You walk into a framing gallery with a 16×20 family portrait. The employee assists you in choosing the perfect color mat to bring out the best in your picture, maybe even a double-mat. Next comes the frame. Maybe you want something rustic or something ornate. Finally you choose what type of glass looks best. Conservation clear, non-glare? So many choices! Then they ring up the cost.
I used to work at a custom picture framing gallery. I promise you, we were not trying to rip you off for all that you are worth. It’s expensive for you, and it’s expensive for the business owner.
You are paying for top-of-the line wood or metal moulding. This stuff is the real deal; it is not that painted plastic they try to pass off as wood at Walmart. You can choose real cherry or oak if you wish, or you can also opt for a less expensive veneered moulding. I have seen the cost of purchasing these for the business, and it is not cheap. The business is not trying to jack up the price, it truly is quality wood or metal you are paying for.
If you go to a quality frame shop, they will use acid-free materials. Mats and backings purchased at Walmart will acid burn your precious photos and artwork (even after as little as six months of use from my experience), acid-free materials preserve your art. Again, this sort of material is expensive for both the customer and business, but if you really want your artwork to last, I would pay the extra money to have it done correctly.
At the shop I used to work, you could choose four types of glass: regular, non-glare, conservation UV filtering regular, and conservation UV filtering non-glare. The latter two are the most expensive, but if you don’t want your pictures to fade from sunlight or even some light fixtures then that is the way to go. Depending on how much UV exposure your picture is receiving, pictures without UV glass can begin to fade after a few months. The cost difference between regular and UV glass depends on the overall size of your image, but it can range from 2-4 times as expensive as non-UV glass.
Labor, Skill, and Time
It takes time and precision to carefully assemble your artwork to utter perfection. I used to hammer, glue, vice, toothpick away excess residue, puddy-fill, and fully inspect your frame to make sure it was assembled to the best of my ability. Cutting mats wasn’t easy either. We made sure they were cut to the exact 1/16th of an inch. Anything less than perfect was unacceptable.
Framing takes time. At the shop I worked at, we told our customers to expect a turn-around time of four weeks due to the wait on making bulk orders for our customer’s products. Our products also came on a slow-boat barge from Seattle. However, I live on a remote island in Alaska, so a frame shop in Chicago might turn around a picture much faster, possibly in as little as a few hours.
And finally…it’s custom!
Really, you aren’t paying for a frame that was mass-produced in China. You are paying for a frame that is custom-cut to precisely fit your picture down the 1/16th of an inch with the highest quality materials available. You are paying for the workers you see behind to counter to do all the work for you in the shop you are standing in.
Framing itself is a work of art and can be expensive. Hopefully this article shed some light on why custom framing costs so much money, and it gives you a bit of appreciation behind the craft.