How to Choose a Frame for a Painting


Congratulations, you fell in love with a beautiful piece of artwork! Now that you’ve got it home, before you can hang it, you will need a frame. The right frame can enhance a piece of art, but the wrong frame can be a terrible distraction.

When choosing a frame, first consider how it might emphasize certain colors in your artwork. Next, ask yourself how the frame will look with your home décor. If you will be hanging multiple works of art on the same wall, you might want to match the frames to preserve continuity. This could mean that all frames on one wall are the same color but a different shape, or if your home is more traditional, you might like the look of the same exact frame for each artwork.

There are a few different points to consider when selecting a frame for an oil painting versus choosing a frame for a work on paper such as a print or photograph.

Oil Paintings

hering Image: Harry Hering, House on Street of Provincetown, oil on masonite, 20th century


First, is the canvas that the work is painted on “stretched” on a wooden frame, or is it a flat piece of fabric? Stretching a canvas involves mounting it tightly to a wooden frame (called a “stretcher”), usually using nails or staples. If the canvas is not stretched, you might want to consider taking the artwork to a professional to have it stretched before framing.

Unlike works on paper, oil or acrylic paintings do not need to be “glazed,” or framed with a sheet of glass over the artwork. Oil and acrylic paint is more durable than a work on paper, and if the surface happens to get soiled, it is often easy to clean.

Linen or fabric liners can add texture to the piece, and are often a good choice for smaller works because they increase the overall size the framed work will occupy when hung on your wall, thereby calling more attention to the piece.

Sometimes, artists will paint a complementary frame for an artwork. An example of this is the work of Georges Seurat, who often finished his pointillist paintings with flat wooden frames decorated with colors that directly reflected and interacted with those in the composition. If the artist has already placed the work you own in a special frame, it is a good idea to leave this frame on the work. Should you choose to re-sell the piece in the future, the artist-decorated frame will likely make the painting more appealing to collectors.

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Prints, Photographs, and Works on Paper

prints_works_on_paper Image Left: After Nate Lowman, Paper Airplane, 2011 Image Right: Milton Avery, Head of a Man (Lunn 8), portrait of Louis Wiesenberg, 1935


Prints, photographs, and works on paper are more delicate than oil paintings. When framing artworks on paper, it’s a good idea to pay a little bit extra for archival materials, such as acid-free mats and backings, and glaze the work with ultraviolet light filtering Plexiglas or glass. These materials are important because the acid in the regular paper and mats will darken over time and will leave a permanent stain on the paper of the artwork. The special glass or Plexiglas is recommended because the ultraviolet rays in sunlight will speed the deterioration of the paper and will cause the artwork’s colors to fade.

If your print does not have margins (the white area around the image), or has been printed on handmade paper with deckled, or uneven, edges, you may want to consider a floating-style frame that does not hide the edges of the paper. These frames do not require mats to look polished.

Frame Colors and Materials

williamtomkinsImage: William Tomkins, English Farmstead, oil on copper, signed, 18th century


After resolving the technical details, choosing the right color or material for your frame is a very personal choice. In my home, which has an eclectic feel, I chose several different types of frames for my artwork. I like the look of a thin metal “strip” style frame for Modern or Contemporary artwork. These come in many different colors, but I find that the clean lines look best in simple brushed chrome, white, or black, and will provide a “polished” look without taking the focus away from the piece. For example, my Georges Braque lithograph is enclosed in a thin, brushed aluminum frame. The image is printed all the way to the edges of the sheet, so I choose not to add a mat, but because it is a work on paper, I did have it glazed.

In my living room, I have a wall hung with several black and white photographs. These are all framed in matching, simple black painted wood frames. I chose black for the frames because I like how the color accents the drama of the black and white tones in the photographs.

Accenting a traditional style painting, such as a classic landscape or portrait, with the classic look of a carved gilt wood frame can add a sense of history and luxury to the artwork, and create more drama around the piece in your home. I particularly like ornate gold frames hung on a wall painted a dark, solid color that compliments the artwork. These can be a bit more expensive, but with the right artwork can make a strong statement. If you’re on a budget, try scouring local auctions for old paintings that are in poor condition, but still have well-preserved gilt wood frames, and give them a second life with a new artwork.

Have fun with your frame, and don’t hesitate to play around and test several different options at your local framer or on Framebridge. Framebridge has over 25 frame styles, and the ability to see how your piece looks in each style (their app even let’s you see how the piece will look on your wall). Additionally, Framebridge has designers on hand to provide suggestions through their Designer’s Choice option, and provide advice on our blog . With a little thought, you will find that the right frame will make your artwork even more enjoyable.