What Are Custom Picture Frames?
It starts with communication.
A bespoke frame is all about discovering what suits the art. We consider everything from the ground up. Where will it be displayed? What level of protection is needed? What your goals are for the project?
There are many questions and details that can guide the process. The outcome is a frame entirely customized to you. Something a world apart from a ready-made frame.
How Are Custom Frames Made?
There’s such a wide range of materials, techniques and approaches we can take to presenting your art. To give you an idea here are a few considerations:
Reversible Fixing Methods
The work needs to be securely fixed in place whilst hiding all traces of the methods used. It’s our preference to always use fully reversible methods of fixing the artwork. A few examples of reversible fixing methods are:
Do you want to see the edges of the artwork? If so, museum tagging with Japanese archival art paper lets you see the whole work, edges and all.
The artwork could also be professionally stitched in cases where we’re dealing with clothing and textiles. This gives a very impressive result where the art can either be effortlessly floating, or fixed into a specific position.
We’ve used stitching before for items like textile art, wedding dresses, t-shirts, caps, banners etc.
This is particularly useful for ceramic pieces. Often a basic holding structure is made (see below) and the piece is fixed in place with special, non-acidic silicon to safely secure the art in place. This is fully reversible and non-damaging.
When the art is 3d and an unusual shape or particularly delicate, we’ll often construct a special holding device to ensure the art doesn’t move.
We’ve done this before for wedding dresses which require extensive support structures to give the item full body when framed.
Another example is these ceramic dolls which had very delicate edges. We used a combination of techniques to ensure that they would be safe during transit and rehanging.
Permanent Fixing Methods
Sometimes it’s perfectly acceptable to use permanent fixing methods. For example, if we’re printing an image for you it can always be reprinted in the future. Here’s a selection of non-reversible fixing methods for artwork you might consider:
Dry mounting is a process popular with large photographs and sometimes posters. It involves using a special machine that heats the art up and applies a vacuum. The art is placed onto a glue layer which sits on a piece of mount board. The glue layer melts and the vacuum creates a very smooth, professional appearance. Sometimes other methods of affixing photographs can give a mottled texture of the backing board that shows through into the photo. That’s not the case here.
Non Acidic Glue
We tend not to use this very often because they are usually better alternatives (like lamination, below). It involves applying a special glue to the reverse of the piece to affix it to a backing board.
We use a 1.4m laminator to process large works. The rollers apply heat and pressure to the art. There are a lot a subtle techniques to be used here, but they all boil down to either sticking the art down to a backing board or applying a protective lamination film to the front of the art.
Some examples of how this can be used are:
- Sticking a poster or print to foam core and applying a protective lamination to the front. A frame can added to the outside for a very cost effective method of displaying paper works. This is also very light as it doesn’t require glazing.
- Fixing a commercial banner or office decoration to a sheet of DiBond with a protective layer added on top. DiBond is a special polyurethane core sandwiched between 2 layers of thin aluminium. This material is notable because it’s heat and weather resistant. When finished the image or art can be displayed indoors or outdoors.
Mount board can be of several qualities, and used in a few different ways. All our mount board is conservation standard to protect your artwork. There are a selection of colours and qualities in the material depending on what look you’re going for. 100% cotton rag paper can be used for a clean, high end museum visual.
Mount board can be used to tag the art to if you want to see the edges of your piece.
Or we can do an “over mount”, which is where a window is cut into a piece of mount board using our professional Gunnar mount cutter.
The final option is what’s called a close mount. This is where the art go right up to the inside edge of the frame.
In the first two cases, mount is used to create a visual break from the frame and the art. This negative space enhances the art and allows it to breath.
Frame profiles can be grouped in to 3 sections.
In addition to frame profiles available from moulding stockists, (as you’ll see for 90% of picture frames in the UK) we can create our own mouldings from woods such as Tulipwood, Beech, American black walnut, hard maple, oak and ash.
All of the wood we use is sourced from sustainable forests, where at least one new tree is planted for every one removed.
This is the majority of what we work with because it allows so much flexibility. Together we choose a wood then apply a finish to complement the work.
The range of finishes available can enhance subtle aspects of the wood grain, depth of colour or shape of the profile. See the Finish section for ideas in this area.
Off The Shelf Mouldings
Also referred to as off-the-rack, these profiles have a wood core and are finished in a wide range of effects.
They’re more budget friendly than hand-finished profiles but are not as flexible in what finishes you can apply.
Often used to achieve a very thin looking frame where a wooden profile would not be strong enough.
Available in a selection of (usually solid) colours. A new finish has recently been developed however that uses a real wood veneer on top of the aluminium profile. The effect is very pleasing and can be used as a “wood” frame in many situations.
This is what can take an average frame into a thing of beauty. It can help accent particular colours or features in the art to create a more powerful whole.
Below are some of the techniques we use. Some can be combined in interesting ways for more subtle effects.
We use a specialist spray booth to apply atomised paint to your frame in several layers. The process involves sequential steps of sanding and new paint coats, starting with an undercoat.
The effect is a modern gallery look with closed-corner frames. For most frames you can see where the sections of moulding come together in the corners. Sprayed frames give a clean, understated look that works particularly well for box frames or float mounted art.
We can customize the colour used in the spraying process as well as the sheen used in the lacquer. The lacquer is a final spraying process added for extra protection to the paint and you can choose the “sheen” level used. A higher sheen gives a glossier look and provides more protection against bumps and scratches.
A 5-10% sheen is often used to give protection whilst maintaining a matte appearance.
Gilding is the process of applying metal leaf to a profile. The metal can be gold, silver, platinum or aluminium. This is a time intensive and specialist process but the result is spectacular.
The whole profile doesn’t have to be gilded. Often clients request partial gilding. This can either be in the form of a highlight strip on a particular area of the profile, or as a rub through effect.
The rub through effect is where gold leaf is applied then slightly rubbed away to give a dynamic aged patina. This can give a touch of warmth to help accentuate aspects of the art and bring the piece together.
Due to the increased cost of the materials and time required in gilding, a cost effective alternative is using either gold or silver gilding cream to achieve an effect close to that of genuine leaf at a fraction of the cost.
Often used with raw woods to give depth and customize the colour to the art. Different woods take stains in surprisingly different ways. Some woods accentuate the grain because that area of the wood soaks up more stain than the other areas.
Depending on the wood, some stains are sprayed on in out spray booth and others are applied by hand.
We also sometimes apply several different stains to achieve an interesting glow through effect.
Hand painting gives a well-known effect that can really set off some styles of frame. It can be used to achieve a traditional or rustic look that sprayed frames can’t.
Due to the use of a brush other multi layers effects can be used such as combining brush types and sizes or using a stippling effect.
Framing wax can be used on bare woods to give a professional finish and a touch of warmth. It enhances the colour of the wood and gives a layer of protection.
Gesso is a traditional material that has a certain romance surrounding it.
The material itself is a special mixture containing glue made from rabbit skin. This is created as a by-product of the food industry.
The particular ingredients and their proportions used are often closely guarded as industry secrets, as slight changes in the composition yield very different finishes.
The mixture is either painted or sprayed onto the frame, depending on what level of finish you’re going for. Spraying is required for totally flawless finish, and hand painting for a more traditional look. The traditional look is often preferred with gesso.
The effect is a hard, almost ceramic like effect that will now take a range of paints, stains and finishes very well.
If your work has depth to like an oil painting or 3d object, we’ll often use glass spacers. Of course this only applies if you’re having the piece glazed.
Glass spacers are essential to keep the work from contacting the glass. The spacers can be finished in the same variety options as the main profile, but are often left a neutral colour.
Frame slips are essential small frames that sit just inside the main frame. They give either embellishment or contract to both the frame and the artwork.
There are a sometimes ranges of frame slips that are created to compliment off the shelf mouldings but we can also create our own to match any style you like.
The depth of the main profile needs to be considered when using a slip, as the frame may need more overall room to account for the slip.
There are 3 main groups of glazing to choose from, each with several quality variants.
Size & Features
For glass and acrylic there are several common considerations to consider. They are thickness and type of glazing.
The thinnest glazing we use is 2mm and the thickest is 6mm. The reason for using a particular thickness is a combination of what types of glazing is available in what sizes, but mainly the size of your art. If we’re framing a large piece of work we’ll need to use a thicker glazing to ensure it stays stable.
To gloss over all the sub varieties, glass and acrylic are available in 3 main types. Standard, anti-reflective and museum.
Each brand comes with its own list of features and we’ll be happy to help you select one that matches the features you need. We can also advice about the subtle characteristics of each glazing type. For example each of the high end glazing’s have their own slight colour hue inherent in the manufacturing process required to achieve the various protections.
Some the features available are:
70-98% UV protection
For small frames we tend to use 2 or 3mm “float glass” which is the standard glass used in the framing industry. It’s very budget friendly but does contain a lot of iron giving it a slight green hue. It also causes a lot of reflections if a bright light source is opposite the frame. Finally it provides around 50% UV protection simply because there is an additional layer of material between the art and sun which refracts some of light.
There are several more visually appealing options to enhance your art when it comes to glass. Simply going with a basic anti reflective glass makes a world of difference to a frame. Anti-reflective glass is also much more cost effective than a similar product in acrylic because of the manufacturing procedures involved.
Glass is not used on very large frames. The larger the frame, the thicker the glass would need to be, and you’d end up with spectacularly heavy frames with glass.
Finally, glass is not used when shipping a frame any distance. The glass has too high a chance of breaking in transit and damaging the art. Also couriers do not like dealing with or insuring frames using glass.
Acrylic has several differences from glass, and this affects the situations you’ll want to use acrylic in.
The obvious one is that acrylic is naturally shatter resistant. If it gets knocked in transit or whilst being displayed it won’t break.
A related consideration is the thickness issue mentioned above. We need to ensure that a thick enough glazing is used for the size of art. With glass, if we didn’t, it can shatter. But with acrylic it can cause a wobble or warping effect. Whilst this doesn’t damage the art in any way, it’s undesirable as it reflects the light differently and can be a distraction.
Another consideration is price. In general, acrylic glazing is more expensive than glass, comparing like for like. The difference isn’t much for standard acrylic vs standard glass. The real increase comes when we start using Opium acrylic. This is the top-of-the-line, anti-scratch, anti-reflection, full UV protection product that top museums use to protect valuable pieces of art.
For the very best acrylic is can be thousands of pounds for a single sheet, so it’s something you’ll go for only if you want the best.
Whilst already mentioned above, we classify lamination as a type of glazing as it protects the artwork and has direct contact with the environment.
It can be a cost effective method for some types of poster based art. The visual cost is a slight dampening of the colour strength however. This dampening is something that could be mitigated with high quality glass or acrylic, but not with lamination.
Backing boards are used to protect the back of your art and create a dust seal from the elements. We primarily use an acid free, special framing backing board. It’s similar to MDF but is easier to work with and doesn’t contain formaldehyde like normal MDF.
The formaldehyde in MDF isn’t going to damage humans, but the acids in the board can leak out and damage your artwork, causing stains, loss of colour and foxing. So of course we never use this.
Features / Character items
If you have items related to your artwork which add to the provenance or character these can be attached to the back for provenance. For example, we can attach certificates of authenticity, notes from the artist or other comments to the back.
Taking this one step further, a very nice touch is to create a viewing window in the back of the frame. Exactly what this involves depends on the type of frame and its construction. However the basic premise is an acrylic window built into the back of the frame to allow you to view the back of the artwork.
This is particularly effective for pieces that have essential information on the reverse. Ceramic items, certain paintings or clothing can have signatures of valuable information on the back, and being able to view this really adds to the quality of the frame.
A sub frame is a re-enforcing beam built into the back of a frame.
They’re useful for 3 reasons.
- They provide extra support for medium to large frames. In many cases a sub frame is essential for oversized work.
- The shape of the sub frame facilitates easy hanging with a split batten. More on this hanging method is mentioned below.
- It creates a much more complete, solid and perfect product. We tend to be perfectionist about the products we craft, and it’s pleasing to create things that reflect our values.
This is our preferred method of hanging artwork.
You’ll need to attach a special shape hanging beam to your wall, which we can do if installing for you.
When done, the opposite shape beam on the frame slides into place, ensuring a perfectly hang that will never come off the wall. It’s easy to lift the frame off for rehanging elsewhere as well.
Strings and wires are hung from pins or nails that can come loose. The frames also require perfect positing to ensure a horizontal hang. (However a tip if you have to use this method is always use 2 pins/nails to hang from. It gives a safe guard against one coming loose and makes it much easier to achieve a straight hang).
When Should You Use a Bespoke Picture Frame?
- You require exacting control over the visual details.
- The work requires special attention in its framing. For example if there are special size, preservation or weight requirements.
- You’re looking for really special item that will last for years and attract comments from viewers.