How to Picture Frame: Step One: Measuring

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Measuring is the first step in the picture framing process and a crucial one.
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step 1

The approach you take to measuring must be based on what your frame package will consist of.  Will you include a mat?  Or will your art be unmatted?  And if you are matting, will you use a double mat or a triple mat?  Or will you float mount (to show the edges of the art) in the window of the mat?

step 2

It's easier to measure for framing without a mat.  All you have to do is measure the overall size of the art and order the frame in that size.  Done.

step 3

When you include a mat, you will have to determine the size of the mat's window, the four borders surrounding it, and the overall size of the mat.

step 4

Before we continue with the mat, we must acknowledge something important (and rather curious) about the frame.  The frame is usually not the size it claims to be.  Try this.  Take a ready made 11"x14" frame off the rack and measure the recess at the back.  It's this recess - what framers call the "rabbet" of the frame - that is supposed to be 11"x14".  You'll find that it's not.  Not exactly anyway.  It's actually 11-1/8" x 14-1/8".  That's because whoever built the frame included an "allowance" in the rabbet. 

step 5

An allowance of 1/16" along each edge (or 1/8" on the height and the width) makes it so that the other components can drop easily into the recess.  For measuring purposes the overall sizes of the mat, glass and backing are all presumed to be the same size as the frame.  But if they really were, it would make for a tight fit.  So the frame is made slightly larger by adding an allowance.  Nevertheless, we still presume all components are the same size.  Think of it as a little lie we tell ourselves.

step 6

Since the frame is ostensibly the same size as the components that go into it, all you have to do is figure out the size of any one of the components (the mat, the backing or the glass) and that size will also be the frame size.  Let's assume there is going to be a mat.

step 7

If possible, leave the size of the frame an open-ended question.  Let the size of the frame be the sum of the equation you are developing.  Start with the artwork and work outward to the frame size, determining - in order - the size of mat's window, its four borders and its overall size.

step 8

Start by measuring the size of the image, and then subtract a half inch from the height and the width to get the window size of the mat.

step 9

Use a table called The Border Finder to find appropriate starting borders for whatever size window you've come up with.  The Border Finder provides the narrowest advisable borders.  Feel free to round the borders up to the nearest whole number.  Double or triple the width of the borders for a more contemporary look.  Leave them as they are for a more traditional look.

Go to The Border Finder

step 10

Add the mat's borders to its window size to determine the overall size of the mat.  

step 11

Since the mat and the frame are ostensibly the same size, once you've determined the overall size of the mat, you've determined the frame size.

step 12

If you are ordering custom sectional frames (frames custom cut to the size you specify), simply enter the overall mat size in the calculator and click calculate.  It will figure the price.  When you are ready, click Add to Cart and you are done.  Note: You do not have to figure in the frame's allowance when ordering custom sectional frames.  Whoever makes the frame will automatically include the allowance, no questions asked.

See example of calculator

step 13

If you are ordering lengths of moulding to cut your own frame, start by noting the width of the moulding (moulding width is provided beside the description of each moulding on the web site).

See example of moulding width description

step 14

To determine how much moulding you need:

Multiply the width of the moulding by 8.  For example, 1-1/4" x 8 = 10".  And then take the frame size you intend to make and double each dimension.  For example, 16"x20" equals 16 x 2 = 32 and 20 x 2 = 40. 

Add it all up.  For example, 10" + 32" + 40" = 82". 

Add 1/4" to make sure you have enough moulding to build in an allowance. 
82"+1/4" = 82¼"

This is how much moulding you need.

More on determining the right length of moulding

step 15

Moulding is only sold in 3 foot, 4 foot and 5 foot lengths.  If you need more than 5 feet total, purchase a combination of lengths.

For example, if you need 82¼", order two 4 foot lengths.

step 16

Remember to keep clear, easy-to-read notes for each frame job.  That way when you receive your frame stock, your mat board, your foam board and your glass (or acrylic), you will be able to cut and join the various components quickly and efficiently by referring to the notes you made during the measuring process.

You are now ready to move on to Step Two: Selecting Colors and Styles for Matting & Framing