Framing Paintings: Should You Do It Yourself?

DIY Frames vs. Professional Framers

Various empty classical frame collections
Rouzes / Getty Images

Framing paintings can be very expensive. Is a professional frame worth the money, or should you make your own frames for your paintings? Will galleries accept paintings with DIY frames? Will you appear to be a cheapskate? 

Painters have a lot of questions about framing and there are just as many opinions. Let's look at some of the pros and cons of DIY and professional frames.

Are DIY Frames Right for You?

In order to frame a painting yourself, you will need a few tools, most important of which are a compound miter saw and a router. You will also need some woodworking skills because great looking frames are a little more complicated than joining four boards.

Many artists who have these tools and skills have been very successful in making their own frames. Others know woodworker willing to help out. A simple 1x2 inch piece of pine can make a very nice presentation around a small to medium sized painting. Larger works of art may need a 1x4 or larger board.

Strip frames are also very common and they're a little easier because you do not need to miter the corners. Yet, they must be done with precision and a certain level of neatness so they don't look hobbled together or straight from the hardware store.

For the frame finish, artists like to stick with the basics. A simple satin or flat black paint can add drama to the piece without distraction. Some artists prefer an unpainted look but will add a thin layer of varnish.

When working with canvas, many artists choose to go the 'gallery wrap' route. This means that you will finish painting the sides of the canvas wrapped around the stretcher. Some artists choose to continue the painting onto the sides while others use a flat complementary color approach. This allows the art buyer the option to either hang it as is or take it to a framer to match their decor.

As an artist, you need to think about where you want to spend your energy. Do you want to simply paint or do you also want to learn the crafts of framing and woodwork? Many will tell you that the hassle involved is not worth the money savings. However, much of this is also going to depend on where you are in your career.

The Problem with DIY Frames

If you're looking to break into the art world and make money with your paintings, there is a lot to learn about the final presentation. For instance, it's not recommended to seal the back of a canvas because it can't breathe. Also, there's the question of glass or no glass for paintings on paper and the proper hardware required to hang a piece on the wall.

There is a lot to think about when it comes to framing. If you try to take shortcuts, your frame can easily look like a DIY project rather than a professional piece of art. Galleries and art buyers may be put off by this and reject your work no matter how impressive the painting is. 

Uniformity is also an issue and frames can often be a sign of a beginner in the painting world. This is understandable because you don't want to invest in a piece when you don't know if it will sell. Yet, an art booth or exhibition filled with random frames can really distract from the work and impact any potential sales. If you are going to make your own frames, find a style you like for your work and stick with it.

How a Professional Framer Can Help You

If you're going to frame your pieces and don't want to do the work yourself, a professional framer can be a great asset to you. They are artists themselves and are a wealth of knowledge, often taking into consideration aspects that would never cross your mind.

Work on building a relationship with a framer in your area. They often understand that artists have a very tight budget and are sympathetic to your concerns and needs. They also offer insight into what art buyers like and how to get the best presentation for the least amount of money.

Keep in mind that you do not need to use super fancy moulding or add all the bells and whistles a framer has to offer. Work with them to keep things simple, affordable, and professional. After some time, your framer may even offer you discounts or work out deals with you on framing costs. Knowing a good framer is what keeps many professional artists exhibiting and selling.

With a really good artist-framer relationship, you might even get some helpful critiques on your work. They may tell you nicely that one painting is worth a frame while another may not be. For this scenario, you might consider framing your best work as an example of how your paintings look in a frame. If an unframed painting sells, refer that buyer to your framer to help their business out. It really can be a win-win situation.

Seeing Frames as an Investment

The framing debate is all about how you personally view the value of framing. If you're an amateur artist who dabbles in painting, go ahead and play with your own frames. If you're a professional artist with no skill or interest in woodworking, get help from the pros. If you fall in between these two levels, you have some tough decisions to make.

Framing is an investment, just like the stretcher, canvas, and paint you use. As a professional artist, you are in business and business come with expenses. Frames are just another expense.

If you walk into any high-end gallery, take note of the framing. It's quite often spectacular and something a buyer can take home and place right on the wall.

All artists are hesitant about spending more money, but the frame really does influence buyers. A proper presentation does make art look better and if you want to reach a certain level in your art career, it's important to understand the true value of a good frame.