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Choosing a Picture Frame Material
A handy guide to picture framing hardware
Here's a short guide to helping you choose the right picture frame material. We'll take a quick look at the most common types of frames, as well as the various finishes available with them.
I love framing photos because it gives you a chance to finalise the appearance of an image. It's the last little bit of creativity in the process of photography. Choosing the appropriate picture framing hardware is an important part of this, so I want to help you get it right!
Should you need any advice on how to frame a picture after reading this article, then follow my practical instructions here: How To Frame a Picture.
Click, click, done! It doesn't give you the same sense of satisfaction, but when you feel like being lazy online framing is the way to go!
Most Common Types of Picture Frame Material
- Wood. The most common, with the greatest range of finishes.
- Metal. Often aluminium.
- Plastic/Acrylic. Bright colours or transparent.
The majority of picture frames are made from wood. There are loads of cool ways to finish a wooden frame and alter its aesthetics:
- Plain. Emphasises the fact it's a natural material. Can sometimes be slightly 'rustic', e.g. deliberately cut to an irregular shape as though it’s just been picked up off the forest floor!
Plain wooden frames look good in lots of different and settings. They complement a homely room with other wooden or natural features, and contrast interestingly with clean, modern decor.
This simple maple wood frame is a good example of something that works easily in most rooms.
- Varnished. Varnish adds a bit of richness and gloss to wooden frames. Looks great with the right picture in the right room. Although I have to say my personal preference tends to be more for plain wood.
- Painted. Wood is a really versatile picture frame material because it has so many different appearances, including any number of colours. Wooden frames can be painted white, black, red, blue, green etc.
Choose between a matted or glossy paint. You can even go for a shiny lacquer finish. I love framing black and white pictures with a thin wooden frame, painted black and given a large white border/mat. It’s just simple, clean and makes the most of a great photo!
Colourfully painted wooden frames often look nice in groups. I have a cluster of seascape shots in thin, pale blue frames on my wall at home.
- Carved. Wooden frames are often carved to enhance their appearance.
Designs range from simple, straight line grooves, to highly decorative and three dimensional shapes and patterns. I like the combination of ornate designs and simple, natural material with this carved wooden frame.
- Carved and gilded. The point of gilding frames is to make them look as though they are made of gold. An incredibly thin layer of gold leaf is applied to the surface of the wood (which is often carved in floral patterns) so that the entire surface is shining gold!
This is a really traditional way of framing pictures. It's definitely not a common method of framing photos! Having said that I've got to say that I did once see an amazing photo in a gilded frame!
It was a huge print on the wall of a cafe in Spain. The image was a black and white shot taken in about the 1930's of an old Spanish street with a beautiful woman walking down it, causing various male passers by - one carrying food, one on his bike, one selling fruit - to be momentarily captivated!
It filled about half the space of one whole wall and looked incredible! So there are no rules when it comes to framing photos and choosing the right picture frame material. Be creative!
- Customized! Wood is an easy material to customize in your own way.
You can create a cool vintage looking frame by applying a layer of white paint, followed by a layer of pale coloured paint, like turquoise. Sand it down and scratch it about with nails. Wear away the corners. Looks really cool!
You can even stick stuff to it like sea shells or personally meaningful objects and memorabilia!
Here's where to print cards that will impress your customers but won't break the bank.
- Metal is another common picture frame material. It's used for framing photos quite a lot, particularly little ones. Metal frames are often designed with a stand for placing on a desk or bedside table. They look excellent in groups, with shots of family and friends etc.
- Metal frames can certainly be larger too. They have a very clean, modern appearance and so can work nicely with the realism of photos. They suit both black and white and colour images. Metal frames are sometimes fairly popular in formal office spaces. They are typically made from aluminium.
Plastic and acrylic frames are a simple, neat and practical way to frame pictures. They are increasingly popular materials and I think these kinds of frames can look very cool. They tend to be thin (depth) and shiny, with clean, sharp corners.
- Brightly coloured acrylic frames are a nice way to finish photos with strong colour themes. For example a simple shot of a bright red flower could look good with a clean and simple red acrylic frame.
- Transparent acrylic frames are an unusual and fun picture frame material to go for. They are essentially completely see-through sheets of acrylic that reveal the wall behind when hung. So it's very minimalist! I like the way black and white photos look in these frames.
Other Parts of Picture Framing Hardware
- Mat. The mat is the border around a picture that serves an aesthetic and protective purpose. Always look for a mat made from acid free materials. This prevents a brown tinge from forming on exposure to UV light which can spread to the photo.
- Glass. Either glass or Perspex is fine.
- Dust Cover. A sheet of paper behind the backing board of a frame to prevent tiny flies from getting in!
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Alternative Picture Frame Material
- Fabric. Picture frames made of fabric are usually stand-up frames. They're a great way of framing photos of friends and family.
- Glass Bottle. I sometimes roll up photos and put them in a clear glass bottle so they face out and wrap around the glass. Stick some fake flowers in the top. Good for your office desk!
- Digital Frames. Digital photo frames are a brilliant way of displaying a group of pics on rotation. Here's a guide to choosing digital photo picture frames.
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Have Your Say and Share Your Photos
What's your favourite picture frame material? Share ideas and upload photos!