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As a professional photographer, customers who purchase your prints may come to you for advice on framing it—after all, you are the artist. To better serve these customers, you should be able to talk about the final end product: the mounted and framed print.
Brush up on what potential customers may ask when they purchase a print instead of sending them to the nearest frame shop. Not only will you expand your own knowledge, you’ll present yourself to customers as the professional photographer that you are.
Photographers can talk endlessly about depth of field, lenses, ISO, and so on. Like photography, framing has its own special set of terminology with which you may not be familiar. Before researching anything else, review some of the most important terms in framing.
This type of framing seeks to slow the deterioration of artwork due to environmental factors such as light and moisture.
True conservation framing dictates that the mounted photo must be cleanly removable from the mount board. Museums must adhere to conservation guidelines, even though all acid free materials are used in these frames. Acids and other pollutants will eventually penetrate the frame from the air and walls and contaminate the frame, at which time the artwork must be removed and reframed with fresh materials.
For most of us, such extreme conservation rules are unnecessary, although care should be taken to ensure general household items such as rubber cement are not used for mounting. These items may contain chemicals that will harm your artwork immediately. There are several inexpensive mounting products available today that are safe for your artwork. Some products such as photo corners, mounting corners, and hinging tapes and tissues are all safe products for mounting your artwork.
The glass or acrylic that is placed in front of the photo to protect it. Both acrylic and glass have their pros and cons, so it is up to the end user to decide which option best suits their needs.
A layer, made of cotton rag, wood pulp, or sometimes other materials, placed between the photograph and the glazing. The mat features an opening or window to view the print, and is used to protect the artwork and provide visual interest. Mat board lies on top of the framed work, adding an extra, protective layer between your art or photograph and the glass, which means the glazing will not directly touch the framed piece.
Also sometimes called backing board, this is the board upon which the artwork is mounted. These boards are available in foamcore or acid-free materials for conservation purposes.
The act of attaching a print to a mount board. There are different methods of mounting, including hinging, dry, wet, and pressure sensitive.
Dry mounting affixes the artwork to a rigid or semi-rigid backing. It is designed to be used with photos, posters, and water-sensitive artwork.
Conservation mounting uses an acid-free mount board as well as hinges and acid-free tape or adhesive designed to keep acid from getting through to the artwork.
A less expensive process that is similar in nature to dry mounting is pressure-sensitive mounting. It does not require heating or special equipment that can damage the photograph.
If you prefer not to use pressure mounting but want to avoid using heat, wet mounting is right for you. A wet glue or paste is applied to the mount board before the photograph is put in place.
Photo corners are a great archival photo mount for picture framing since they allow you to mount photos to mat board without any adhesive coming into contact with the print. Not all photo corners are created equal. Make sure you do not use photo corners that contain PVC plasticizers or acidic compounds. The two most common types of archival quality picture corners are made from polyester film, more commonly know as Mylar (Dupont Mylar Type D) and polypropylene.
The Mounting Techniques
Arguably, the hardest part of the framing process is mounting the artwork. As mentioned, there are a few different methods of mounting, all of which feature their own pros and cons. Choosing the mounting technique—hinging, wet and dry, pressure sensitive, or photo corners—depends on the customer’s preference. If they ask which method to use, counter with a few questions of your own:
- Will you do the mounting yourself? If so, museum mounting may be too labor intensive.
- Would you prefer to be able to change the mounting board? If so, dry and wet mounting are not good options as they are irreversible.
- Are you worried about preserving the print (i.e. no fading or crackling)? If so, museum mounting (photo corners or hinging tape) is the best option. Remember to use archival mount board and mat board in order to keep the print pristine.
The Mat Board
Mat boards provide protection—provided they are of a conservation grade—as well as visual interest. The acidity (the pH value) of the mat also affects how quickly the picture will deteriorate over time. Cotton rag mat board is the best type you can get, as it is completely acid free, so it is the best choice to preserve prints. Customers can forgo the mat board, of course; if they choose to use mat board, they can also “double” the mat board (use another color of mat board and lay it on the first) to add more depth and color.
Keep in mind the mat board should complement the image, not distract from it. Customers should choose a neutral color that goes well with the colors of the image. Often the best choices are white, cream, light blues, greens and grays. If the customer decides to use a double mat, they can play around with more colors—though the focus should still be on the photograph, not the border.
If you are using mat color other than a neutral, it is usually preferable to not match the dominant color in the artwork. Instead, select a color that is only slightly featured in the artwork and try to match the mat color. This will help the color “pop” more, adding a nice effect.
The print does not have to be centered in the mat board opening; it can be bottom weighted, which means the border at the bottom of the frame is larger than at the top. The visible mat board should not overshadow the print, nor should it look too small. About 15 to 20 percent of the smallest dimension of the image should be the width of the mat’s border around the print, but sometimes a very wide mat board will make a better statement.
These options all depend on the personal taste of the buyer of the photograph; help them make this decision by offering your advice as to how the mat board can be used to enhance—not hide—the print.
Many photographers default to slim, black metal frames for photographs, as they are streamlined and simple. However, some prints will benefit from a different style frame. So don’t just answer, “A metal one” when a customer asks, “What kind of frame should I use?” Think about the composition of the print and visualize what kind of frame in which it would look the best.
- Wood frames: Picture frames made from wood are the traditional choice for many homeowners, as they also add a sense of warmth. The customer may want this look if they are looking to create a “homey” feeling.
- Metal frames: These are often the choice of museums and gallery showing due to their simplicity. Metal frames are available in matte and “shiny” surfaces, as well as in a variety of colors and widths. Metal frames are often easier to disassemble.
- Floater frames: Once reserved for canvas, there are now floater frames (frames in which the artwork is “wrapped” around the edges so that it appears to float. These are best for large prints, and are available in metal or wood.
Wood frame from Frame Destination
The options for glazing that are available serve very different purposes. Whether those purposes are important is up to the customer. Glass and acrylic (Acrylite or Plexiglas) glazing both have advantages and disadvantages, which is why they are both still viable options. If a customer asks you which glazing option is better, it is important to let them know that it depends on the situation. Ask them:
- How large is the frame? If it is very large, acrylic is better as it is lightweight.
- Who will be cleaning the glazing? Acrylic glazing requires special care when cleaning; glass does not.
- Will the frame be moved often? Acrylic is lighter but prone to scratching. Glass is heavier but is more resistant to scratching.
- Where will the print be displayed (i.e., will there be a lot of light or temperature changes? Both acrylic and glass are available with special coatings.
Other glazing factors to consider are UV protection and glare potential and protection. The choice to use the optional UV protection on acrylic matters most if you need to conserve your art piece. A properly protected acrylic glaze should provide about 98% protection from direct sunlight. Another factor is decreasing glare and reflection. Non-glare, which has a single side chemically ‘etched’ to diffuse light or anti-reflective, which has an optical coating applied to it. However non-glare glazing reduces the brilliance of your artwork to your work, decreasing the clarity and color with a flatness to the glaze. Anti-reflective coating is more expensive but the clarity of your work is not affected.
Convey to your customers that the glazing is one of the most important parts of the framing package, offering them advice as to which will protect and match the print best.
Layers of framing: foamboard, print, acrylic glazing, and wooden frame from Frame Destination
Get Some Advice From a Fellow Professional
Beyond doing some research, visit your local custom frame shop. These professional framers usually welcome photographers as new friends, sharing valuable knowledge that you may not find in a book. Ask them for advice in mounting prints depending on the substrate, choosing mat board, and selecting the right frame style. Once you have those key partnerships in place, you and your customer may find that the end product—a framed print—looks even better than before.