A Quick Guide to Framing on a Budget (Info Without the Fluff)

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We’ve probably all been there, you buy a beautiful print only to end up paying through the nose to frame it. OUCH! Leaves a bad taste doesn’t it? But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways of framing on a budget.

  • Buy a standard off-the-shelf frame and adapt it
  • Use clip frames in a more creative way
  • Find old frames and refurbish them

It’s perfectly possible to frame your picture stylishly, and without taking out a mortgage to pay for it.

I’ll show you how.

Framing on a Budget Using Off-The-Shelf Standard Frames

Yeah, I can hear you, your picture isn’t a standard size, but it’s not the problem you think it is.

Most images almost fit, it’s a near miss but that’s OK, a slight tweak will usually work.

The trick is to buy a frame bigger than you think you need.

Pictures tend to look classier with bigger borders, so center your print and allow for wide margins.

The frame on the left below is a typical example, the side borders are narrower and the top and bottom are slightly wider.

Comparing two prints in 16 x 20 inch when framing on a budget.
Note the bottom margin is wider on the right

The one on the left looks pretty good. It’s in a ready-made 16″ x 20″ frame with a mount cut to fit. On the right, the top margin is the same width as the sides, meaning the bottom margin is wider. Far from looking odd this often looks better than a perfect fit.

Years ago when framers practiced their craft more skillfully than they do today, a picture was always presented with a wider border at the bottom.

Why? Because a picture frame is usually hung high up on the wall. and viewed from below. There’s a foreshortening effect on the eye and the bottom margin appears too narrow. A wider border, therefore, corrects this optical illusion. Sadly modern framers rarely do this.

That still leaves the problem of deciding which size frame to buy for your print.

I can help.

At the end of this guide,, I’ve compiled a list of commonly available standard frame sizes WITH the most common ready-made mounts.

If you’re lucky you’ll get a perfect fit, if not you can easily determine the nearest suitable size.

It may well be necessary to have a custom mount made to measure, but you will still save a considerable amount of money by not having to buy a bespoke frame.

Kit needed

  • Zilch

Further Reading: How to Make Cheap Art Display Panels That are Light and Strong

Framing on a Budget Using Clip Frames

Before you groan, listen up it works. One of my customers told me about this.

First, buy some acid-free mounting tape from an art supply store or online.

Then buy a clip frame twice as large as the print.

  • Back it with black paper.
  • Center the print.
  • Adjust it vertically until you are happy.
  • Tape the top corners with vertical strips to act as hinges.

Flip your print and do the same on the underside. You now have two sets of hinging tape on the top edge, two strips on the front and two on the back.

  • Flip back. Your print is now securely in place.
  • Peel off the top hinges and clip on the glass.
  • You now have a contemporary look.
How to frame on a budget with a clip frame example
It couldn’t be simpler or cheaper

Kit needed:

  • Backing paper
  • Acid-free mounting tape

Framing on a Budget Using Second-Hand Frames

With a little patience and a keen eye, you will find a never-ending source of good frames in Thrift stores, flea markets, and charity shops.

If you are very lucky you might come across just the right frame but the chances are you will have to apply some TLC to make things right.

You might find just the right size frame but in the wrong color. Or the right color but it’s battered and bruised.

It’s nothing a light sanding and a can of spray paint can’t fix and natural woods can be stained or varnished.

You may well have to replace the old hangers like D-rings, tacks, and wire. They can be bought online, from art suppliers or hardware shops.

Having renovated your frame and mounted your print your next step is to thoroughly clean the glass. Pay attention to the inside pane of course.

Any sticky label gum can be removed with WD40.

Reassemble the frame, glass, mount, and backing board. Check the front for stray specks, dust, and hairs and then replace it face down.

Take your tacks (brass preferably) and tap them along each side to secure the backing.

If you have a hand stapler all the better. Staple each side two or three times and bend them over to pin the backing.

Now using brown gummed tape seal the gap between the frame and backing.

Lastly, attach the D-rings using the previous marks as a guide. If you’re unsure then place the rings 1/3rd down, not halfway.

Attach the wire and you’re all done.

Kit needed:

  • Fine sandpaper,
  • Glass cleaner
  • Spray primer (optional),
  • Spray paint,
  • Varnish or wood stain,
  • Picture hanging kit – D-rings, tacks, wire,
  • Stapler (optional)
  • Brown paper gummed tape.

Cutting Your Own Mat Board (Mounts) to Save Money

Cutting a beveled edge is quite a tricky job. You need the right tools to do it properly.

My advice is to hunt around for a good quote and get a framing service to cut a mat board (mount) to your requirements.

There is not much point in buying the right cutter for the job if you are not going to use it regularly. And besides, you’ll still need to buy a sheet of mount board.

One way of making an extra impact without paying much more money is to use a black-core mat board.

It’s great for black and white images so I use it often, (note the examples above).

There’s a black beveled edge instead of a white one which adds an extra borderline for no extra effort.

It looks expensive and is now officially POSH.

Alternatively, you could buy a sheet of watercolor paper or a regular tinted card.

Measure up accurately and cut the aperture larger than the image itself.

I typically leave a 5-10mm border.

Again an extra borderline will add some style and there are two ways you could do it.

Firstly you can use a double mount, with black card or paper beneath and the tinted paper on top.

Make the top card aperture 2mm bigger all-round.

You have to be super accurate.

For the second method, use one sheet but draw a black line 5mm around and parallel to the aperture edge.

Pencil the line very lightly and then use a permanent pen.

Test the pen first on a piece of scrap in case it bleeds.

A pigment ink 0.5mm pen will work.

If you mess up, oh well who cares? it’s as cheap as chips. Do it again.

Kit needed:

  • Bevel mount cutter (think twice}
  • Cutting mat (optional)
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Pigment ink drawing pen 0.5mm
  • Sharp Knife

Standard Frame and Mount/Mat Board Sizes

Buying a ready-made frame can save you a ton of cash and if you are an artist it’s the perfect way to make a bigger profit.

Framing an elephant print on a budget. Picture hanging on a wall.

Use the examples below to check these commercial sizes and match the apertures to your print dimensions.

Frames with Aperture sizes

This guide will help you save you both time and cash. Win-win.

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2 thoughts on “A Quick Guide to Framing on a Budget (Info Without the Fluff)”

  1. I like that you said that if I’m in need of picture frames but I only have a limited budget, I should try to look for ones in thrift stores, flea markets, and charity shops. My best friend, who’s a professional photographer, sent me two gorgeous prints that I want to mount in our living. In the future, when I have the cash, I plan to take it to a picture framing service downtown. But for now, I’ll stick with your tip and buy secondhand frames and just give it some TLC to make it look brand new. Thanks a lot!

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