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Understanding Picture Framing Costs


We live in a ready made world. Almost everything we consume is off the shelf and on demand. Clothing, electronics, even cars that were once ordered with special options are now driven right off the showroom floor. The act of planning, designing and then patiently waiting for a custom picture frame to be made is anomalous to the way we shop. Yet, almost everyone, at some point, will have to do exactly that. Understanding why picture frames cost what they do is just as important to research as the style and design of the frame. Go through any home decor magazine and you'll find great examples of frames for every taste and environment but no explanation for the wide range in costs. You have a pretty good idea how much something will cost before you buy it and picture framing should be no different. To unlock the mystery behind frame prices it helps to think of it as four parts that make up the total package.

The first part is the design phase. This includes all the work you do before walking into a frame shop. Let's use an example; you enjoy photography and have decided to start collecting. You've been to a few galleries so you know what you like and have a pretty good idea how much you can spend on a photograph. You've also seen the photos framed in a couple of different ways. This is the beginning of the design process and so far you have done all the work; why should it have any bearing on the price? It's all about understanding, and the more you know the more your custom frame will cost.

The art dealer has given you some advice on custom framing, and you know the difference in price between the framed and unframed photo. The gallery frame is nice enough but you think you can do better. So off you go, new photo in hand, to a local framer. You research framers in your area to find someone who can do the kind of work you're looking for. You are pretty sure it is not the guy who promises a frame in one hour. You have seen good framing at the galleries and you are not willing to settle for less. You go to a shop that is highly recommended and the first thing they ask is "what do you have in mind?" It Is the first of many questions a good frame shop will ask. Your answers will help them guide you to the correct choice and along the way explain differences in frames, mounting materials and assembly. The framer is now your partner in the design process.

The second part is important but not necessarily the most expensive part of the package. It is, however, the first thing we see, the frame. For a purist like me, a custom frame is put together as raw wood and hand finished with stains, lacquer or gold leaf. Contemporary artwork like photography may call for a metal frame; in that case aluminum, brass or steel is welded together at the corners and hand polished, lacquered or finished with a powder coat. The alternative is a machined pre-finished moulding that is cut to size and joined; metal frames are made of anodized aluminum sections that are joined using hardware in the corners. Clearly there will be a big difference in price between these two methods. Even though you did your homework, you didn't realize how much the difference would be; but, you know the gallery frames had finished corners and that is what you want. Your research is pointing you to a better and more expensive frame.

The third part is more important than the frame and, in the case of works on paper, can be more costly. The materials used inside the frame can actually make or break the artwork. Your art dealer gave you a primer on conservation framing; but, a professional framer will walk you through options in mat board, mounting and glazing. Understanding the PH value of mat board and backing is especially important when framing photography, watercolors, prints and drawings. Every medium requires special care and unique mounting techniques. Glass, Plexiglas, conservation glass, reflection free glass and UV Plexiglas represent some of your glazing options. Do your homework and ask questions. The choices you make are not just aesthetic but conservatory, and they will have a significant influence on the cost of your frame.

Finally the most important part of custom framing is a matter of trust. Do you trust your framer to properly handle your artwork? You are commissioning work that should last beyond your lifetime. Your framer should have experience aside from the nuances of art on paper, or oil on canvas. How do you put a price tag on experience? The simple answer is you can not.

Experience is value added by craftsmen and women who have handled many different works of art, by artisans who have carved and gilded thousands of frames and have learned what can and will go wrong. Experience is the corner stone of any well-made picture frame and it is your responsibility to seek out a true professional who can meet your needs. You've thought about the artwork you enjoy and researched what to buy and where to buy it. I've briefly explained the importance of frame construction, archival materials and methods of assembly. Now you must carefully consider someone who will care as much about your art as you do. The framer and frame you select need not be the most expensive; but, hopefully you understand, they will not be the least.

Adrian Algañaraz

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