To Frame or Not to Frame

Do you have a bunch of artwork tucked away somewhere that never made it to the wall because it costs too much to frame?  I do.  I should eventually pull it out and get it framed, but I may need a windfall of cash to make that happen.  What sometimes happens is that I purchase artwork but then later have to spend more for the frame than I paid for the artwork.  Here's a few things to consider when buying artwork.

Should I buy artwork already framed or frame it myself?

People often wonder if you should buy an art from an artist that is already framed.  Generally, yes.  Usually the artist is not marking up the cost of the frame by much since they are mostly in it to sell their art. Check out the quality of the frame and whether it enhances the art and is it a good fit for your home.  If the answer is yes, buy it with the frame already on. If not, ask the artist if they have other choices of frames you can order.  

What is the surface of the artwork?  Does it need a frame?

Works that are on paper need a frame.  Work with your local framer to decide which color mat and how much of a mat the artwork will need.  The way you frame something, type of frame, mat color, width of mat are generally just a matter of taste.  However, a framer with a good eye will suggest ways that make the artwork live up to it's fullest potential.

If a work on paper has interesting edges, consider "floating them" - meaning putting them in a frame with glass but without a mat.  This method is often used for pastels, since they can't come in close contact with the glass because the pastels will migrate away from the paper to the glass over time.  Also, never use plexiglass with pastels because it will pull the pastels off the paper and on to the plexiglass.



Do I need to frame a painting?

One huge advantage of buying a painting on canvas or a wood panel (instead of paper) is that you can just put it on the wall without a frame.  If you aren’t framing it, make sure you check with the artist about what sides look like.  They will either continue the painting down the edges, paint them with a color, or leave it unpainted.  If a painting as an unusual color on the edge and you are not getting it framed, the artist is generally able to paint it a different color if you request it. It's okay if it's unpainted but ask for a photo of the edge to make sure it's something you'll want exposed if you aren't framing.  I once had a painting arrive across the country that had flesh colored edges that did not go with the painting at all!  So we could either pay someone to paint the edges or get it framed.  We got it framed but better to ask for a photo than to be surprised when you receive your purchase.


gallery wrap

painted sides

unpainted sides

When and how do I frame a painting on canvas or a panel?

If you have painting that is going in a more formal place like a dining room or a formal living room, you may want to give the artwork a more finished look.  This is where float frames come along. 

Float frames are (mostly) wood frames the surround the canvas or panel but do not have mats or glass.  They are called float frames because the artwork sits inside the frames with an even space between the canvas and the edge of the frame, so that they look like they are floating in the frame.


To pick the color of the wood, look for tones in the painting that can be pulled out of the painting and complimented by the frame color.  If you feel like many colors could look nice, it's sometimes useful to match other finishes in your room.  If you have a lot of blond wood trim and that works with the painting, it will help tie the room together.  If you like a modern look go with a very thin metallic frame or a white frame.  

Have suggestions for framing?  Feel free to add them in the comments and post examples of framing success stories.


Patricia is CEO & Cofounder of Contact her at

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