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Back To Basics: Quick ‘n Easy Print Framing!


By Peter E. Randall—

Based on nearly sixty years of experience, I believe there are two major elements to photography. The first part is the making of an image, whether on film, digital or smartphone. The other aspect is what to do with it.

Today, internet programs such as Instagram or Facebook appear to be the prime destinations for digital images. This may be momentarily satisfying, but it does nothing for the long-term appreciation of your work. The display of a print says this is a piece of art worth looking at. After making your own prints, the next step is to display the work.

Fig. 1. A pre-cut mat (top) and backer board (bottom) butted edge to edge for and joined with tape to make a hinge. The mat  can then be swung forward over the print to allow exact alignment. 

Frame shops are an obvious choice, but if you want to prepare several images, the cost may be prohibitive. Furthermore, it’s easier to do it yourself than you might think.

My work has appeared in many exhibits over the years, so I have lots of frames I can reuse, but usually I acquire new mats and backer board. I have found several internet sellers who can provide a complete package of pre-cut mats, backer board, and a plastic bag to protect the print until you are ready to frame.

Or just buy the pre-cut mats and use Red River’s archival mat board and plastic bags. I bought a hand-held mat cutter once but found the process tedious. Pre-cut mats are not expensive. I use Nielsen metal frames, (see Resources below) a product with many colors and frame styles and easy to assemble or disassemble, and available from many sources.

And I use acrylic plexiglass instead of regular glass. For larger prints it’s much lighter and well worth the extra cost. Many photographers today have skipped covering their prints, preferring to let the natural beauty of the paper to shine through without having distracting reflections for the viewer to deal with.

Use a large workspace to make the framing process easier. You don’t need many tools; just a small screwdriver to use when assembling the frame, and a needle-nosed pliers (or even  tweezers will do), to pull out the springs that hold the print tight in the frame when it’s reassembled.

Fig.2. After aligning the print within the mat, place a weighted object on a piece of paper over the print to hold it in position on the backer board Then, swing the mat back on its hinge which allows access to the print for anchoring it in place on the backer board. Don’t remove the weight until the print is locked into position.

There are many approaches to matting the print. Here’s the way I do it and the materials I use. Since I use Red River archival paper and mats, I also use archival mounting materials. Non-archival materials may not protect your print for the long term.

First, butt the  edge of the mat against the backer board and tape the two pieces together to make a hinge (Fig. 1). Next place your print on the backer board and cover it with your mat. Make sure to print your image with a one-inch or larger border so that the mat will not excessively overlap the image.  Slide your print around under the mat so that it is properly positioned; I usually just position the print by eye, but you can also measure it.

When the print is properly positioned under the mat, place a clean piece of paper on the print and place something heavy on the paper to keep the print in place (Fig. 2.) Then swing the hinged mat (still attached to the backer board) up and off the print. Now  can anchor the print to the backer board. Prints can be taped in place, but that can make it difficult to remove the print later should it need replacing or swapping with a different image.

Fig. 3. A transparent corner anchors the print in place on the backer board. You can also use tape but it may not be as easy to replace the print with another, if desired.

I prefer to use four archival transparent corners to anchor the print but allow it to be removed if desired (Fig. 3.) I also like larger corners because they are easier to handle. (see Resources below.) Check to make sure they do do not show beyond the borders of the mat—trim them to a smaller size if they do. You are now ready to use double-sided tape to hold the mat to the backer board before  poping everything into the frame and locking it in.

I use pre-cut mats because I try to compose my images so that I don’t have to crop to odd sizes. If, however, you often crop images, you’ll have to order a custom mat and may also need a custom backer board to match. Online companies such as (see Resources below.) offer custom mats and frames as well as standard frames and mats.

Less expensive frames are also available from art and department stores, but those might not use archival materials. Nevertheless, if you are framing images for your own display you can always print another and replace the first if it starts to  fade or shows other signs of wear. Some photographers routinely make two copies of a print and keep one in a cool, dark drawer so that a spare is always available. You’ll find, though, that print permanency is pretty good with today’s papers and inks.

A small needle-nosed pliers is all you need to remove springs on Nielsen frames. Reassembling them is easily done with a screwdriver.

Matting supplies (left to right): tape for hinging the mat and backer board together before placing the print in position. Linco transparent corners for holding the print in position. Double-sided tape for holding the mat and backer board together before placing them in the frame.

Your framed work makes a wonderful gift for family or friends and provides the option of showing your photographs in an exhibit. Unless you make a living from selling your work, I suggest offering reasonably priced exhibit prints. I want my work to be out in the world and, while it would be nice to sell my framed photographs for many hundreds of dollars, I likely won’t sell many that way.

I taught a photography workshop for many years at a non-profit conference center and at the end of the workshop my students exhibited their unframed prints which sold for ten dollars each as a fund raiser for the center. Most of these attendees had never sold one of their photographs before and they were thrilled that someone cared enough for their work to buy it.

But let’s make something clear: I’m not suggesting  you sell your work for ten dollars, but setting a reasonable price offers a better chance of selling your work and knowing that your art is appreciated and gracing someone’s home. So give it a try and you’ll see how easy it is to get started.


Pete Randall is a Red River Pro who specializes in  landscape, nature, and documentary photography. His images have appeared in magazines and in ten published books of his work. He has also been featured at major art exhibits. Visit Pete’s website at:


Nielsen Frames and other supplies are available at Frame Destination.

Photo mounting corners and other supplies at Lineco.

Red River Print Storage and Framing Guide.

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Original Publication Date: October 19, 2021

Article Last updated: June 12, 2024

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