A shadowbox frame featuring a hinged inkjet print by photographer James Nicholls. In this case, the edges of the print have been carefully torn to create a deckled edge, and it floats inside the frame, which gives it a very interesting look and feel. Photo (c) Andrew Darlow

Post by Andrew Darlow

In Part I of this two-part series, I covered some framing tips related to standardizing frame sizes and/or styles. For this article, I will offer three more tips that can save time and money without sacrificing quality.

1. Purchase or create a shadowbox with spacers instead of mats.

One of my favorite types of framing (especially for prints over 16×20 inches) is the shadowbox. Though usually used for framing items like medals and sports jerseys, I consider a shadowbox to be any frame with a space between the backing board and the glass or acrylic. Spacers are placed along the inside edges of the frame and are generally made from matboard, foam board, or plastic. A print can then be mounted to or just placed up against the backing of the frame to create a very clean and simple presentation. This is also a good option when the artwork is so large that it exceeds the size of commercially available mats.

I really like the look and feel of the particular approach shown in the photo above because of the way in which the print appears to float on the backing board inside the frame. Pre-made shadowboxes are sold in many sizes, and they can also be created from traditional frames, as long as the frame depth is wide enough. One company who sells high-quality and relatively inexpensive spacers is FrameTek Inc.

To investigate this technique further, and to learn some of the ways to properly mount a print like this (including an explanation of a technique called the “pedestal float” in which the art sits on a piece of acid-free foam or other material), search for the term “float mounting” in a search engine.

You can order acid-free pre-cut or custom-cut mats from local frame shops or online. Quantity orders will almost always result in significant discounts. My preference for most of my photo and inkjet prints is to use a single 8-ply rag mat (either bright white or natural white, which is slightly more yellow in tone). Having just two mat options also helps to ensure that I have mats in stock, and it allows me to buy in bulk.

3. Use heavier mats and allow space around your prints.

One of the main reasons I use 8-ply mats (about twice the thickness of a typical 4-ply mat) is because they help keep my prints flatter in a frame when placed under a mat. Another tip that can be used in conjunction with heavier mats is to allow a few inches of white space around your prints. The extra white area allows the print to sit more securely behind the mat compared with a print that’s framed with very little extra space around it. For example, you could make a print with a printed area of 11×14 inches, but with an overall size of 13×19 inches. That print can then be taped securely along the print’s top edge and affixed to a 16 x 20-inch (or other size) mat.

4. Use heavy papers to avoid the need for mounting. Printing on heavier papers (over 250 gsm) helps reduce the chances of a print “buckling” over time under a mat or in a frame that has spacers. Buckling looks like waves in a print, and can occur over time in a framed print, especially when hanging in an environment with considerable changes in temperatures and/or humidity. By not having to mount prints, that’s one less cost to incur, and you will avoid the chances of damage to your prints during the mounting process. Also, collectors and art conservators generally prefer to purchase artwork that is “reversible,” or able to be returned to its original unmounted state. If you do choose to have your work mounted, it makes sense to consider a process that’s reversible.

Speaking of conservation, always consider the materials that are used when framing any work because they can have a significant effect on the longevity of your prints. This includes the paper upon which your work is printed, the inks that are used (if applicable), and all framing materials. The most common framing materials are mats, backing boards and acrylic or glass.