An Expert’s Tips to Selecting the Best Frame Part I

Customers often ask me questions about framing the prints they buy from my shop. For good reason, because framing is tricky! You purchase art that you’ve fallen in love with, but then you face an overwhelming number of choices for framing. What color? What material? Matted or without a mat? Glass or no glass? And since framing is so expensive – frames will cost far more than the prints I sell – you want to make sure you’re getting it right the first time.

But we’re in luck! I came across a framing guidebook that walks through the basic rules and principles of frame selection. It’s called Matting & framing: the hobbyist’s complete picture framing book, and the author, Penelope Angell, starts out by explaining just why framing is so important:

Art plays a vital part in giving a room a finished, balanced appearance. The framing of a work of art has a large bearing on its effectiveness in the eyes of the viewer.

Here are some useful takeaways from the book on how to select a frame for your art print.

Some Terms and Definitions

‘Flood on River Seine’ in Archival Mounted 8×10 with a frame, linen liner, and fillet

The book talks not only about frames and mats, which most people are familiar with, but also liners and fillets. Before I opened my print shop I had no idea what those terms meant, and I imagine most people don’t either. So here are a few basic definitions to get us started.

Frame refers to the solid surface that is the outermost layer of the framed art. Sometimes “frame” is shorthand for the entire framing package when you’re shopping for ready-made frames (including the glass and backing too), but when you’re in the world of custom art framing, those things are referred to separately.

Mat is a material that covers and protects the art (preventing it from coming in contact with the glass), or enhances its display. Mat boards have a “window” cut in the center through which the art is viewed. Mat boards are available in many styles and colors.

Liner is a moulding used similar to a mat, but it’s often covered with fabric (such as linen), and it does not need to be covered in glass

Fillet is a thin, decorative piece of moulding placed immediately inside the frame (creating a perception of a wider frame) or between mat boards or a mat and the art.

Choosing A Frame By Art Type

The book explains that actually, the type of art will dictate a lot about how to frame it.


“Oil paintings are not matted or covered with glass. Sometimes a liner may be used. The frame must be strong so as to keep the wooden stretcher from warping. Reproductions of oil paintings are usually treated in the same style as the original. Color, texture and size determine whether the surfaces of other types of reproductions need glass protection.”


‘Parisian Apartments’ oil painting print

Posters and Lithographs

Posters and lithographs “are usually framed in narrow wooden or metal frames. Mats are soft and often off-white. The important plate mark on a print should not be hidden by the mat. Also the edges of the map or graphic are sometimes part of the work and should not be hidden. Glass or plastic is used for protection.”


‘New Yorker Confetti Cover’ lithograph print


“Watercolors usually are framed in shallow, narrow frames with medium to wide mats.”


‘Reclining Tiger’ watercolor print


“Pastels usually required shallow and narrow frames, with a liner to keep the glass from touching the chalky surface.”


‘Colorful Vase’ pastel print


Gouaches are similar to watercolors, but are stronger and more opaque, and therefore can have a heavier frame than is used for watercolors. Usually glass and mat are also used in framing gouaches.”


‘Mission Door’ gouache and watercolor print


“Photographs are best framed in a narrow frame, but can also be effective when simply mounted with or without borders on a block of wood or on plastic foam. When framed, mats and glass are used. The photo print is almost always rubber cemented or heat sealed to a mounted board to keep it flat.”


‘Toltec Gorge’ photograph print

I’ll share more from the book in Part II, on framing proportions and colors. And if you’d like to read the book, you can check it out for an hour at a time from Internet Archive — a great resource for finding reference manuals.