Lofty’s Experts Take the Stress Out of Un-Framing Your Print

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You’ll need:

-An appropriate workspace
-Wire cutters
-Clean hands or clean, well-fitting gloves
-A postcard or piece of stiff paper
-Your camera or smartphone

Start by finding a workspace. Choose a clean, uncluttered surface large enough to support the size of the work you’ll be un-framing. We suggest using a freshly made bed or the center of a rug or a carpeted room that has recently been vacuumed. Prints are sensitive, and you’ll want to take special precautions not to get any dirt or debris on the paper because this can easily cause permanent damage to the artwork. If you have pets, make sure they are not in the room.

Lie the framed artwork on your workspace, face down, so the back is facing up. The back may be covered with brown paper – go ahead and peel or cut this away. Removing this paper will not hurt the value of the artwork or damage the frame.

BANNER2 Image: Richard Hamilton, La Scala Milano, photoetching and screenprint, 1968

There may be a wire secured to the back of the work, meant for hanging the piece on the wall. This wire will make it difficult to remove the work from the frame, so you’ll want to detach it before proceeding. If you do not plan to re-hang the work, cut the wire using wire cutters. If you do plan to hang the work again, use a screwdriver to detach the hardware holding the wire onto the frame.

Now, look for “framer’s points,” little clip-like metal pieces that hold the work into the frame on the back. Depending on which type these are, you’ll want to either remove them by pulling them straight out, or leave them in the frame and just bend them back with pliers. Your goal is to be able to cleanly lift the layers on the back of the frame straight up and out of the frame.

At this point, your hands are probably dusty from handling the frame, so go wash your hands and make sure to dry them well. The last thing you want to do is leave grubby fingerprints on the surface of your artwork. Be aware that the natural oils from your hands can also sit on the surface of the paper and, after a while, oxidize into a darker color, damaging the paper. By washing and drying your hands thoroughly, you reduce the chances that you will damage the print. Even better than clean, dry hands is wearing a clean pair of well-fitting gloves while handling your print, but don’t worry if you don’t have gloves.

BANNER4Image Left:After Joan MirĂ³, El Sol, from the book Mural Scrolls (New York: Katzenbach and Warren, Inc. 1949), Image Right: After Alexander Calder, A Piece of My Workshop, from the book Mural Scrolls (New York: Katzenbach and Warren, Inc. 1949)

After you’ve washed your hands or put on your gloves, take the postcard or rigid piece of paper of a similar size, and slide it between the frame and matting until you reach the glass. The card should be above the glass but below the matting and artwork itself. Slide it to the center and push it a bit until the mat and work lift up from the glass enough to put your fingers underneath the mat. Grasp the edges of two opposing corners of the mat, taking care to touch the mat only, and flip the mat and artwork over, face up. Carefully lift the mat from all sides to open it and reveal the artwork below. Try not to touch the artwork itself.

Once you’ve removed the artwork from the frame, take lots of photos. Remember to photograph the sheet edges, corners, margins, surface of the paper including any discolorations or blemishes, and any writing, stamps, or blind stamps (embossed stamps) on the front and back of the paper. Take more photographs than you think is necessary – more is always better – and don’t forget to photograph the front and back!

Be aware that in some cases, the framer may have glued the work down to the mat on all sides. If this is the case, do not try to detach the work from the mat yourself because you risk damaging the artwork. Snap several good photographs of the work attached to the mat to send to our experts, and then set it back in the frame. Lofty’s experts will take a look at the photos and advise you on how to proceed without causing damage to your artwork. Clear photos without the glare from the glass are still valuable for our experts and for selling your artwork!

BANNER3 Image: Ruth Bernhard, Perspective II, mounted gelatin silver print, taken 1967, printed later

Once you’ve finished with your photographs, you can put the work back in the frame. First, carefully place the mat back down on your artwork. Make sure the piece is not creased or folded anywhere. Grasp two opposing corners of the mat, as you did before to un-frame the piece, and flip it back over, setting it into the frame. Replace any backing board. The framer’s points are usually difficult to replace. If you were able to bend them, you can bend them back into place to secure the work in the frame again. If you had to remove them completely, you should carefully secure the backing board to the frame with masking tape (don’t tape the mat!), and store the frame face-down someplace safe and flat, such as under a bed (check for dust bunnies first!).

Lofty’s Specialist team is here for you if you have any questions during this process. Please contact us at and we’ll be happy to help you with this difficult process!

Featured Image: Keith Haring, One Plate: Pop Shop II (Littmann 96), screenprint, 1988