" - no longer applies. Robinson says nearly all mat board and mounting materials are now acid-free, so they won't discolor or damage the art work.

Glazing, framespeak for the "window" material used on framed posters, prints and photographs and some paintings, is another conservation question. The considerations here are clarity, ultraviolet light rejection to prevent fading in the bright desert light, and anti-glare characteristics. "It's amazing how much art fades here," Robinson says of the main consideration.

Regular framing glass provides about 45 percent ultraviolet light rejection, Robinson said. Conservation grade glass provides roughly 97 percent UV rejection.

Museum glass also blocks nearly all UV, but also produces virtually no reflection - is almost invisible -Robinson says. But it can add hundreds of dollars to the price of a framing job.

Cheaper anti-glare plastic, another option, is more resistant to breakage than glass, but softens the details in the art work.

A good framing job should also include a dust cover - a sealed paper covering on the back of the frame. Robinson says the framing layers - glass, mat boards and backing board - should already be sealed, but that the layer on the back of the frame keeps bugs out and creates a level back.


Saxton says it's as hard to give an art framing price over the phone as it would be to answer "How much does a car cost?" over the phone.

"There are a lot of options," he says. He says framing pricing software used by most shops includes labor in the component costs. After the options for the various components are totaled, the software he uses breaks out the labor from the material costs since the state doesn't tax labor, only materials.


• Don't store prints, posters or anything you want to frame too tightly rolled or secured with rubber bands, tape or paper clips as they can stain, crimp or tear the material. You can store art that is to be mounted and framed later flat in a portfolio made for that purpose or rolled in tubes available at art and framing supply stores. It's best to have a layer of acid-free paper between the piece and the tube or any other prints. A portfolio or heavy tube also protects the art when transporting it to get it framed.

• Use a smart phone or digital camera to take a photo of the wall or room where the framed art will be hung.

• Measure the art and add two to four inches on the sides, top and bottom (to compensate for matting and frame) and see how the finished, framed art will fit in the intended space.

• Hang large frames with two screws. It will distribute the load and make it easier to level the frame and keep it flat against the wall.

• Choose a mat color and frame style to complement the art rather than match the wall or room. Common wisdom is that room color and décor will probably change, but not the art inside the frame and mat.

• There's a framing FAQ online at and many tutorials on framing on