Many people have no idea what to expect when they walk into their local frame shop. Custom framing can be a daunting prospect for anyone – especially those who don’t have much experience with it.

Never fear: Your local custom framer is an expert! She’s an artist – most likely for real, but also because custom framing is an art form in its own right. Not only will she help you pick the best framing design for your artwork; she also knows the best ways to protect it. She’ll help you stay within your budget, too. Phew! That means you’re off the hook, right?

Well, not entirely. Whether you’re an artist, art collector, or just looking to get your precious memorabilia beautifully framed, there are a few basic things you should know before walking into your local frame shop. Being prepared will help make your custom framing process enjoyable for everyone.

Bring your artwork with you!

The framer needs to measure the artwork in a specific way, even if you’ve already measured it yourself. Besides, a photo will never do the real thing justice. You’ll be surprised at all the nuances in the colors, patterns, and textures of the frames – and you’ll be glad you can see how they look with your art!

If your piece is really valuable, or you’re worried about it getting damaged in transit, call the frame shop and describe the situation. Get their advice on how best to protect your art when you bring it in. Depending on what it is, there will be a variety of precautions they can recommend.

Frame Design before Interior Design

You want your art to look good on your walls. However, you’ll be happier if you leave the interior design aspect out of it at first. Consider how well your framing choices go with your art, and THEN consider how well the final product goes with the room you put it in. You’ll be much happier with the result that way!

Take the Time

Don’t treat custom framing as a quick errand. You may be able to get away with zipping in and out – but don’t count on it. Even if you do manage to make it snappy, you may not be happy with the result. Block out some time to choose your framing – you’ll be happy glad you did!

Consider Contrast

Colors that are opposites on the color wheel look great together. That’s why so many black-and-white photographs are framed with white mats and black frames. A lighter outer mat is always a good idea, but if your piece has warmer colors or blues in it, try a wood frame with an orange undertone and a contrasting blue inner mat. Opposites always attract, at least when color is involved!

Vary your sizes.

If you’re using both, the frame should (generally) be much thinner than the mat. The eye likes to see variance – it looks strange, and boring, when everything is the same size.

Go big or go home!

The average industry standard when it comes to mat width used to be three inches – now, it’s four! As houses have gotten larger and loftier, mats have gotten bigger. Make it wider than you think it needs to be! When you hang it on the wall, it always ends up looking smaller than you thought it would. And if you’re not using a mat, consider wider molding. It’ll look fabulous on your wall.

Canvas Artwork = No Glass

This is important to know before walking into your local frame shop: canvas needs to breathe. Therefore, it shouldn’t get framed with glass. The only exception is if you’re choosing to put it in a high-risk location (such a room with a constantly-burning fire, a smoke-filled bar, or the great outdoors). Otherwise, go glass-free – it’s far less expensive, and far better for your canvas!

White is white – right?

Wrong! White is never just white. There are cool whites, warm whites, red undertones, green undertones – you’ll notice the differences when they’re right next to each other. If you’re looking for just “a plain, white mat”, you definitely want to test out a few different options. Chances are, some whites will look much better with your artwork than others!

Custom framing is – well, custom. So are the prices.

The framer won’t know how much the framing job is going to cost just by looking at the artwork; you’ll need to choose your materials before she can give you an accurate quote. Most custom framers have a large range of prices, and even then, there will be some outliers. It all depends on your final choices.

The more productive way to approach the situation is to have a budget in mind for your artwork. Then the framer can help guide you toward choices that will help you fall within that budget.

Keep an open mind…

Even if you know exactly what you want going in, you may be presented with great options that you hadn’t thought of before. Further, framing experts will make recommendations based on successful design concepts. If you have a specific vision for your artwork, you don’t have to give it up – but be open-minded!

But trust your gut, too.

Most of us don’t give our visual instincts enough credit! It’s always a good idea to look at multiple options, but don’t sell yourself short – the first frame you pick is often your final choice.

Patience, grasshopper.

Custom framing is an exacting process. It takes some time! Call ahead to find out what the typical turnaround time is, and then get it to the framer’s with plenty of extra time. When you do finally get it back, you’ll be glad you waited patiently – it’ll be stunning.