Vintage frames can usually be picked up cheaply from charity shops or car boots and reusing them for your own choice of print is one of the cheapest ways to add art to your decor in a unique and stylish way. But it isn’t always straightforward. Here’s how to frame art prints in vintage frames the right way.
Choose the frame first
Are you the person who wins the raffle, never gets caught in the rain without your brolly and whose toast only lands jam side up? In that case, it’s just possible that you’ll find a vintage frame the exact right size for a print you already own. If not, my advice: don’t even bother trying. It’s much easier to buy the frame first and have your art printed to its exact size.
Choosing the frame
As there’s a bit of work involved in reusing a vintage frame, I generally wouldn’t bother for anything less than a large scale piece of art, thus maximising the impact to effort ratio. So unless you find a smaller frame that’s particularly appealing, or you’re specifically planning for a miniature piece of art, cut straight to the largest frames in the shop or stall.
You can change the colour or finish of a frame relatively easily with spray paint or gilding wax, but if you live somewhere with a good selection of charity shops and sales, why bother? You’re bound to be able to find one you like as is.
I suppose it’s possible that you might find a frame complete with a print that’s perfect for your home. That has rarely happened to me. More likely, what you’re looking for is a beautiful frame with a print that’s truly horrendous. As price tends to be dictated by the desirability of the print rather than the frame, the more unsightly the print, the better the bargain.
I also ignore mounts. I almost never reuse mounts, partly because they’re usually a colour that’s unsympathetic to my print or colour scheme and partly because I think that art is usually more impactful when it fills the frame. That’s personal preference. You could of course use the mount if you prefer.
You want a frame that looks robust as it will need to withstand dismantling and reassembling. I have learned to my cost that it’s important to check the back of a frame. On some frames the fixings which hold the back plate in place are not easily reusable due to age or just inconvenient design.
Choosing the print
There are a variety of options for sourcing art which can be printed to a custom size to match your frame. When choosing here are a few things to bear in mind:
If you’re printing from a digital file, you need a good quality (high resolution) digital image to avoid the print copy being blurred or pixalated. The larger the size of your print, the higher the resolution required. Speak to your local friendly print shop for advice if you’re unsure whether the image you have is at a sufficient resolution.
While it is possible – and will probably be necessary – to crop your image to get the proportions right for the frame, for the best results you’ll need to pick an image with roughly the right proportions to begin with. For example you would lose large chunks of a square print if you were cropping it to fit in a rectangular frame.
You’ll save yourself some work if you pick a print orientation that matches the way the frame is designed to hang, but it’s not necessary. You can change this quite easily if you need to. (See the section on hanging below.)
Many independent online stores print to order and may be able to offer custom print sizes – an option which means you don’t have to arrange printing yourself. They may not advertise this service but if you find the perfect print it’s definitely worth checking.
Some art museums offer digital versions of art works in their collections free to download for non-commercial use. (See individual websites for specific terms.)
The following websites have huge collections to choose from.
Some independent online stores sell prints as digital downloads, giving you a range of size options, and many will prepare custom sized versions for you on request. Type “digital download art” in the search tool at Etsy to see the huge range of art available from independent sellers.
Printing your art
The first time I wanted to get a print custom printed, I wasn’t at all sure where to go. Online research suggested that none of my local print shops did single prints, or made mention of printing art. However, a telephone enquiry to my nearest shop confirmed that they were happy to help. Just pop your chosen print on a pen drive and head along.
While it’s generally possible to email your print to the shop and either pick it up later or have it delivered, I would advocate going there in person if possible. That way you can play with different cropping options, and see any paper choices, before committing to the print.
There are online printing options too (search “digital printing”) which can be convenient, though you lose the face-to-face support, and you’ll be paying the postage costs too.
Now you have your gorgeous new art, you’re all set to pop it in the frame and hang on the wall. There’s a potential problem though. If you’re hanging the print opposite a window, particularly if your art has darker tones, there will be a significant glare effect. (Vintage glass predates anti-glare solutions.)
This issue left me feeling very disappointed with earlier vintage framing efforts. Until one day I noticed how my original Sir Gerald Kelly framed print didn’t have this issue; it’s unglazed. Lightbulb moment. Why do we use glass anyway? If you have an expensive original artwork, then you might want to protect it. If you’re using a mount, then you need the glass to finish it. But if these don’t apply, why not simply skip the glazing?
To hang a print without glass, you need to ensure the print is robustly held in place. I use a light spray of adhesive to stick the print to the frame’s backing board. For this to work without causing any warping of the print, you need to ensure your print is on quality heavier weight art paper (170 grms plus), and maintain a light touch with the spraying.
Unglazed prints look better matt and that minimises glare, so opt for matt paper if possible. If your print comes glossed however it’s possible to mattify it by giving it a light spray of matt varnish. Multiple coats can be applied in thin layers if necessary.
Hang your print
If the picture hooks were missing from your frame, had to be removed to insert your new print, or if you’re changing the orientation, you’ll need a new hanging mechanism. The easiest way I’ve found is to screw in small eye hooks to the back of the frame then wind several lengths of fishing wire between them (cheaper and easier than picture wire).
You’re done. Now sit back and enjoy your uniquely stylish bargain art.