Choosing Between Custom and Ready-Made Frames

woodworker making picture frames

by Ryan Faherty
Lead Framer, Tribeca Printworks

Should I Order a Custom Picture Frame for my Photos & Artwork?

Framing photos, prints and artwork can completely transform your piece and add a finished look to a room. While there are many aesthetic benefits to framing artwork, frames also add a layer of protection, allowing you to enjoy your pieces for years to come.

Once you decide to frame your artwork, though, you have to choose between buying a ready-made or custom picture frame.

What is the Difference Between Ready-Made & Custom Framing? 

You may have heard the term “custom framing” when considering how to finish and present your artwork and photography, and wondered “what makes a frame custom?” It can sound over-complicated, expensive and unnecessary for your needs. Isn’t buying a ready-made frame sufficient? While this may be true in some cases, we want to make sure you make an informed decision on what’s best for your work by arming you with as much information as possible! You can read more about our custom framing options as well as how the ordering process works.

Can’t I Just Buy a Frame at the Store?

Absolutely. It may be entirely possible and appropriate to simply use a store-bought, or what is more commonly known as a “ready-made” frame and fit the piece yourself. This is very often the best option if you’re looking to frame snapshots and works that are standard-size on a budget. However, large and unusual sized works and unique materials will present a problem. They will not fit easily into a standard frame and must be approached with the proper equipment and experience. In these cases custom framing will likely be your best option.

What is a Ready-Made Frame?

Ready-made frames are mass produced in an array of frame styles and in standard sizes. Common standard sizes include 5×7, 8×10, 11×14, 16×20, 24×36 and so on. Although there is a range of sizes and styles of ready-made frames, there will always be limitations. Because these frames are mass produced, their quality and craftsmanship may be less than desirable. Additionally, if your artwork is a very specific or even a slightly unusual size, you will have a hard time finding a pre-made frame to fit it properly. For some artwork, using a ready-made frame could be inadequate, too complicated or simply not possible. This is where custom framing comes in! We will explore these two framing options further in this article, but first it is important to establish what we mean when we use the term “custom framing.”

What Does “Custom Framing” Actually Mean?

When something is described as “custom framed” this means that each aspect of the frame was selected, sized, cut, mounted and assembled specifically for that print or work of art. That frame therefore is one-of-a-kind and made for a specific piece of art. What is immediately apparent is that it grants the artist, gallery or collector vastly more options and freedom when it comes to selecting the right frame for their artwork.

Different framers will have different options of stock frame styles, or “mouldings” on hand, and some even custom mill and finish frames out of raw materials, usually at a significant cost. The matboard or mounting treatment can also be selected from a variety of options and determined by you and your framer. The matboard type, color, window size and layout are all up for discussion. It is possible to use no matboard at all, or opt for a different treatment such as a float-mount or straight-fit. Every aspect from the moulding, mounting and glazing to the hanging of your artwork can be customized to fit both your artwork and your needs. Ideally, a frame should not simply be an afterthought to the artwork, but rather should serve to enhance the viewing experience and compliment both the artwork and the environment it hangs in.

Framing Treatments to Elevate Your Custom Frame

Along with choosing from various sizes, materials and finishes, you can also elevate your custom frame with your mat choice. For example, pick a float mount for more of a floating or revealing finished appearance. This type of mount works especially well with artwork that has raw edges. For a clean, eye-catching look, go with a straight fit, which allows you to frame your artwork edge-to-edge inside the fame.

Conservation is critical. Custom framing is not only aesthetically beneficial, but is also an important consideration when it comes to conserving your artwork. A ready-made frame will not typically come with archival materials to fit your frame with. This may be fine for pieces that are less valuable or precious and used solely for decorative purposes. However, if the longevity of your art is important to you, then you must consider archival materials that a custom framer will provide. Conservation framing includes acid-free matboard and foam core, hinging tapes or mounting treatments that don’t damage the artwork, as well as glazing (glass or plexiglass) that offers some level of UV protection. A custom framer can walk you through all these considerations and more so that you can be sure that your artwork is not only looking its best, but also that it will last for years to come.

What Does Custom-Framing Cost?

Aside from aesthetic and conservation concerns, the other consideration that comes up when considering a custom frame versus a ready-made frame is cost. The spectrum of the custom framing world is a wide one, and prices can vary from shop to shop. Some custom framers can keep costs relatively low but may offer fewer options and more straight forward treatments. Other shops may offer a wider variety with more high-end materials and treatments but at a significantly higher cost. Plenty of other shops fill the spectrum in between. What is certain, however, is that a custom frame will always cost you some amount more than a ready-made frame, but remember, you get what you pay for. A custom frame will always present you with more options and better-quality materials than a store-bought frame. There are a lot of options to play around with and the cost of certain treatments and services will add up differently depending on the specifics of what you need. It is also important to consider that contrary to the common conception that fitting artwork into a frame is simply a matter of “putting the piece in the frame,” there is a considerable amount of skill and consideration that goes into framing a work of art.  

Choose Our Custom Framing Solutions

Contact us today to set up a consultation! At Tribeca Printworks we maintain a full-service woodshop in our SOHO Studio, allowing us to offer great custom framing options at reasonable prices and fast delivery times. We have a wide variety of framing as well as printing options to choose from.

If you can’t make it to our studio, no worries. Simply upload your image and see which framing option works the best with your artwork. 

All of our handmade art photo frames are constructed out of the finest materials, built using precision equipment and custom-cut and -fit to ensure we make your vision a reality. The materials are all conservation-quality and archival-grade to ensure your artwork stays protected and lasts throughout the years. We can also help you understand your options and find the best framing solution based on your needs and budget. 

Begin customizing your picture frames online exactly to your size and style specifications.

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