You’ve been framed: 4 tips for inexpensive framing

Let’s face it: professional framing is expensive.

A friend recently emailed me about trying to find a thrift store frame for a piece of art and told me that he’d been quoted $250 minimum from Michaels. Sure, they have specials all the time on different frame collections and you can often get 40-60% off via a coupon, but that’s still a minimum of $100-150, which in DIY world starts to add up to a lot of money, particularly if you need more than one frame.

As you might have noticed, we have a whole lot of art up in our house. We have 15 framed objects in our living room alone. Now, ain’t no way we were spending $1500-2000 just to get stuff framed (on the low end). So here’s a smattering of information on the tips and tricks we’ve picked up for getting stuff framed.

Fortunately, a lot of the art comes from thrift stores already framed. That’s the case with most of the art on our living room gallery wall. So that’s one tactic: look for art that is already framed. Or at least be aware that the large canvas painting you found for $3 might end up costing quite a bit more if you need to frame it yourself.

As I noted a a couple of weeks ago, I also found a frame for the Chinese girl canvas, which leads me to my second tip: mine thrift stores for frames. The art was a thrift store purchase too, but didn’t come with a frame. So for $5 plus a little elbow grease, I modified one to fit.

Not only can you often get empty frames for very little, a lot of the art in thrift stores isn’t great so don’t feel bad about buying a piece just for the frame.

The next tip is to check discount stores. IKEA has some nice basic frame options and is particularly good if you need to get a whole bunch of similar frames in the same color. I recently made some art for the office out of a Tolkien quote and got the frame for $10 at IKEA. You’d need to buy 10 ready-made frames before you got to the price of one professionally framed piece at Michaels or another craft store. I deliberately made the quote and background to fit a frame meant for an 8″ by 10″ photo so I knew I could get a ready-made frame.

Finally, there are ways to save money on professional framing, which is probably my favorite tip. If you’ve thrifted a frame (like the one below, which was pretty banged up and painted black when I found it for $6), you can have a mat cut to fit the frame and the art for about $20-30 at almost any frame store, including places like Michaels, which quoted me $28 for a custom cut mat. I used spray paint to make the frame gold.

Next I took the spray painted frame, the original glass that came with it and my art to Total Framing in Fairfax, Virginia. The custom mat I had cut for a little over $20. Not only was the mat cheaper than at Michaels, for another $20, they closed it up with a dust cover and put the picture wire on back for me to hang it. See how professional it looks?

For something you really like, that might be worth the $40 it cost and three weeks I waited to have it done. Plus, getting the custom mat cut means that you can buy an oddly sized thrift store frame that’s larger than your piece, but it will still fit your art because of the custom mat. The cost of a custom mat will vary depending on the size and quality of the mat you choose. I picked a basic white one with a flat texture and it’s about 12″ wide by 17 3/4″ high to fit the frame.

So let’s review the options:

  1. Buy art that is already framed.
  2. Find a perfect sized thrift store frame. It might take some time, but you’re probably only going to spend $5-10.
  3. Go to a discount store like IKEA. For $10-25 you can get your choice of sizes in white, black, fake wood or silver. Michaels has similar prices on ready-made frames if you remember to bring your 40% off coupon.
  4. Save some money and spend about $40 on professional framing by combining their professional labor with your thrift store or ready-made frame. 

Do you have any favorite framing tips?

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