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The High Cost of (DIY) Framing - why does custom framing cost so much?

Updated: Mar 15

“High-dollar frame Jobs”

‘The total cost of Do-It-Yourself framing’

Why does custom framing cost so much

My neighbor is a hairstylist, and she is very good at what she does. We met because of my DIY aspirations. I had decided that I was going to bleach my own hair using things I had in my kitchen. How hard could it be? I had gone outdoors to pull weeds in the sun while I allowed my devilish concoction to do its work when my neighbor drove by.

“Excuse me! Hi, hello! I’m your neighbor and I’m a professional hairdresser - and you need to go rinse that off your head.”

I, of course, assured her I had it well under control, however, the teeniest shred of doubt had emerged regarding the failsafe nature of my self-improvement project.

As soon as she was safely out of sight, I dashed to the garden hose, removed the foil, and began rinsing. As I rinsed, I both felt and heard the terrifying plink! -plink! -plink! of my super cool bleached bangs breaking off a quarter inch beyond the root. Oops.

Fortunately, she didn’t say I told you so. At least the hair grows back, right? It hurt only my vanity.

A few days ago, I had the luck of stumbling across an article on Business Insider, titled,

“High-dollar frame jobs” 'Why framing your photos and art winds up feeling like a total rip-off.’

And as I read along, I had what for me, was a shocking realization. If you haven’t experienced OMG framing - framing that when you pick up your project, you say "Oh my goodness!"- then what you are getting might really seem to be as simple as four sticks of moulding and a sheet of glass. Beyond the basics of paying skilled artisans to create a custom product, I felt this topic needed a bit more elaboration.

The writer goes on to describe framing an Olympic Poster using a butterknife as a pry bar. Gentle reader, please do not use edged objects as improvised tools. If ever you feel the temptation to do so, please come visit me. I will help you. We can get through this together. For less than the cost of a trip through the drive-through, we can get your art into your frame, sealed with a dust jacket, and we will install a properly tied wire. We gladly offer glass replacement services.

I think many of us have had the brilliant idea that we can DIY a task that we should have handed over to the people who are educated and certified for that task to complete. Sometimes it works out, but often we spend as much, if not more compensating for unforeseen factors.

When you come to a custom frame shop to commission a one-of-a-kind, handmade frame for your art, we take all the same time and care that your hairdresser would, to find out exactly what your needs are and how we can achieve the look you would like, without breaking the bank or damaging your art or documents. Custom-commissioned framing is often equally or more affordable than custom-commissioned art and lasts longer than a haircut.

Much like your hair, your art is going to have different needs than any other art piece, even if it’s a print or a reproduction in a series. If you have fine curly hair, the comb that your sister, who also has curls swears by could still do great harm. Even if your hair type is similar, you don’t have the same history. You may have colored your hair, or you might be a swimmer. Environmental factors are going to make a big difference between whether a treatment is successful or damaging. Art requires the same skilled attention. Making a mistake could be costly.

If a piece is aged, brittle, or was previously framed, it’s going to have condition issues that may not be immediately apparent. Paper matting should be replaced between 5 and seven years after purchase, or before the matboard edge turns tan. The tan color in the fibers of the mat are sign that the acid buffering has run out and the mat has become acidic and can stain your art. Lignin-free cotton ragmat can last 25 years or more without becoming acidic.

The very first thing I want to know when you bring your art to Colibri Art and Framing is what you love about your art. This is important because not only are we determining what colors and materials would be right for your project, but how much frame you actually need to get the look you desire. If you are creating a gallery wall with multiple concert posters, it might not make sense to use matting with your posters, especially if you have limited wall space.

The important question isn't what the art costs. The question is, do you love it? Do you want to look at it every day for the next five years or more, looking the best it possibly can for as long as it possibly can, or will you have gotten your value from your investment within a year or two?

To give our clients the best framing outcomes possible, we need to know the story behind your art and how you came to select it. Suppose a papyrus cartouche was brought back from Egypt after your second honeymoon last summer, and it will be hanging in your dining room. In that case, we are going to offer a different set of options than if it were a historic papyrus that will hang in your office. Both pieces are valuable for different reasons, but the variances in age and materials determine what the appropriate choices for framing might look like.

Both pieces may be similar in appearance, but this similarity is only surface-deep. The treatment of the older piece is going to require extremely gentle, less invasive, and possibly restorative treatment to prevent damage that a more contemporary piece made with modern materials and that has not been subjected to time and environmental stressors would not. If a piece is severely damaged or is in danger of losing structural integrity, we can refer you to one of our trusted conservators who will stabilize and/or repair your art.

If a piece is delicate or historic, we offer washi kozo hinging; a mounting method using rice starch paste, and a mâché technique. Mulberry bark paper strips are used instead of framers tape when mounting your art. This is completely reversible, with a watercolor brush, leaving behind no trace.

We also need to know the value of the piece. This doesn’t necessarily mean monetary value. Value isn’t always defined by the replacement cost of the object. Value can be sentimental, historical, or personal. A photograph of your Great Grandmother as a child, is going to have great value, historically, and sentimentally, even though one could find many pictures of someone else's grandmother in a thrift or antique store for a few dollars. Cost alone does not determine the value of the art. Instead of cost, value should determine what type of materials should be used to frame this project.

Valuable art and documents should be framed using the highest standard of preservation framing that meets your specific needs.

The next thing we want to find out is where and how long you would like to display this piece. Is this décor that will be displayed seasonally to match a rotating theme, or will this be a statement piece that hangs in your entryway, to be viewed upon arrival by your guests and family members? This is going to affect the recommendations we make for framing your art and documents. In most cases, if you value the piece enough to frame it, it’s worth protecting under UV glass or acrylic. If the piece will be displayed in a brightly lit room, we may recommend that it be rotated in the summer months to extend the lifespan of the art.

Once we have a general feel for what the piece is, how and where you would like to display it, and for how long, we can talk about colors and materials. We will talk about the type of furnishings and existing frames in the room where the piece will be displayed, and what your style looks like. If color makes you want to sing and dance, this is the time to tell us. If you have a love of Jazz or travel we can subtly reference these influences with the style and profile of your frame or select an Italian or French-made frame moulding. We will talk about period and style as well as textures and finishes to bring out what you love most about your art.

When selecting frames, many things will affect the price. The face width of the moulding will be a good starting point for cost basis with narrower frames costing less than wider ones. Larger projects will require wider mouldings to support the larger, heavier glass. The finish of the moulding will also affect cost. Frames made with exotic or hand-carved woods, tooled leather, closed or splined corners or artisan finishes like water gilding will have more hand hours in their creation and a higher monetary cost. They often have the added value of more options for customization in finishing so you can get exactly the shape, depth, texture or finish you are looking for.

We carry a large selection of hardworking basics in blacks and whites, contemporary, traditional, woods and metallics from ornate to modern to offer high-quality options suitable for a wide variety of framing needs and budgets.

Cost surpasses value when you buy something you don’t need for something you don’t love and you aren’t sure why. The solution is simple. Love what you frame. With this as the guiding basis for your framing project, you will get value and art that lasts beyond a season.

The total cost of framing isn't made up solely by what it costs today, but what it saves in the long term.

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