Framing Pictures

Framing pictures is important, not only for the protection of the artwork but also because the right frame can really enhance our appreciation of it and can transform the look of a room.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to framing pictures so start with what you like and use these picture framing tips and guidelines to help you make the right decision.

Style of Frame

The frame you choose should, first and foremost, enhance the picture aesthetically.  Where it will hang is a consideration and ideally you want a frame that will match the decor in your home but its first job is to make the picture look good.

There are a large number of framing styles to choose from, depending on the type of picture you want to frame:

Gold Frames

Gold frames were used traditionally in the 18th and 19th centuries because they caught the candle light and reflected it back into the painting.  Gold can be a good choice when framing pictures such as still lifes in oils, delicate watercolour landscapes or drawings of plants and flowers.


Silver Frames

Silver frames, made from aluminium or metal, look good on more contemporary works and can be ideal for photographs and posters as well as abstract art.

Black Frames

Framing pictures with a broad black frame is a good option for works with geometric patterns.  Some of the earliest Cubist paintings were framed in flat black frames. Narrow black frames work extremely well for black and white photographs or pencil or charcoal drawings. 

White Frames

Framing pictures in white frames is a popular choice for contemporary artworks.  White frames create a clean, uncluttered, neutral effect and are ideal for showing off colorful abstract art paintings as well as reproduction prints and posters. 

Natural Wood Frames

Natural wood frames in oak, ash or pine are also great for modern artworks. Pine is ideal for simple pictures and children’s art and oak and ash are ideally suited to larger works.

Natural wood frames  treated with a color wash to get a grey/blue, greenish or white effect with the grain of the wood showing are also available. Darker wood such as mahogany, rosewood or walnut have a more serious tone and can be good for portraits or pictures with a sports or equestrian theme.

Wood frames painted in bright colors are perfect for contemporary posters and prints if you want to create a more relaxed, fun, look.

Framing Pictures Frame Styles
Choosing a frame style radically alters the impact of an image. These frame styles were previewed using an interactive framing tool available from Pro-Framer via Flock Photography

Shape of Frame

The shape of frame will depend on the picture. Experts tend to recommend a frame which leads into the painting (slopes inwards) for landscapes as this shape of frame enhances perspective.

For paintings where perspective is not relevant, such as a still life, a  frame that slopes away from the picture is recommended.

Modern paintings work best in frames which are flat and level with the artwork. Angular, hard-edged frames are recommended for pictures with more formal subjects, such as portraits or dynamic abstract art pieces. Rounded edges are recommended for pictures with ‘softer’, more relaxing themes.

When framing pictures, art collectors often mix and match frame styles very successfully so take a look at how they do it and go for what works for you. Books such as ‘At Home With Art’ are an excellent source of inspiration.

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The Mat/Matte

When framing your picture, you also have to give some thought to the mat (the board that surrounds the picture inside the frame) you use.

The mat ensures that the picture is well supported and protected from bending and creasing.  It also creates a space between the artwork and the glass in the frame, which allows it to ‘breathe’, particularly important for original works of art.

The mat should be chosen to match the colours in the picture and not the colors in the room it’s going to hang in.  Mats in paler colors work best.  Darker mats tend to overwhelm a picture but they can sometimes enhance a delicate, pale work.

The standard width of mat is generally 3”-4” on the bottom and 3” on the top and sides but it may be narrower or wider, depending on the size of the picture being framed.  (Framers make the mat wider at the bottom to counteract an optical illusion that makes the top edge appear heavier).

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Framing Abstract Art

Some abstract art is better left unframed and in fact some artists recommend that their work remains unframed and that its colors and shapes be allowed to flow into the room and become a part of it.  This is possible if the work is painted on a very large canvas and can make a bold statement in a room.

Other artists, such as British abstract artist, Howard Hodgkin, feel the frame is so important that they incorporate it into the painting and make it an integral part of the artwork.

If you are buying an original piece of abstract art, it is useful to get some guidelines from the artist or the gallery as to how they think the piece should be framed.

Angular, hard-edged white frames are often a good choice for colorful abstract prints or posters although a pale natural wood can also look good.

Some bold contemporary pieces need the strong definition provided by a black frame.

Large abstract works are often encased in a narrow, hard edged natural wood frame which sits flush with the canvas.

Box frames are the only solution for mixed media collages and they are also great for showing off very small artworks which benefit from being ‘set back’ from the viewer.

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Ready-made, made-to-order or DIY picture framing?


Ready-made frames are perfect for photographs and reproduction prints and posters and for displaying children’s artwork.  Buy ones with a mat included for a more professional look.

If you’re buying art online, you have the option of buying your print or poster already framed and can choose from a wide selection and check out how the finished product will look before you buy.

We liked this interactive framing tool which allows you to upload a digital image, preview it before buying the frame. Check it out at Pro-Framer via Flock Photography


If you’ve invested in original art, go to a reputable framer and have a frame made-to-order.  It can be helpful to have some ideas about what you want before you speak to the framer so, if you can, get some framing advice from the gallery or the artist first. 

If that’s not possible, spend some time with the framer going through your options and make sure you like their suggestions. It’s an expensive process so it’s important to get it right. 

DIY picture framing

If you’re interested in DIY picture framing there are some excellent books available on the subject and a range of good online resources to point you in the right direction.

If you just want to have a go at something simple, there are a number of starter kits you can buy which will teach you the basics. Take a look at the resources in the right hand column.

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