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Framing art on paper.

Although framing in the world of fine art takes on a different role than that of the custom frameshop, similar basic principles apply that can help any gallery owner or artist present fine art in a way that will enhance the perceived value of the piece and bring about yet another attractive selling point that will help close the sale. With this concept in mind--and an eye for high-end moulding and design trends--Art Business News and Greg Perkins, manager of merchandising and education for Larson-Juhl, are proud to bring readers the second column of The Fine Art of Framing: High-End Techniques for Galleries and Artists.


At first glance, framing art on paper appears to be a pretty straightforward endeavor. Then, as you begin to study the differences between all the types of art, you soon realize how necessary it is to use a variety of framing treatments to be effective and successful. Because art can be painted, printed or otherwise applied to paper, it's important to choose products and techniques that best protect and present each piece.

The following list includes some of the different types of art on paper:
Silk Screen
Book Plates
Pencil Sketches
Paper Collages
Limited Editions
Vintage Ads

This list is by no means complete but covers most of the common art items people frame.

The most common way to frame art on paper is to place it inside an opening in a mat and surround the mat with a frame. There are numerous options, even with the most basic frame design. There are different colors, textures, levels of quality and border widths available for the mat alone.

When you broaden the scope of the products and techniques you use in your frame designs, you will find that you can easily address the needs of your clients and do the best thing for each piece of art. There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to custom frame design, at least not if you want to do it well. No matter what you are framing, start the process by studying the art. Once you know the nuances of the piece, you will have a better grasp on how to proceed.

Deciding Your Plan of Attack

Here are some of the most common factors to consider when determining how to frame art on paper:

* Is the art an original, limited edition or open edition?

* Does it have monetary or sentimental value?

* Is it old or new? If it is old, is it in need of repairs? Should you take precautionary measures to protect it? Should you choose a frame design to camouflage the problems?

* What type of paper is it on?

* Does it have straight or deckled edges?

* What is the medium?

* Is the surface completely flat or somewhat dimensional with elements such as embossing or collaged pieces?

You will be able to discern some of the answers on your own, but you might have to ask questions if you can't figure it out. Your customer, the art publisher, photographer, photo developer, etc., are all good points of reference.

Originals, Limited Editions and Open Editions

I look at frame designs in two different ways. When I am framing original art, I tend to choose a more classic, tailored, neutral style that I refer to as fine-art framing. When I'm framing inexpensive, decorative prints, I might use more colorful or creative elements. I refer to this type of design as decorative framing. I want to be clear that decorative doesn't mean cute or gimmicky. It simply means there is more emphasis on coordinating the framing with the room decor.

I typically don't choose a decorative frame design for any original art. One exception could be if the art has a whimsical or humorous subject or if it falls in the category of children's art. On the flip side, I regularly choose the fine-art framing style for a decorative art image because it can help upgrade the perceived value of the art.

Frame designs for limited-edition prints fall somewhere between fine art and decorative framing. With so many limited editions on the market, they are not all equal in caliber. When well-known, highly collected artists create the editions, I usually choose the fine-art approach. If the limited edition is by a local artist who printed it on his or her ink jet printer and signed and numbered it, I might still approach it like a decorative image.

Typically, open-edition prints and other non-valuable items can be permanently mounted onto foam-board or some other mounting board. This helps keep the art flat so it will look its best inside the framing package. Limited editions and originals are usually hinged rather than mounted.

Monetary and Sentimental Value

If you are framing anything that has monetary or sentimental value, you should always limit your design choices to conservation-grade products and techniques. Protecting the art preserves the original investment, helps to keep it in good shape for higher future appraisals and increases the longevity of the art for greater enjoyment in the years to come. Sentimental pieces, such as children's artwork, are irreplaceable just like original artwork is. If they are not handled properly, they could be irreparably damaged and lost forever. However, it is wise to use conservation-grade framing when designing less expensive decorative art, too. Even if the art is acidic and capable of degradation on its own, inferior framing could speed up that process. Using conservation-grade framing materials on everything is a great way to keep your frame designs looking better longer.

Old vs. New

When you are deciding on your frame design, consider whether the piece is old or new. Study its current condition, and look for flaws. If there are some, can they be corrected prior to framing? For example, a cut or tear through the paper of an antique print can often be fixed by a paper conservator. If the value of the art doesn't justify the expense, it could at least be held in place on the backside of the art. If left alone, the paper can buckle at the tear and become more unsightly.

Sometimes precautionary framing measures are helpful. Let's say you will be reframing a vintage watercolor that was stored in a hot, dry area. It's likely the piece has become brittle. With standard hinging, the weight of the art could cause the brittle paper to crack or even break into pieces. A sink mat can provide additional support that will help it last longer.

There are times when you can camouflage problem areas and other times when you might want to use them as a design element. A cracked corner on a vintage photo or document can enhance its age and add character to the framing. However, if someone buys a new print on a vacation to Italy and accidentally tears a corner on the trip home, an oval mat opening or angled mat corners could hide the flaw and result in a better look.

Paper Type

I don't mean to imply you need to know the brand or specific name of the paper the art is on. Rather, look at its characteristics.

Is it opaque, translucent or sheer?

Opaque papers provide more mounting and hinging options. If it isn't opaque, be aware that hinges, mounting adhesives or mounting boards could show through. If this is the case, look for the best alternatives to avoid unsightly problems that will detract from the art and your frame design.


Is the paper plasticized?

Photos are sometimes on plasticized paper; however, a heat mounting process can melt it. Some plasticized photos have high-gloss finishes. If they are mounted to a board, the slightest texture or imperfections in the board will be visible through the surface of the photo. It is best to hinge this type of paper.

Does it have straight or deckled edges?

The machine-cut edge of a new print doesn't have much character, so it is generally covered with a mat or frame. However, if the artist used a paper with a deckled edge, it's nice to float the art on top of the mat to show it off. If the artist cuts the deckled paper into pieces to use for several works of art so there are just one or two deckled edges remaining, it might be better to mat over the edges.


Most art on paper should be matted, but sometimes matting isn't necessary, or it might not be the best looking option. Artists sometimes use heavy card-stock paper as a substrate for acrylic paintings. The build-up of paint on the paper makes it even sturdier, so it can potentially be framed like a canvas, rather than as paper art, which eliminates the need for a mat.

A wedding portrait can be printed on paper, but if it has been mounted to a thin backing board and treated on the front so it doesn't require glazing, it could be framed with a liner and frame or a stacked moulding combination.


Inexpensive reproduction art can be framed pretty much any way you want to frame it. If the original was an oil painting, mount the paper print, and frame it as you would frame the painting, not as you would typically frame a print on paper. It can add a higher level of sophistication to a print.


Flat and Dimensional Art

Most art on paper is flat and easy to mat and place under glass. At times, you might encounter a dimensional piece, such as embossed paper art or a paper casting, which is quite sculptural. These types of pieces should still be placed under glass if they are paper, but they likely need to be framed more like an object that sits on top of the matboard.

Sometimes paper collage has small objects incorporated into the art. At the very least, there should be spacers or a double mat with foamboard in between so the object doesn't touch the glass.

Moisture can cause the paper of some art to buckle. This might be the case with a watercolor where the artist actually caused the problem, or with a print that has been stored in a damp area. In either case, check to see if it can be flattened. First, put on clean cotton gloves, and push down on different areas of the art to see where the excess paper goes. If it appears that it will flatten easily, you can place it under heavy weights. If not, dampen the backside of the paper, or hire a trained professional. For inexpensive pieces, mounting it a good alternative.


ABN Contributing Editor

Greg Perkins has been in the art and framing industry for 35 years. As manager of merchandising and education for Larson-Juhl, Perkins is considered a seasoned industry expert in high-end frame design and display. E-mail him at
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Title Annotation:the fine art of framing: High-End Trends and Techniques for Galleries and Artists
Comment:Framing art on paper.(the fine art of framing: High-End Trends and Techniques for Galleries and Artists)
Author:Perkins, Greg
Publication:Art Business News
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2007
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