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Art collectors often tell us, “your framing is an art.” While we don’t entirely agree, we know these kind words are said with nothing but the best intentions, and we deeply appreciate the sentiment. Here’s the thing: the actual act of picture framing – cutting mats and joining wooden frames – is, when done with care and precision, a form of high craftsmanship.

But, the frame design can almost be an art form. We’re not talking about what many picture frame shops call the “frame selection.” Frame selection is not frame design. One selects a frame based on whether they like it or not.

One designs a framing based on the elements and principles of design. These design elements are the very same building blocks that artists use when creating a work of art. That’s not to say a frame designer or an artist shouldn’t, from time to time, disregard the principles of design.

In a post-modern world, it’s of course totally acceptable to break rules. Rules, as they say are, made to be broken. But design rules when framing should only be tossed aside when done so knowingly. In other words, break the rule but understand the rule you’re breaking.

A good frame designer considers the following design elements and principles when designing a framing that will support the art that’s being framed:


Line can be either the brush strokes or the edge created when two shapes meet.

A frame should graphically play to the lines and edges in the artwork.


Color can play an enormous role in designing a framing. The color wheel is one of the best tools used by a frame designer. For example, if one wants to “pull out” the green in a painting, one may consider using red, the color complement of green, thus creating simultaneous contrast. That’s to say when red is put next to green both colors intensify. Combing colors can be key to a good frame design. Value (also called tone), the lightness or darkness of a color, is another important design element.


A shape is a defined self-contained area; it can be organic or mechanical (geometric). Mechanical shapes can elicit a sense of order while organic shapes give a more natural feel. Frames come in many profiles (shapes) and by observing the various shapes in the artwork, a designer can use a frame that supports the shapes in the piece.


Texture is the surface quality of an artwork, smooth, rough, glossy, etc.. Texture can be either tactile or visual. Tactile texture is the actual three-dimensional feel of a surface while visual texture is the illusion of surface peaks and valleys. Both types of textures are important to frame design. By observing the various textures in an artwork, a frame designer can use a frame and matting that works with, or even contrasts, the piece.

Having an awareness of the texture can positively influence a frame design.

Framing Does Employ Some Design Elements and Principles

These are some of the many elements and principles of design that, if employed correctly, can help to create a solid frame design that enhances and supports the art.

Knowing how and why a frame works – or doesn’t work – can be a measurable help in getting it right.

So yes, frame design can almost be an art. At the very least, when done properly, frame design employs many of the very design elements and principles the artist used in making the piece.

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