Basic Framing

Framing your images for display at home or for competition doesn’t need to be difficult or intimidating if you know a few of the basics.

UPDATE: A free instructional video hosted my me demonstrating the following is now on my blog at this link

Arts and crafts supply stores, as well as some mass market retailers, carry frame kits in standard sizes. These kits generally consist of a frame, a pre-cut mat, glass, a backer, and some kind of hanging hardware.

A number of online picture framing retailers offer made-to-order custom frame kits which offer more sizing, matting, moulding, and glazing options.

Many photo competitions require wire hangers to be attached on the back. This is in order to facilitate hanging the artwork in galleries. The store that sells the frames may also sell wire picture hanging kits. If not, many hardware stores carry them.

Before you go the store or place your order online, measure the image and the paper as described below. You will need these dimensions for picking out the right size frame kit.

Usually mats will be pre-cut to ½” less than the stated size in each direction. For example, if the stated size is 5” x 7” the mat will be cut with a window which measures 4-1/2” x 6-1/2”. This is to allow for the mat to overlay the image by ¼” on all sides. This is standard framing industry practice. You should verify this dimension with a ruler before purchasing the kit.


·        Measure the image height and width, do not include any border that surrounds the image.

·        Measure the height and width of the paper that contains the image.

·        Look for a kit where the window of the mat is ½” smaller in height and ½” smaller in width than the image dimensions. In this case the mat will cover ¼” of the image on all sides.

·        Special Case: If there is at least ½” border on all sides of the image you have the option to get a mat whose window is ½” larger in height and ½” larger in width than the image dimensions. In this case ¼” of the white border around the image will be showing on all sides. This is nice if you sign and/or title your images in the margin. However, it will only look right if the width of the exposed border is the same all around.

Needed Items

·        Frame kit as described above

·        Clean lint-free gloves for handling the photo, the mat, and the glass.

·        Glass cleaner

·        Clean white cotton cloth

·        Tape or photo corners, depending on your mounting preference

·        Wire hanging hardware kit (unless already on frame)

·        Drill with bit the right size to make holes for the screws in the wire hanging kit

·        Screwdriver, probably a Phillips head, depending on the screws in the kit

·        Hair dryer (optional)


Once you have the kit, find a clean workspace where you can spread out.

CAUTION: There is glass inside the kit so take proper precautions to keep from cutting yourself or others. Also, the edges of the mat will be sharp so take proper care handling it as well. Many accidents in the framing industry result from glass cuts but many also result from paper cuts from edges of the mats and from handling and mounting picture wire and hardware.  Take proper precautions handling the tools, especially any power tools, and follow all manufacturer safety instructions. Be careful and use good judgement.

Hinge Mount the Photo to the Mat

1 - Lay the photo face down with the top edge furthest from you.

2 - Apply a 2 inch strip of tape at the top of the back side of the photo about 1/3 of the way in from both sides.

3 - Turn the image face up (there will be two strips of tape partially protruding from the top and the sticky side will now be facing up.

4 - Hold the mat over the photo while keeping it high enough for the tape to not stick yet.

5a –Carefully position the mat over the photo in such a way so that it covers about ¼” of the image on all sides.

5b – (For the Special Case mentioned above where the mat window is larger than image dimensions) Carefully position the mat over the photo in such a way so that there is about ¼” of the border exposed on all sides. Take care to make the borders uniform in size.

6 - Press down so that the tape sticks to the back of the mat.

7 - Lift up the mat and photo and check the alignment. You may need to repeat the previous steps until you get it lined up.

8 - Turn the mat/photo face down and press the tape so that it sticks securely.

9 - Place short strips of tape across the tape stuck on the top of the mat at a 90-degree angle to reinforce it. Repeat with the ends of the tape stuck to the back of the photo.

Clean Glass and Reassemble

10 – Clean both sides of the glass with glass cleaner and a clean cotton cloth. Wipe from center to edge. A hair dryer may be useful to remove any lint or dust remaining on the glass.

11 - Carefully reassemble the frame kit and close up the back.

Mount the eyelets for the wire hanging kit

CAUTION: Follow all manufacturer safety rules during the setup and operation of any power tools and use them only under adult supervision.

12 – Make sure that the frame is thick enough to accommodate the screws. The positions where you will be drilling the holes must be thicker than the length of the screws. If not, do not proceed or the frame will be ruined when the drill and/or screws protrude though the font side of the frame. If there isn’t enough depth you will need to use shorter screws.

13 – Identify the top edge of your framed photo and place it face down on the table in front of you with the top furthest away from you. With a tape measure or ruler, measure down about 1/3 of the way from top to bottom on the left side of the frame. Mark the spot on the frame with a pencil. Place a mark on the right side of the frame in the same relative position.

14 – Determine the size drill bit that will be slightly smaller than the diameter of the screws in the wire hanging kit. Mount it in your drill.

15 – Mark the drill bit so you know when to stop drilling: Hold the screw up to the end of the drill bit and wrap a piece of tape around the drill bit to mark the desired depth for the holes. The tape should look like a flag wrapped around the drill bit. The holes should be drilled to a depth that is slightly less than the length of the screw.

16 - Drill the holes in the left and right sides of the frame. BE CAREFUL to not drill too deep or the drill will come out the front of the frame.

17 – Using the screwdriver, mount the wire hooks on the back of the frame with the screws from the kit.

18 – Thread the picture wire through the loops, fold it back and twist it around itself at both ends. Gloves can help to keep from being poked with the ends of the wire.