Refurbishing an old art piece

I (Mark) have an old watercolor art from my grandfather. It was framed in Japan, I’m guessing, about 20 years ago. After bringing home another art piece where I used Museum Glass, I felt that this really needed a glass upgrade.

When I took it down and examined the glass, I noticed there was a small crack in it, so at this point there was no question that I would need to replace it. And it would be a chance to examine how the piece was framed.

As I’ve worked on older pieces that customers have brought it from time to time, I’ve found it interesting and educational to learn how they were framed. And now I was about to do it with one of my own pieces.

I begin with before and after photos comparing how Museum Glass almost entirely eliminates reflections. And then I have a series of photos during the refurbishing process and some brief notes about my observations.

Before, with regular glass and a distracting amount of reflections
After, with museum glass
Standard glass – don’t think it was UV blocking
Hanging hardware was cotton twine
Art fit into the plastic pieces, “mat” was cloth on wood
The “fillet” as actually just the plastic
There was indeed UV caused fading (next photo might show it better)
All the parts, disassembled
Reassembled, with museum glass
Dust blocking paper on the back, and new hanging hardware

Let’s Talk Framing – Part 4

Earlier installments here:

  • Part 1 – General framing benefits
  • Part 2 – Value framing packages
  • Part 3 – standard mat design options

Putting the “Custom” into Custom Framing

Up to this point we’ve discussed the more typical framing designs that are selected – a frame and some mats, or no mat at all. These offer beautiful, elegant designs appropriate for nearly all types of art and destination spaces.

But what if you are looking for something different and unique?

That’s where the “custom” in custom framing shines. The only limits are the creativity and imagination of the customer and the designer, equipment available and skills of the framer, and the customer’s budget.

Here are a few examples of design options that we’ve put together.


Fillets (pronounced fi’-lets, not fi-lay‘ like the fish) can be an alternative to a second mat. It is installed around the top mat and creates a separation between the art and the mat. The fillet matches or complements the outside frame. The photo at the top of the page shows one example. Below is another.


Canvas and Metal Print Framing

In addition to framing the more common types of art, we can also frame canvas (that is already installed in stretcher bars) and metal prints. Frames can add a unique touch and enhance the beauty of the piece.

This example of a framed canvas piece covers the edge. We have other frame styles where the canvas is “floated” inside the frame to show the edges. This is appropriate for canvas art where the painting goes around the edge.


Here is an example where a metal print was framed in a rustic wood style frame. It complements the tree and adds a “finish” feeling to the piece. Depending on what kind of hanging hardware comes pre-installed, we may not be able to place another frame on it, or frames choices may be limited.


Float Mounting

Float mounting is a design style that allows all of the art to be displayed, including its edges. It was briefly mentioned during the canvas example, but its use can be extended to other types of art.

This example is an original sketch. The drawing came too close to the edges to allow it to be mat-mounted without looking overcrowded and awkward. Instead we chose to float the sketchbook page with the torn edge visible and then installed a double mat with a gap. There are spacers around the edge to float the mat above the art. The sketch is mounted directly to the backing board.


The next example is a photograph printed edge to edge. The photograph itself is floated above the bottom mat or backing board with some spacer boards. The border mat is another elevation above the photograph. Together with the gap between the mat and the photograph, this design offers a sense of depth not achievable with standard matting design.


This third example is another photograph floated above the bottom mat. In this example we chose to not use a floating border mat. Instead we cut a closed V-groove to add another border element.


Open V Groove

We’ve already shown a couple examples that use closed V grooves. Another option is to use an open V groove to show more of a second mat color. An example is shown below. This example is a bit non-standard for an open V groove since the red reveal is actually a third mat installed inside the second layer (same level as the grey).


“Shadow Box” Style

This next example is a “shadow box” style mount. It isn’t a true shadow box since since they are typically used to mount and frame 3D objects inside. But what is common is that the deep, inside edge of the frame is a vital component of the overall design.

In this example the print extended nearly all the way to the edge of the frame. It could have been framed without a mat but it felt like something was missing when we tried it that way. Adding a splash of color through the use of narrow strips of matboard to line the edge of the frame and mount the art at the bottom gave it what it was originally missing.


Lights, Custom Cuts, and More

This final example is our most complicated and involved design to-date. It is kind of a reverse shadow box. The most unique element is the backlight installed to allow the transparencies to be visible. We lined the inside edge and back with white foamboard to increase the light reflection and diffusion. The lights are provided by LED strips so temperature and bulb-life should not be an issue. We placed UV blocking glass on both sides of the art layer.

There are three mat layers used, although only one is visible. The top layer has three openings, the second layer has two (for the film strips), and the third layer to secure the inside glass sheet. This is an example of multiple openings and also an example of custom corner cuts on every opening. The top mat is suede.


In Conclusion

This concludes our four-part survey and discussion of custom framing and some of the options we offer at FireLight Gallery & Framing. We hope that this has been instructive and also sparking inspiration about how you might want to see your art framed.

Let’s Talk Framing – Part 3

If you missed earlier installments, follow these links to learn more:

Standard Matting Options

Matting provides both functional and aesthetic benefits to the framed art piece or photograph.

Functional Benefits

One of the key benefits is that matting places a space between the glazing (usually glass) and the art. For long-term conservation, it is usually best to not have the art in direct contact with the glass. Matting provides this function.

Another function of matting is to help hold the art in place. The art is mounted to a backing board of some kind, but the addition of a mat in front can help in better securing all the sides through pressure and friction.

Aesthetic Benefits

Aside from all the functional benefits given, the most obvious benefit is aesthetics.

First, matting offers a negative-space separation between the frame and the art, allowing the art to stand out from the frame.

Secondly, the colors chosen for the mat(s) can complement and highlight portions of the artwork. The colors can help bring together multiple pieces under a theme. They can be incorporated into an overall interior design of a room.

When there are multiple mats incorporated into a matting design, each of the mats showing under the top mat is called a “reveal.” The overall design of the number of mats, the colors, and the size of each of the reveals can create a visual focal point in an art piece.


Double Mat

Here are a few examples of the more common matting options. Pictured at the top of the page is probably the most common type of matting: a double mat. This particular example uses a white top mat to match the white background of the print, but then incorporates a red, color-core black mat reveal to highlight both the black and the red in the print.


Here is another double mat example. This one uses a suede brown top mat to evoke the impression of swirling coffee to complement the coffee art. The bottom mat with the light cream colored reveal also seeks to evoke a “latte” look.

_DSC4842_smallSingle Mat

Here is a single mat example. Single mats are clean and simple. In this example the color was selected to match the forest theme of the art.

Single mats are often used in office settings and with neutral colors such as white, black, grey, and beige.

Mat Pricing

This is a good time to talk about costs associated with matting. The customer pays for the full outer size of each mat that is used (we have a framing order software that computes all the costs). So a two-mat design will be double that of a single mat (assuming same type of mat is used for both).

Different types of mats have different costs associated with them. A basic 4-ply paper mat is the least expensive. More costly mats include ones that are cotton rag, color and black cores, suede, specialty textures and finishes, and linen.

No Mat


Here is an example of art framed without a mat. We place spacers around the edge of the glass to keep the art from touching the glass. The benefits of no mats is a lower cost and can potentially fit into spaces where the extra width and height of matting might cause the piece to become too large.


Here is another example of a piece framed without a mat. In this case the glazing is acrylic and for many types of mediums the art can be placed in direct contact with the acrylic. This allows for pressure to mount the piece directly to the surface of the glazing.

Triple Mat

_DSC4838_small _DSC4817_small

Here are a couple of examples with three mats. The typical design is a smaller bottom reveal and a slightly wider top reveal, although it doesn’t have to be that way. Triple mats add an elegance and refinement to the presentation of the art. The design process may take longer because there is now three colors that have to work together with the frame to enhance the art, but the end result is worth it.

The left example uses a white top mat to give the photography a clean look, but uses the orange and blue to highlight the complementary colors of the sunrise.

The right example uses the dark blue-grey top mat to echo the forest, the white middle reveal to highlight the snow caps, and the narrow pink bottom reveal to highlight the sky. This design also incorporates a closed V-groove to further direct the focus to the art.

More Options

This installment discussed matting options and features that are most commonly requested and used. These will work for a large range of art pieces. But there are times when a piece calls for more creative and unique treatments. In the next installment we will discuss more exotic mounting and matting examples.

Let’s Talk Framing – Part 2

In Part One we discussed custom framing generally and some of the most common features and benefits.

In this installment we discuss a few of the ways we are offering local customers a way to receive many of the benefits of custom framing for a lower cost and faster turnaround time.

Time and Cost

A custom framing job where the customer and the designer choose and size every component results in a wonderful piece of art to hang in the home or office. But we realize that not every piece of art or memorabilia needs such extensive treatment. And sometimes you don’t have the two weeks or so that it might take to get the components ordered, shipped, assembled, and finished.


We also have a dilemma to solve: what to do with remnants of custom framing jobs, especially mat boards. A custom framing customer pays for the portion of the mat board that is used for their job, but we end up with the remainder. Sometimes it is a large amount that we can use for another job, but often it ends up too small or oddly sized to be useful on another custom job.

Value Packages

As a result of some brainstorming and suggestions from patrons, we decided to order a stock of (unassembled) frames in a couple of set sizes that we could have on hand. These would be offered with mat options pulled from ones we already have on hand — the remnants. Because we aren’t ordering new stock and the costs associated with shipping them in, we are able to offer the packages at approximately 30-40% less than what the same order might cost otherwise. Since these are also using existing stock, turnaround time can be as little as a day.

No Compromises

The frames are from the same supplier that we use for regular custom framing orders. They are a selection of the more economical choices available, and they are simple in design and color choices are limited. But the quality is the same.

The mat boards are what other customers have ordered and used for their projects. They are the same conservation grade boards.

The glass, too, is the same 99% UV blocking glass.

We assemble and finish with the same backing board, dust cover, and hanging hardware.

Just because the price to you is lower doesn’t mean we are compromising on the quality of materials used.


Here are the options and recommendations, where applicable.



We offer two sizes: 9×11 and 12×15.

The 9×11 is good for smaller art, photos, and documents. It can frame a piece as large as 8×10 but we recommend 7×9 or smaller for this frame.

The 12×15 is good for 8×10 to about 10×13. It can accommodate 11×14.

Frame Colors

The 9×11 is offered in four colors: black, white, natural, and walnut.

The 12×15 is offered in three colors: black, white, and natural.


Here is the bottom line.


  • Single Mat – $49
  • Double Mat – $59


  • Single Mat – $69
  • Double Mat – $79

Other Options

Other mounting and framing variations may be possible, within reason, and for additional cost. If you have an idea of how you want your piece framed with these packages, come in and discuss it with us. We’ll let you know if it can be done.

Next Time

In our next installment we will discuss some of the variations on matting and give examples of each.

Let’s Talk Framing – Part 1

Custom Framing

What makes custom framing different from simply purchasing a ready-made frame is that we partner with you, the customer, to create a framing design that fits you, the art, and the display location. You aren’t limited to standard frame sizes and mat openings. The design fits around the art, not vice versa.

The materials and supplies are custom ordered from our suppliers once a frame design is finalized and the customer places the order with us. Materials typically arrive in about a week, although it might take longer depending on how the supplier ships and other factors beyond our immediate control. Most framing orders are started in about a week and finished within two weeks of placing the order.


Custom Framing can help protect your art, photographs, and memorabilia in ways that off-the-shelf frames typically cannot.

One of the most important parts in a framing job is the glazing (the glass or acrylic that covers the art). All our glazing is 99% UV blocking, meaning the work inside is protected from light that can fade and damage the art. Glazing can also protect the work from accidental physical damage such as something hitting it or splashing onto it. The glazing takes the damage, limiting what reaches the art. Glazing can also reduce the amount of dust and harmful environmental pollution from contacting the art.

For larger pieces where weight is a concern, or for pieces that hang where broken glass may become a concern (impact or vibrations causing art to drop, for example), acrylic glazing may be an option to consider.

A custom framed piece is typically matted or spacers placed around the edge to prevent the art itself from contacting the glazing. Prolonged direct contact may lead to damage of the art and by placing a gap, we are able to prevent this type of damage from occurring.

We use conservation backing boards and place dust protection paper on the back of most framed pieces (we don’t do it for metal frames and most canvas pieces). This additional step helps improve the protection and longevity of your art. (Side note: when you use off-the-shelf frames, please replace any cardboard you find with acid-free materials!)


Not surprisingly, custom framing is not inexpensive. A smaller piece, such as an 8×10, matted and framed typically begins at just over $100 using less expensive frame and mat choices.

Frame selection is the greatest determinant of cost. A simple, fairly narrow and shallow, flat-profile frame is less costly than one that uses lots of wood and/or features ornamentation. Metal frames typically run about the same price as wood frames.

Glazing type can also have a huge effect on cost. We offer the following glazing choices (from most economical to most costly): Conservation Clear Glass, Conservation Reflection Control Glass, Museum Glass, Conservation Acrylic, Conservation Reflection Control Acrylic, and Museum Grade Acrylic.

There are numerous types of mats available. Standard 4-ply conservation grade paper mats are the most economical. Additional cost can purchase textured mats, suede mats, 8-ply thick mats, linen mats, and more.

As much as we would like to offer lower prices, shipping materials up to Alaska is a costly proposition, especially for large and heavy items such as glazing and matboards. We hope you understand.

Future Installments

Next time we will discuss our value priced package which can bring many of the features of custom framing discussed above at a more economical price point.

And in subsequent installments we will discuss other features we can offer you to highlight the artwork you have.

Value Framing Package

_DSC3971-1We are pleased to introduce a more accessible and framing package. The frame finish and mats have options that can be customized. The maximum recommended size of art or photo is 8×10.

A single mat package is $49, and a double mat package is $59. (Frame only with glass and rear foam board is also available for $39.)

Included in this value package:

  • A 9×11 (inside dimensions) frame available in one of (4) matte black, matte white, walnut, and natural wood finishes. The frames are constructed from quality hardwood and measure 3/4″ wide with a flat, square profile.
  • 99% UV blocking conservation grade glass.
  • Choice of one or two mats, opening cut to properly fit your art or photograph. Mat choices are limited to what we have on hand and may vary from time to time. We generally have a wide selection to choose from.
  • Mounting onto rigid foam core board.
  • Backing paper and hanging hardware installed.

_DSC3975-4Additional features may be available as extra cost add-ons. These include:

  • Closed and open V-grooves.
  • Multiple openings for multiple, small pieces in a single frame.
  • Float or semi-float mounting.

Please ask if you are interested in any of these and we will advise on cost and feasibility.

Frame color choices (slideshow or use arrows to scroll):


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Glass Options

We primarily offer three types of glass for your framing orders. You can see the examples of each in the above photograph.

The most common and least expensive option is found on the middle framed photo: Conservation Clear with 99% UV protection. It meets the needs of most art projects. It is affordable and easy to maintain with a quick wipe with a non-ammonia based glass cleaner. As you can see, it is highly reflective which means it may not be the best option if there are many light sources or windows where your art is displayed.

A second option is Reflection Control glass on the right. It is moderately expensive but offers near complete elimination of reflections. The compromise is that in order to achieve this kind of control, a coating is on the surface of the glass which gives it a slight “haziness” through the glass. This haziness becomes more apparent the farther away the art is from the glass (e.g., a triple matted art will look hazier than a singly matted one). A darker piece of art will appear more hazy than a light colored one. In a setting where you have many, multi-directional sources of light, this glass may be a good choice.

A third option is Museum Conservation glass that is found on the photo on the left. This is a highly specialized glass and expensive. It offers an incredible degree of clarity with good elimination of harsh reflections (though not completely). It is also a glass that is difficult to care for as it shows every spot and fingerprint that ends up on the glass surface. For high-value art and display under controlled conditions, this may be an option you might want to consider.

When you come in to design your framing on your art, some of the questions we ask will include where you plan to display your art. With your art piece, budget, display location and lighting conditions we can help guide your glass choice to protect your valuable art.