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Tips for Framing a Drawing – a guide for artists

Framing a drawing is the final step in an artist’s creative endeavor. For an artist, there are so many framing possibilities, including size, color, style, and matting. A picture frame not only protects the artwork, but also enhances its appearance. Here are some tips for framing oil pastel, chalk pastel, charcoal, and pencil drawings. We also discuss the different kinds of hardware found on modern frames.

Custom Framing a Drawing

Custom framing and matting by professionals is the easiest way to frame a drawing. Just bring in or upload the drawing, choose a mat and frame, and let them do the rest. Although custom framing is expensive, your decision depends on how you display your artwork. If you sell drawings, or hang them in a gallery, custom framing is the best choice. Here’s a link to information about Michaels Custom Framing. ( This link is for information only, not an endorsement.) However, if you display artwork at home, do it yourself framing is very economical.

Framing a Drawing Yourself

What is a Mat and Do You Need One?

Corner of white framing mat with inner bevel, tips for framing a drawing with a mat
Corner of white framing mat with inner bevel. Image © 2023 Rhonda Roth

A mat is heavyweight cardboard placed inside a frame with an opening for the artwork. Artists mat a drawing sometimes for aesthetic reasons, but there’s a practical reason to use a mat as well. Framing with a mat creates a small gap between the drawing and the glass which protects the artwork from smudging or smearing. 

Oil and Chalk Pastel, and Charcoal Drawings Need Mats

Use a mat for an oil pastel drawing. Oil pastels don’t really dry, but remain tacky to the touch. Thick applications of oil pastel leaves some of oily residue on the glass. Hard and soft pastel, and charcoal drawings require a mat as well. The powdery nature of these media renders a drawing susceptible to smudging when in direct contact with glass. It’s questionable if a mat is necessary for a graphite pencil drawing. For most pencil drawings, a mat is unnecessary. For very soft pencil drawings where smudging is a possibility, a mat is beneficial.

Be aware that framing a drawing with a mat affects the size and price of the frame. With a mat, the frame size is larger, and larger frames command higher prices.

What Size Mat and Frame Should You Use?

Corner of wooden frame with white mat, tips for framing a drawing with a mat
Corner of wooden frame with white mat. Image © 2023 Rhonda Roth

For a matted drawing, buy a frame larger than the drawing to account for the size of the mat. Fortunately, online mat manufacturers help you determine what size mat you need for a given paper size by providing a sizing chart. Here are three common paper sizes with the sizes of mats and frames needed for each:

Paper Size/ Mat Size / Frame Size
9x12         /  12x16    / 12x16
11x14      /   16x20    / 16x20
18x24      /   22x28    / 22x28

Be aware that the opening on pre-cut mats is roughly 1/2 inch smaller than the size of the artwork. For example, a 16×20 inch mat accommodates a paper size of 11×14 inches but has an opening of only 10.5×13.5 inches. Thus, the mat obscures a 1/4 inch of the paper on each side. Consider the opening size of the mat when planning the composition of a drawing as discussed in the article How to Plan a Composition in Drawing.

When Framing a Drawing, What Color Mat and Frame Should You Choose?

I prefer a contrast between the color of the mat, the drawing, and the frame. For example, for a pencil drawing in black and white, a medium to dark color for the mat is a good choice together with a light color for the frame. For drawings in color, I like a white mat paired with a white frame. These simple, neutral color combinations provide a nice contrast between the drawing, mat, and frame, thus giving the artwork an open feeling.

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Practical Tips on Framing a Drawing

Does it Matter if Acrylic or Glass Covers the Drawing?

Acrylic and glass are both adequate to protect a drawing inside a frame, but there are pros and cons to each. 

Framing with Acrylic

Acrylic is lightweight and doesn’t break easily. If an artist frames a large drawing, say 18×24 or larger, the frame with an acrylic cover weighs a lot less than a similar frame using glass. This makes hanging the artwork easier. However, acrylic scratches easily. Be careful when handling the frame so that the acrylic doesn’t get scratched. Also, check to see that the acrylic isn’t already scratched when purchasing the frame. (Of course, this is impossible to do when purchasing frames online.) Even though many frame manufacturers place a protective film over the acrylic cover, surface scratches remain unnoticed till the frame is home and the film removed.

Framing with Glass

Glass is heavier than acrylic and also breakable. That being said, glass doesn’t scratch easily. If using glass with your frame, try to purchase a frame with non-glare glass. Non-glare glass, eliminates spurious reflections from the glass surface, enhancing the viewing experience. Always check to make sure the glass isn’t broken or cracked.

I prefer glass for framing simply because of the scratching issue. The size of most of my artwork is 11×14 or smaller, so the weight of the glass isn’t a problem for me. On occasion, I purchase frames with an acrylic cover, but I check the frame well for scratches before purchase.

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About Framing Hardware

When framing a drawing, think about what kind of hardware you want on the back of the frame. Wooden store-bought frames have different types of methods to affix the backing board to the frame. Some frames have metal tabs embedded into the wood, spaced at intervals around the back of the frame. After pulling each metal tab back, one removes the backing board and inserts the artwork into the frame. The backing board is replaced, and the tabs pushed back into position.

Back of frame showing metal tabs holding the backing board in place, tips on framing hardware
Back of frame showing metal tabs holding the backing board in place.
Image © 2023 Rhonda Roth

I don’t like the metal tab type of frame hardware for two reasons. First, I need a tool ( like the end of a flathead screwdriver or pliers ) to pull and push the stiff metal tabs. There’s also the risk of gouging the backing board with the tool. Second, I have to repeat this tedious if I want to remove the artwork later on.

Other frames have small wings on the back of the frame. One rotates these wings and removes the board, then rotates them back thus affixing the board to the frame. This type of hardware requires no tools, making framing a quick and easy process. I try to purchase frames with this type of hardware.

Back of frame showing rotating wings holding the backing board in place, tips on framing hardware
Back of frame showing rotating wings holding the backing board in place. This is the easiest type of hardware to use. Image © 2023 Rhonda Roth

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What to Look for When Framing a Drawing

Here’s a review of things to consider when choosing a frame:

  • When using a mat, remember the frame size is larger than the drawing to accommodate for the mat size.
  • Choose a neutral color combination for the mat and frame.
  • An acrylic cover is lightweight. Protect from scratching.
  • A glass cover adds weight to the frame. Glass won’t scratch. Protect from breakage.
  • Select a frame that makes it easy to insert and remove the drawing.

Have fun framing and admire your beautiful drawing!

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