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Guide to framing a poster or puzzle

How to beautifully and securely frame a poster (or puzzle!)
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Why do I want to frame a poster or puzzle?

On their own, posters and puzzles can be beautiful objects of art that add visual appeal and liven up a space. But usually they need to be framed in order to look their best and enjoy a long and happy life adorning your walls. We will review the various options available to you so that your posters and puzzles are presented well and mounted securely. Going forward in this guide we will refer to posters, but we have also offered advice specific to puzzles in a separate section below.

Step 1: Pick your space

You may already have a screw placed in the wall at the ideal location on the wall where you want to hang your poster. If that’s the case, this step is complete. Congratulations! But if not, no worries. Picking the right spot to mount your poster is not hard. At this stage you simply need to identify the general area where your poster will go up. Getting the help of a friend makes this easier, too. If you have an existing frame that is similar in size to that of your poster, you can use this as a dummy by holding it against the wall while you or your friend steps back to gauge distances. Once you are generally satisfied with the choice, mark the wall with sticky notes at the bottom and sides of your dummy frame. By using sticky notes instead of pencil marks, cleanup will be that much easier later on.

Take a moment to consider how high on the wall you want to place your poster. A good starting point is to position the frame at least high enough so that the middle of the image is level with your eyes. But it will often be the case that a bit more height works out better. This height can be influenced by the presence of existing pictures, or of the frames of nearby windows and doors. Keep the existing features of the wall in mind when marking out your preferred height.

In case you are hanging more than one poster on the same wall or in the same vicinity, take the time to think about how much distance should be kept between frames. If the poster designs are related to one another in some way, you may want to keep them closer together so that the viewer can more easily make out that visual connection.

Step 2: Pick your frame

Picture frames consist of five main parts: 1) the frame itself; 2) the glass between the frame; 3) a backing board that holds the artwork in place; 4) a matte that sits over part of the artwork (optional); and 5) the mounting hardware. We will look at each of these separately.

Frame

Frames can be thick or thin, simple or ornate, and they are frequently made of wood, metal or plastic. Your framer will show you a variety of options, and will usually suggest several types that flatter your poster design. Choose the one that best fits into your preferred interior design style.

Please note that there are also so-called frameless picture frames. These do without the frame entirely, and instead sandwich your poster between the glass and backing board, with everything held together using skinny metal clips. This frame style has a clean and minimalist look, but may feel too “industrial” depending on the artwork you are mounting.

Glass

Standard glass comes in sheets and can be cut to size by your framer using special equipment. It is fairly cheap, and can easily be replaced.

Museum glass is a more expensive option that has been specially treated to significantly reduce glare and even provide UV protection to the artwork behind it. The difference between standard and museum glass is easiest to see when viewed side-by-side. If you want that extra protection from light damage, or if you are mounting your poster in a particularly reflective space, museum glass is a good option to consider.

Acrylic is a translucent polycarbonate material that is very clear and light, and since it is not made of glass, there is almost no risk of shattering. However, it is a fairly soft material that is prone to scratching and scuffing, and it usually does not lay as flat as glass. You may see some distortion in the reflection off of an acrylic sheet caused by a slight bowing in the material. That being said, it is still a popular choice, and a safety-conscious one as well if your poster is destined for a space where flying objects (such as children’s toys or balls) pose an existential threat to your poster’s well-being.

Backing board

Backing boards are the rear-most layer of a poster frame, and they serve to provide rigidity and support to the poster and glass (and matte, too, if you are using one). These are usually made of stiff cardboard or medium-density fiberboard (MDF). Your framer will select the appropriate material based on your specific requirements.

Matte

A matte is a board material that has a section cut out of the middle (usually a rectangle, but sometimes a square, circle or oval) that sits on top of the poster (that is, between the glass and the poster). The poster, or at least a portion of it, is visible inside of the cut-out section of the matte. Mattes are used to add drama to the framing of an image, or sometimes to cover up (and essentially replace) the border that may already exist in your poster. A matte can also increase the overall size of your poster frame; at a minimum the outer dimensions of the matte must be the same size as your poster, but they can be even bigger than this. How a matte is sized is entirely subject to your own taste, but it is an interesting option to consider because it can significantly alter the “feel” of your poster by elevating its look, adding depth (mattes are usually rather thick, and you can see this thickness clearly underneath the glass) and perhaps even bringing in color to your mounted poster.

When discussing matte options with your framer it is helpful to know the precise dimensions of your poster, including the inner artwork size in case the poster has a border (that is, a white or colored band around the main artwork). If you want to cover up that border with the matte, the inner dimensions of the matte should be slightly smaller than that of the main artwork. Usually 3-5 mm smaller on each side of the cut-out is sufficient to ensure that the matte barely overlaps the artwork. Take care, since if there is no overlap a small amount of the poster’s existing border will be visible, which will look odd. It should also be noted that you can also use a matte that intentionally shows a portion of the poster border. In this case just ensure that enough of that border is visible so that it looks like the choice was intentional.

Mounting hardware

The type of mounting hardware you select needs to be more than adequate to securely hold the weight of the frame. When you consider that standard poster sizes (18 x 24 in and 24 x 36 in) and common puzzle sizes (35 x 50 cm and 50 x 70 cm) make for a somewhat heavy frame, it is usually mandatory that some kind of hole be drilled into your wall. Adhesive hooks and strips typically are not up to the task, no matter what their packaging says. This is especially true in situations where the wall paint is old or of low quality, or if there are wide fluctuations in temperature or high levels of humidity.

The two most common ways to mount a heavier frame are 1) with a wire that horizontally spans the back of the frame, or 2) with a sawtooth bar that is screwed or hammered at the center of the top of the frame in the back. In both cases the wire or sawtooth bar are hooked onto a screw that has been drilled into the wall. Again, your framer will recommend an option based on the side of your frame.

Using colors

Both the frame material and matte are areas where you can introduce additional color into your mounted poster. It is common to opt for a white matte, but sometimes bringing in color, perhaps even a specific color plucked from the artwork, can bring about a dramatic effect. The same is true for the frame itself. While black or white are popular options owing to their neutrality, a colored frame can make your poster look punchier. Your framer can offer suggestions and show you examples so that you can assess whether color is something you want to incorporate into your frame and matte choices.

Keeping your poster safe

Try to avoid removing your poster from its shipping box until it is time to actually frame it. Your framer may insist on taking measurements directly from the poster, especially if you are opting to use a matte. Otherwise, keep it stored in its box to avoid dinging or creasing it.

A word about framing puzzles

Puzzles can also look great inside of a frame. In order to keep your completed puzzle intact, it is vital that you keep the puzzle flat and level until the moment it is snugly in place under glass. At the time of framing carefully transfer the puzzle face up onto the backing board, and then place the glass on top. Then position the frame over the edge of the sandwiched puzzle (now consisting of the backing board, puzzle and glass). Pinching the backing board firmly against the frame, gently flip the framed puzzle and finish fastening the backing board into place. Once this is done, the puzzle should not move, and can be safely mounted.

It is possible to use a matte with a puzzle, but you will need to add a spacer board (similar to the matte board) that has a cut-out exactly sized to the dimensions of your puzzle and frame. This spacer board will sit around the puzzle, preventing it from sliding around. When using a matte with your puzzle the overall frame size must be larger in order to accommodate the space taken up by the matte. Additionally, it may be necessary to use a slightly deeper frame that can accommodate the added thickness of the puzzle and spacer board.

Some people may prefer to lock the puzzle pieces together using a special type of adhesive that is brushed onto the surface of the completed puzzle and allowed to dry. This will add more stability to your mounted puzzle, but it is unnecessary provided that the puzzle be handled gently and kept flat prior to framing. Also, there is a certain amount of suspense that comes from viewing a puzzle that is only held together by pressure and friction.

Step 3: Mounting the poster

As the end of our project approaches, it’s time to carefully measure and mark the position on the wall where your framed poster will hang. Double check your measurements before making any holes. And whoever is doing the drilling should wear eye and hearing protection while operating the drill. In many Indian homes you will be fastening a screw into a solid wall, so make sure to use the correct type of wall plug. This is a skinny plastic sleeve (or also a wooden peg) that is hammered into the drilled hole. The screw is then screwed into the plug, which keeps it snugly in place.

Drilling holes into solid walls will create dust, so do a bit of cleanup before bringing your framed poster into the space. Now all that remains is to mount the frame onto the wall. Use a spirit level (or if that is not available, your own eyes) to level the frame. Now step back and admire the beautiful new addition to your decor!

A word on reusing a frame

You can readily reuse an existing frame in the future with a different poster. It’s as simple as taking down the poster from the wall, removing the backing board (this is usually taped down on all sides; you may need a razor to slice it open), and swapping out the old poster with a new one (be sure to re-tape the backing board in place). Keep in mind that the matte dimensions you chose previously (if a matte is present) may not be compatible with the new poster, so that may need changing as well.

Summary

With a bit of planning, you can transform a poster into a dazzling piece of wall art that elevates the look of your space. Pick the frame options that best suit the artwork and your own design style to maximize the impact of your framed poster.