DIY Metal Framing

Do it yourself picture framing for my 12" x 24" prints using wood frame kits and commonly found tools and materials.

Sometimes you just want to do it yourself. From working on your own car (or cars) to stuff around the old homestead. Sure, you can hire these things out but there’s a certain satisfaction that comes from having done it on your own. If this sounds like you and you’d like to giving framing a go, chances are you already have most of what you need to do a professional looking framing job on one of my prints and can save yourself some money in the bargain.

Caveat! What follows is an adaption of professional framing using as many commonly found items as possible. A few things, like the matte materials, you’re going to need to source at an art or hobby supply store like Michael’s or Hobby Lobby. Otherwise, most of what you need you should either already have or be able to find at the local variety store. As with many things that are fairly simple, writing down how to do it makes it seem more complicated than it really is.

This article covers wood framing a 12″ X 24″ print with a 3″ double matte and a finished size of 18″ x 30″ ( nominal). You can also use these instructions to frame one of my 18″ x 36″ prints by adding 6″ to the frame, stretcher/retainer bars, and matte dimensions. Total working time is about an hour.

Materials and Tools

  • Frame sections – I recommend the metal framing from Dick Blick Art. They stock a variety styles in a variety of section sizes, all reasonably priced. You’ll need one pair of 18″ and one pair of 30″ metal sections. $30
  • Non-glare glass – You can source picture quality non-glare glass at any local glass shop. One piece of 18″ x 30″ non-glare glass(expect to more for UV resistant glass). $35
  • Frame hanging kit – Available at your local hardware store or craft supply. I prefer the kind with the loop style wire ends. $5
  • Tools and supplies

    Matte board – You can purchase matte stock and cut your own, but I would recommend buying them cut-to-order from your local craft supply. Even with as many years of experience as I have making my own, I buy the pre-cut versions for my own work unless I’m cutting something fancy with an offset or staggered style, for example. It’s just easier. Otherwise you will need to purchase a decent quality matte cutter (avoid the cheap ones). If you’re double matting (recommended), you’ll need mattes with the following dimensions: 18″ x 30″ outer, 11 3/4″ x 23 3/4″ inner opening with a 1/4″ step between the inner and outer mattes. A double matte will cost about $35. If you just have to cut your own expect to pay about the same for uncut matte stock (two sheets) and another $120 or so for a medium quality cutter.

  • Backing board – I use 3/16″ foam core and dry mount sheets or a special self-adhesive backer board made for the job but suggest simple peel and stick foam core for your project, also sourced at at your local craft or art supply. $15/sheet (30″ x40″)
  • Wire nippers – To trim the excess hanging wire.
  • Glass cleaner – Self explanatory
  • Shop towels (paper) – Do not use paper towels! They will leave small lint particles inside the glass. I like a good quality paper shop towel. They’re absorbent and largely lint free and I prefer a foaming cleaner to Windex.
  • More supplies

    Spray adhesive – Used to adhere the certificate of authenticity (COA) to the back. Like most of these materials, there are special kinds available from your local art store but something like 3M 77 or 88 will work perfectly well. Rubber cement is also a fine choice if you have it on hand.

  • Utility knife – Easiest way to trim the backer board to size. An Exacto knife doesn’t have quite enough heft to cut the backer easily. Make sure it has a fresh blade installed.
  • Long straight edge – I use a 48″ drywall square for this but you can use any 36″ metal or hard plastic straight edge.
  • Philips driver for drill or Phillips screw driver (preferred)
  • Black Sharpie marker
  • Sharpened #2 pencil
  • Masking tape
  • Tape measure

Total approximate cost (assuming you already have the tools and sundries on hand) is about $120, which represents a savings of about $250- $300 over typical professional custom framing. Prices on the mattes, glass, and wood will vary according to your locality, as will custom framing.

Before You Start

Remove the print from the shipping tube and unroll it, face down, on a flat, clean surface. Cover with a clean, dry towel, weight the print, and let it sit for a day or two until it lays flat. If don’t want to wait, you can use a steam iron set to low to help it relax. DO NOT press the iron directly to the print. Cover it with a towel and move the iron constantly, not letting it sit any one place for any length of time.

Assembling the Frame

Insert the corners and tighten

You’ll need a large flat, clean, work surface. Un-package the two sets of frame sections, making sure not to lose the hardware. Slide one of the hanging hooks into one of the 18″ sections. Repeat on second 18″ section. Next, slide a corner and backing plate into one of the corners joining one 18″ and one 30″ section and tighten the set screws. Repeat on the other 30″ section. You should now have a “U” shaped construction with one of the 18″ ends still open.

Marking the opening

Mounting the print

Mounting the Print

Trim the foam core to size (18″ x 30″) using the utility knife. Mark where the print will mount by turning your pre-assembled matte upside down on the backer board, marking the opening with the pencil. With the Exacto knife and your straight edge, slice through the paper backing along the trim lines, going completely across the backer board on the 18″ sides and between your pencil lines on the 30″ dimension. Be careful not use too  much pressure. You want to just cut through the paper, not the board.

Critical step! Now comes the part that requires some finesse and you only get one chance to get it right as the adhesive on the backer board is very aggressive and it will be nearly impossible to reposition the print if you misalign things. Carefully align the print using the pencil outline you also used to make the cuts in your backer paper. Use masking tape to create a hinge on one of the 12″ edges of your print. Be careful to apply the tape to only about an 1/8″ of the print. The museum quality paper used for the work is very porous and will lift or tear very easily until mounted. Once secured, lift the print on the free side and gradually peel back the paper exposing the adhesive, pressing the print to the board as you go.

Peeling the backing paper

Mounting the matte

Mounting the Matte

With the  mounted print face side up, position the matte flush with all four edges of the backer board. Before pulling back the paper on the backer and exposing the adhesive, check to make sure that the inner edges of the matte cover the outer edges of the mounted print. Adjust if necessary.  With the matte correctly positioned, firmly hold one of the 18″ sides to the backer and peel away the paper from the opposite side, exposing the adhesive. Complete mounting by peeling away the remaining paper then firmly pressing the matte to the adhesive.


Assembled frame with hanger in place

Turn your assembled frame upside down on your work surface. Place the non-glare glass in the opening, cleaning the inside with glass cleaner and a lint-free towel. Place the pre-assembled matte in the opening with the good side down. Place the mounted print atop the matte. Take the remaining 18″ frame section, insert a corner and corner backing plate into each end, slide into assembled frame sections and tighten the set screws.

Finishing Up

If you purchased the black frame, the corners tend to get a bit nicked during assembly. Use your black Sharpie to touch up.

Last on the list is affixing the certificate of authenticity to the backing paper using the spray adhesive by applying a thin layer directly to the certificate and gently pressing in place. I usually place mine in the right lower corner about 3″ from the right and bottom edges but there’s no “official ” location for it so place it wherever it suits you.

Completed framing

Here’s what your print should look like when complete. The white cardboard bits are corner protectors I use to keep the frame from getting nicked during transport or storage. Sadly, they’re available only in bulk but, if you shoot me a note, I’ll send you four. And, excuse the less than ideal photography. This was taken so that the customer could see the finished print.