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How to Frame Artwork So It Lasts! (and Lasts, and Lasts...)

by Darrel Tank

It’s how your finished artwork is presented that makes all the difference. Although it's tempting to simply place your drawing in a ready-made frame, there are several things that you should take into consideration before framing your artwork to insure it is adequately protected over the years.

Use Acid-Free Materials

Any matting, tape or other adhesives, barriers, or backing that you use in the framing of your drawing should be completely acid free. Acidic materials, over long periods of time, can actually damage the artwork in the frame by distorting the paper or turning it a yellowish color.

Use Matting

I prefer using mats with the framing of my drawings.

I would recommend purchasing acid-free matting, but if you chose to use an acidic matting, it should be backed by an acid-free material that will act as a protective barrier between the matting and the drawing. 

The same consideration should be given to the backing of your artwork. Some framers will use a foam-core board for backing, but these aren’t typically acid free—you’ll want to be sure you ask for an acid-free option.

Stay Away From Black 

As a general rule, I stay away from black—especially a black frame, black matting combination. However, it can work if it’s a part of a color scheme with a particular molding and if it’s not overpowering the drawing. The mat (or mats) and the frame should be chosen to either compliment, subdue, or emphasize any particular value or aspect of your drawing.

Always Frame With Glass

I would always frame with glass, but would be sure to spend the extra money for protective UV glass. Although you’ll pay more upfront, UV glass will protect your art from harmful UV rays and keep it safe for many years to come. I wouldn’t, however, use non-glare glass or plexiglas. Non-glare glass tends to obscure and distort your artwork if not viewed from straight on. And plexiglas is easily scratched and can become foggy if cleaned without special cleaning agents.

Clean Your Artwork

Your artwork should be cleaned well, removing smudges, dust, or eraser fragments. To spot these offenders, you can simply turn your artwork to a severe angle and search out any stragglers protruding from the surface. You can use a brush or compressed air to remove the fragments from the artwork to be framed.

The glass should be exceptionally clean as well and should be tested for fingerprints, dust, hair, or other foreign materials before securing it in the frame. You may have to do this more than once.

Let Your Artwork Breathe

When you go to attach your drawing to your backing, it should only be secured at the top and allowed to hang. The reason being, if you’ve used an adhesive, tape, or brad, securing all four corners will cause your paper to ripple or develop waves as the humidity changes. These waves in the paper become very apparent when the lighting is directional or at an angle to the framed piece of art. This lighting will cause artificial highlights and shadows in your artwork due to the contour created by the ripples in the paper. 

Some framers are using archival mounting corners that allows the paper to slide in and be secure at all four corners and still allow for the flexing of the paper. It seems to be working quite well, as several of my drawings and illustrations using other media on paper have been framed this way for a number of years.

Add a Protective Dust Cover

After attaching the art and framing materials to the frame, a dust cover should be used on the back to keep additional dust, spiders, or bugs from entering the framed picture compartment. This is usually done by applying a two-sided tape around the rear perimeter of the molding and affixing a piece of brown paper to the adhesive surface and stretching it flat. You can then trim the outer edges of the brown paper to size and attach your hanging wire. Now your art is ready to display!

Darrel Tank has helped thousands of students learn to draw realistically with his unique 5-Pencil Method. You can learn more about his drawing method and receive free drawing lessons at

Photo Credit: Flickr/digobaptista

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