I’m a big fan of cheap, cool, vintage prints for my walls. But… with the vintage prints comes a whole host of issues. Framing issues.

Of course, the first (and likely most successful) option is to lug my vintage find into the framing shop to get done up right. But… I like the MacGyver way!

So, without further ado… here’s my top three tips to get pretty artwork up on the wall without breaking the piggy bank.

#1 Fill in the gaps

Lots of what’s up on our walls at home is not actually meant to be framed and put on the wall. Vintage calendars, catalogs and books are stuffed full of great artwork! This means non-standard sizing. I’ve always liked Ikea frames – they’re simple, inexpensive and a nice foil to the rest of the furniture and other fun things in the house. I like things to be soothing. Consistent framing counts as soothing. Most of the frames in our house right now are of Ikea origin, black wood with simple, white mats.

If the size and shape of the mat are harmonious with the size/shape of the artwork – i.e. the artwork and the opening in the mat are both rectangles, but the mat opening is larger than the artwork – one of my favorite ways to make a store-bought frame/mat combo work is to add in a little something extra. My go-tos are burlap and kraft paper. Just layer a sheet of filler material (burlap/kraft paper) against the backing piece. Lay the mat over the backing then place the artwork so that the filler material is even on all four sides. Fasten (I usually use masking tape, although there are better, archival options out there) and you’re done!

Here’s something from our house – a square print I took with my Holga mounted in an Ikea frame with a pre-cut mat that was just a bit larger than I needed. A bit of burlap makes everything better!

Frame with Burlap
Burlap Detail

#2 Get some quasi-framing help…

Sometimes the proportions of the mat and the proportions of the artwork just look… odd. If that’s the case, the best course of action is to get a new mat cut. Maybe everyone in the whole world knew this but me, but getting a mat cut is actually fairly easy AND it’s not too pricey! Head over to your neighborhood framing shop or one of the national craft chains with a framing department.

Some hints…

  1. Bring in your piece of artwork AND the mat that came with the frame (or the glass if there’s no mat.) The measurements need to be quite specific and it’s best to have the folks at the framing place take them.
  2. We always go with the low-end white mat board. It’s affordable and it provides consistency.
  3. When you pick up be sure to check the mat before you leave the shop. Look for marks, smudges and most importantly, make sure it was cut to the right size (I suggest bringing the frame and artwork along to the store to check.) We recently had to bring a mat board back three times because we didn’t check!
  4. When you’re placing the order, check to see if the mat is getting sent out or if it’s being done in house. In my experience, some retail chains automatically send out for the mats to be cut. If you ask, they can do them in house which will allow for faster pickup.
Here’s one of my favorite vintage print finds… a five dollar piece from a thrift shop in odd dimensions….
Horse Print
Take that oddly sized piece, add in an oddly sized Ikea frame… Just LOOK at how narrow the top/bottom edges of the mat are!!
Ribba Frame
Here’s the result – Ikea frame + custom cut mat board.
Framed Horse Print

#3 Glazier’s points, mat cutters and more…

Alright. Let’s get technical. If the burlap and the custom cut mats at craft shops don’t work for you… or if you like to get knee deep into things (like I do) here’s a few more tips…
  1. Flea market/thrift shop frames – I’m sure ya’ll have seen the super cool, super cheap frames out there… with no backs. If you have strong hands, it’s fairly easy to make that work. Chipboard or masonite (depending on how deep the frame is) works for the backing. Cut down to size. Fasten in place with glazier’s points. Check your local hardware store for glazier’s points. Glazier’s points are meant for fixing windows, but they can be used to secure the backing for frames too. They take some strength to drive in, though! Try using a putty knife and hammer to tap them in.
  2. Cut your own mats – We’re just diving into this at The Snugbug Mercantile, but mat cutters are not that much! We paid about $70 for ours. Mat board is around $7 large sheet – 32″ x 40″ – at art supply shops, and half that at online wholesale sources (we have been working with bdmatboard.com.) The online sources ARE cheaper, but they require higher minimums (25 sheets per order) and the shipping is rather pricey.
  3. Glass cutting – If you’re working with flea/thrift market finds for frames, they often will NOT have glass. Not to worry! Most hardware stores will cut glass to suit and it’s not very much. Think: $12 for a 28×15″. If you’re getting higher pricing than that, it might be worth it to look for another source.
Happy framing, ya’ll! Getting pretty vintage prints and making them look good is one of my favorite rewards with shopping for thrift/vintage items!

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