Framing Primer - an Introduction to Picture Framing

Many people, be they artists, designers or collectors, who come to us have never thought about how integral the picture frame can be to the final presentation of their piece. Sometimes a frame can make or break an artwork. An informed choice is necessary regarding the various frame styles and finishes, mount colour and styles as well as types of glass. All of these factors can have a significant effect on the artwork and advice should be sought to achieve a final result that is not only sympathetic to the piece, but can even enhance its impact and longevity.


Box frames with internal gap are a very contemporary framing style. An internal gap, keeping the artwork away from the glass, is created by inserting a “fillet” (spacer) along the inside of the moulding.

A white box frame with 1/2" fillet

A white box frame with 1/2" white fillet

Box frames can also be used as regular frames without fillets. The mount / artwork will then be sandwiched to the glass. Although no gap is visible within the frame, the depth of the moulding adds substance to the outside.

Standard frames do not have enough space to insert a fillet. Glass, mount and artwork are sandwiched to fit. These regular mouldings offer a great selection of shapes and profiles from contemporary flat, scooped, rounded, lined etc.

Ornate frames can come pre-finished or in bare wood to be finished by the framer. They tend to be chunkier and come in a variety of profile shapes inspired by various stylistic eras (Dutch Old Masters, Victorian etc).

Canvas tray frames, often referred to as gutter boxes, are L-shaped mouldings which are designed to accommodate stretched canvases or paintings on board. They cannot be glazed. As they do not have a “lip” which traditionally holds the glass in place, they do not cover the edges of the painting – none of the artwork will be “lost” in the framing.

painting by Kim Scouller

A painted canvas tray frame - painting by Kim Scouller


Prefinished wooden mouldings come in a variety of shades painted, stained or gold / silver leafed. They can be an economical option.

Bare wood moulding can have finishes custom applied in order to exactly match the requirements of the artwork. Painted finishes can be sealed with a clear matt varnish for extra protection. Stains are waxed to ensure a long lasting finish.

Bare hardwood mouldings made of beautifully grained timber such as oak, ash, beech or maple can also be clear waxed to achieve a completely natural look.

Metal frames come in a variety of profiles with shiny, frosted or brushed finishes. They are a good solution when a specifically thin frame is needed as their construction and sturdiness of material allows them to support heavier glass than thin wood frames.


Standard mount card is made from acid free woodpulp and comes in a large variety of colours. It delays increase in acidity of artwork and offers good protection from environmental toxins, but it is unsuitable for museum standard framing.

Conservation mount card has been chemically treated to remove any dangerous elements from the source material (woodpulp). They protect artwork from contamination over very long periods of time. Conservation mount card comes in a limited range of colours.

Museum mount card is made from cotton rather than woodpulp, which requires the least amount of processing in the manufacturing process. It is the highest standard mount card available. Museum mount card comes in a limited range of whites and off-whites.

The window mount is the most traditional way of mounting artwork. An aperture is cut out of the mount card to reveal the artwork. The surrounding card can be sized as small or as large as is suitable for the artwork.

A window mount cut from light grey standard mount card

A window mount cut from light grey standard mount card

A float mount, also called a “lay-on”, means the artwork is simply laid atop the mount card and held in place by using acid free adhesives. The artwork can either be affixed on all corners (good for transport) or just suspended from the top allowing the material to move over time and in changes of temperature.

A raised float mount means a smaller board, usually acid free foamcore, is placed in between the artwork and the mount card thereby lifting the artwork off the backing and creating a shadow and the illusion of floating.

Artworks can also be framed “straight in” without any kind of mount card surround. They will then be backed by a sheet of mount card which acts as a barrier to toxic materials.

Specialist dry mounting to aluminium, foamex or card can enhance an artwork, but must be carried out by a specialist. For more information on dry mounting click here.


Regular float glass is reflective glass and comes in thicknesses of 2 mm or 3 mm for extra large pieces.

UV glass comes in a variety of grades and can offer up to 99% protection from damaging sunlight. It has been coated with a UV filter layer. It is also reflective and looks almost identical to regular float glass. A minimal reddish hue can only be seen in direct comparison.

An Anthony Burrill print framed with UV glass

An Anthony Burrill print framed with UV glass

Non-reflective glass, often called diffused glass, has been etched on one or both sides. It cannot be used in box frames as visibility and clarity decreases instantly when the glass is raised off the artwork.

Anti-reflective glass, often referred to as museum glass, is of very high standard and usually offers a degree of UV protection alongside highly reduced reflection. It is the best option for reflection-free and neutral viewing.

Acrylic glass, also known as plexi glass, is a great solution for framing large pieces when size and weight push the boundaries of safe frame construction. It is much lighter in weight than glass and will not break. However it is static by nature attracting dust easily, which makes it harder to keep clean. It also scratches easily.


It is important to take into account the context in which the framed artwork is to be shown. This could be for an exhibition in a gallery or in a more domestic setting when purchased by a private collector.

We might suggest, for example, using a box frame when a photograph is to be shown in a gallery context and the printing paper used should not touch the glass. Alternatively, should a piece be shown in a more domestic setting, we might suggest framing it with an unobtrusive white mount in a flat black or white frame giving it a clean and modern look as a whole. Another approach we often take as picture framers is to look for “clues” in the art itself. If the subject matter is of a natural theme, we might suggest a bare or stained wood frame with visible grain. If there are lines or blocks of colour, we might suggest picking a frame to mirror the weight of these compositional elements.

There are no definitive rights or wrongs, but there are some key visual elements that should be considered to achieve a balanced result.


Feel free to download the above framing primer in pdf format (133 kb) by clicking here: OaksmithFramingPrimer.