What I Learned While Making My First Picture Frame

Member Articles

Being on a fixed income and hearing about the prices of picture frames I decided that I would save lots of money "building my own!?"

I'll bet you've never heard that before. The first thing I learned is that starting any new project with a glass of wine isn't necessary, but it helps.

Well, being the engineer that I was I did some research. First I went to see Eric at King Photo since he's used to humoring me. He gave me a list of places to check out. Next I went to Graphic Experience on Lancaster Blvd, since it was close. These people were very kind and had lots of great examples of their work to show me. Just for comparison I asked about a simple frame for a 14x20 picture. I think she said about $220 but I'm not sure, my mind was on that next glass of wine. Next I went to Michael's which has a large and well stocked framing shop. They were cheaper at $175. I just knew I could beat even that price.

By this time I had looked at about 100 frames and done a search on the internet which, of course, said it was easy and cheap to build your own. I found lots of molding at Home Depot that would do the job but, even better, KC's Custom Molding, across from Target in Lancaster, also carries two styles of oak picture frame molding. This stuff is ready to go and the more ornate stuff is only $3.44 per foot. I can do this. I talked to a gal in Rosamond who used to make custom frames, until her shop blew down in the wind storm, and she recommended Valley Moulding in North Hollywood. She said they carry everything.

Rather than ruin good oak I started from scratch with pine from Lowes. The three pieces of wood I picked out for my 20x10 frame came to almost $30 (the oak would have been cheaper). With my well-tooled shop it was easy cutting and glueing the pieces together. It actually came out a little better than I expected. In the end I painted it a cherry-wood color to match the picture and that cost me another $5. Actually I didn't need all those tools, but they're fun to play with.

Then I went to Michaels and bought some of the good glass for my nice new frame. Fifty-five dollars, another glass of wine, and a couple of conversations later I found that most people just buy the regular glass because the conservation glass is too expensive. Tell me about it! Michael's sells the regular glass for my 20x10 for only $25. Or I could get it at Kingsley Glass on Ave I for less. There have some non-glare glasses but they look funkey and suck a lot of the color out of the pictures. And then there's plexiglass.


By this time I had started on a couple of other pictures and bought frames, one at WalMart and one at Michaels. For simple, standard size frames you can't beat the Chinese's prices. On opening one I found a layer of foam between the backboard and the picture to help it lay flat against the glass. For my homemade frame I found similar material from U-Haul called Cushion Foam. Four-fifty buys enough to do lots of frames. For a backboard I bought some 3/8 inch hardboard from Home Depot for $4.50, enough to do several frames. The 1/4 inch stuff was too warped to use. I tried nails and staples to hold it all in but broke down and bought some L-brackets for pictures, 12 for $6. Reine River said to use the wire hangers so I bought the first one I found, another $4. Later I learned that you don't need the 60 lb hanging hardware for a 3 lb picture. I also learned that the screws for these are long enough to go clear through parts of the frame. later I learned that most people just use the eye-screws and light-guage wire.

When I put it all together it looked great, except that there were wrinkles and dimples in the picture paper I had gotten from Staples. It only cost $4.20 so I got another one. This one was better but not perfect, and had a finger print on the picture. Never use water to clean an ink-jet picture. Another $8.40 (I got two this time just in case) and I was able to get something acceptable considering the overhead lighting, but rougher than a cob when side-lighted. A different picture I got from them was smooth like a photograph so maybe they used their poster-printer for my 20x10. When I have the time I'll look into why the difference.

All in all, my 20x10 frame cost me only about $100, not counting the materials I have left over, the gas driving around, or the wine I drank. Another way to look it is that I got a $100 education and a free frame. I think I got off cheap.

In summary, I learned that, for the larger frames, I can custom build them for about 1/4-1/2 the price of the shops, not counting my time, and probably just as well. But for standard frames I'll stick with the store bought ones.

Two other things I learned, one is that there are a lot of good used picture frames that can be bought at second-hand stores and yard sales for real cheap if you have the time to look around. Second is that there are online places like www.pictureframes.com that will sell you kits or completed frames for reasonable prices, cut to your dimensions.



 Okay, now for matting. I went to the seminar by Reine River at the LMAG on "preparing and submitting artwork for juried art contests." I learned a lot about mounting, framing, and showing pictures. She said that she leaves more matte below the picture than above and, when I looked at her pictures, I could see that they looked better that way. But my custom frame was built for my picture, without a matte. Oh well, not all pictures have mattes and I wasn't about to build another frame just for that. I also learned about picture and frame measurements. The frame is measured by the glass size but the frame cuts off about 1/4 inch all the way around so everything stays in the frame. Mattes are the same, the opening is smaller than the stated dimensions, which means that, in printing your pictures you need to make allowances if you have anything important near the edges of the picture. Michael's sells several styles of matte cutters and they have a large stock of matte material behind the counter. They can cut it or you can. They also sell a good collection of pre-cut mattes, single and double. The internet has a lot of important details for mounting your pictures and art when you use mattes


Share It

Login required to comment
Be the first to comment

Shopping Cart

View Cart

Coming Up...


General Meeting




General Meeting

PSA & S4C News

Get your S4C UEN here

My Account