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Friday, 01 February 2013


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What do you recommend for signing an inkjet print?

I was looking at some "old" inkjet prints recently (7 years old or so), and the black ink of the signature had diffused outwards.

I guess it would have been some form of fine "permanent" marker pen - certainly a pure black.

I hate to admit it but when I first saw the headline and the photo of the framing shop I immediately thought, "Well if it were me, I'd have framed the image wider and a bit to the right."

Since you mentioned the cheap ready-made frames, there is one big problem with them: Nearly all of them use hardboard or a similar wood fiber product as backing boards. From an archival point of view that is pretty much the worst possible choice of material, because both the wood fibers (the lignin in them) and the binder materials will release harmful gases. The standard Nielsen frames and an archival cardboard as backing board are not that much more expensive.

Useful synopsis, but...Glass or no glass?
I prefer no glass but too often get bullied into using it.

Hi Mike,

Considering that I have nearly eight TOP print offers still sitting in their mailers in my office this is a very valuable series and an excellent reference. And, you are right, it is freaking cold! -2 here Eden Prairie, MN right now. Haven't set foot outside for days.



Brrr? Not too long ago I thought you were lamenting the lack of an old fashioned winter in Wisconsin.

[Yeah. Just because I'm happy, though, doesn't mean my fingers weren't going to freeze off out there. --Mike]

I find wide matting to be ludicrous. When I see one, it always comes to my mind that one distinguishing feature of a fancy restaurant is that they bring you a huge plate with a tiny piece of food, often to offset mediocre food taste :-)
Somehow painters for centuries managed to do without wide blank space between the frame and the image. Were they wrong? Or is photography a radically different art?

Speaking as someone who has spent some time in framing, well said!


I generally mount mat and frame all my own work, and I exclusively use black metal exhibition frames, much like the Nielson frames above. They're the "little black dress" of the framing world; very versatile and they always look good.

Also, with black and white printing, the warmth of the mat board can really set the print off, or not, so that's a consideration.

Very helpful for us amateurs. Thanks, Mike. I was happy to see metal frames examined. I prefer them but very seldom frame anything. The last framing shop I visited showed me many, many wood frames I disliked. Then I crawled around and spotted the very dusty metal frames hidden in a corner, and I found just what I wanted. The proprietor told me they were old-fashioned and shunned by everyone these days. Reading your column I now feel vindicated and slightly less ancient.

An option not mentioned (yet) is buying a frame online. You can specify sizes, colors and materials and then assemble them at home. Haven't done it myself but it looks doable.

For ease in throwing together shows I use "Framatic Fineline" frames with shadow mats: 18x24 frames for 13x19 prints.

For custom framing, I work with a local fine art gallery that also specializes in framing. We have a good working relationship: the talented staff all are artists in their own right, and the results are terrific. Costs about 5x more.

8 ply mats (twice as thick) are a really nice touch. Museums use them for works on paper.

Whatever the case, always use acid free.

Personally I find that for my fine art photographs I like a wide float of 3/4 inch and a mat of at least 3 inches with an extra 1/2 inch or more on the bottom. The choice of signing medium is an interesting problem with some people wanting a bold signature and others preferring it to be quiet. Glossy papers seem to require ink but matte papers are quite nice when signed in pencil. When signing with ink, be sure the ink itself is also archival.

Ansel Adams's book on the photographic print has a formula for the width of the lower margin of a mat to give optically pleasing proportions to the mat; works great.

I much prefer a dark wood frame to metal. Is there such a thing as an archival wood frame?

A website I use frequently to 'optically center' my smaller square prints to 8x10 or 11x14 frames is http://www.russellcottrell.com/photo/centering.htm ( please forgive me if I haven't inserted the link correctly ). Just thought it might be useful to some.

Very helpful and timely, and I'll look forward to part two. I say timely because I'm showing 7 photos tonight along with my photo club during a local downtown gallery walk (11 others involved). I went slightly down market from Target and found some surprisingly ok looking frames with mats at Walmart. They don't look half bad. Most folks are going with simpler foam board displays, a very mixed group.

The only thing I don't like about signing photos is that my handwriting looks pretty bad... Need to work on that.

I expect it is a matter of personal taste, but what is considered best practice with regard to the float? I frame pictures with about a 1/4 inch gap between the mat and the edge of the photo. Sometimes it is necessary for a wider float on the bottom edge if the photographer has added a title or signature, as you did with the Turnley picture. But I often see pictures matted with no float, even in museums. This always bothers me as I worry that perhaps the mat is a bit too large and might be cropping the edges of the picture.

If anyone is interested, I finally found a company (Frame Destination) where I can buy my frame, mat, backing, glass glazing, etc., unassembled (or assembled for slightly more where all you need to do is mount the photo in the single or double matting and slide it in the frame), all cut to my specified measurements. The shipping is dirt cheap (relatively), very fast, and packaged such that you could run over it with a truck and not damage the contents. My framer, who was excellent, just got to be too expensive for me, except for rare projects. The online Frame Destination is usually 1/2 the cost of the professional framer. I am by no means a professional framer, but I have been very pleased with the results.

The caveat is that one needs to be certain of the exact sizing of the frame and matts when ordering, because they will be cut precisely to your specifications (their web site offered a brief tutorial on sizing and matting that was a huge help).


Lots of good advice here, thanks!

I could never afford to frame my photos if I had to pay for professional framing. I buy decent frames, archival mat, and archival backing board and paper and cut the mat myself using a relatively inexpensive mat cutting apparatus of the sort that has a 24-inch bar and a sliding cutter. It took a while to master the technique, but now I can easily cut mats up to about 12" by 14" with straight cuts and without overcuts.

To get the float even all around, I've found that it helps to put the cut mat face down on my 16" by 24" lightbox and put the print on top of it. With the light coming up through the print, you can position it exactly. Then I use archival mounting tape to fasten the print to the mat.

Over the years, framing has become a rewarding part of my work flow -- and it is much cheaper.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on floating, single-matted vs double-matted. I've recently framed a photo with double matting but looking at your Turnley print above, I think floating and single mat might look better. The width of the floating area (or inner mat in the case of double matted) is another factor.

My gut feeling is that the art work needs some breathing space to separate it from the faint shadow of the mat cutout. In future, I think I'll use floating.

Thanks for the framing info. How about a few words on lighting the framed piece once it is hung or general gallery lighting?

As some have alluded to, buying your framing materials on line and assembling yourself is a good option. We have two excellent frame shops in our small college town (actually, within 10 miles there are 5 colleges and a half dozen frames shops) which I generally patronize for special prints, but cannot afford for most of my work.

I've found the on line experience pretty easy if you are careful, although I limit myself to framing 3-4 pieces a day. After that, I get tired and that's when the mistakes start to happen. I use "Americanframe.com" and can generally frame a 14" x 20" photograph from a minimum of $36.00 on up depending on the quality of the frame and mat board. I buy glass locally from my preferred frame shop.

I don't think there's a way to specify framing in a way that's any more valid than telling a person how to take a photograph. It's a personal matter, and the tastes of the person exhibiting the piece will vary. Depends, also, on the decor of the home. I can easily see how something that would work in a house in Fargo would be out of place in a TriBeCa loft. This is a lot like asking the question which pants are better: khaki Dockers or glen plaid Dolce & Gabbana?

Even the so-called standards change with time. Centered may be in now. Off-(vertical)center was in during the 80s/90s.... Photographers seem to be drawn to the styles favored by their preferred photographers. Avedon and Penn are typically seen with generous white mattes, with white wood frames. I don't think that ever Doesn't work. More contemporary guys like Peter Lindberg or Andreas Bitesnich might go with a no-frame look.... If you like HC-B, you're likely to do things his way.

It often seems like an interior design exercise to me, and i can imagine most men have no clue about home decor. Or, they Think they do... but don't..... Good taste is (empirically) Very hard to find.

I stock Nielsen Style 93 frames (typically in 14" and 18") in both Matte Black and German Silver for my pics. I prefer cutting the overmat to meet the print edge, signing verso and mounting with linen tape.

Just want to say +1 to the Neilsen frames. The first time I tried them, which was last year, I was sure the frame would be too small and flimsy. Not the case at all. They're easy to assemble yourself and look clean and classic.

Dear folks,

Some tidbits, in no particular order:

1) Wood (as well as non--Museum-grade paper or board) is a bad thing. It releases compounds that will damage either the paper base or the image of every known type of photographic print.

You can use wood, as well is non-museum-grade backing board, if you put an impermeable barrier between it and the print assembly. Drafting mylar or even ordinary kitchen aluminum foil will work. Both are chemically inert so far as photographs are concerned. They will provide a vapor barrier that prevents the nasty wood stuff from getting to the print or permeating the mat. Line your frames with it, put a layer of it between the print assembly of the backing board, and you should be fine.

2) Dry mounting is a bad thing because it prevents you from recovering the print if you get into trouble later. We do not know everything that can go wrong with a photograph; we're learning new stuff every day, even about very old types of photographic prints. What seem like good presentation and preservation practices today may turn out to be a really bad idea in the future. The trouble with dry mounting is that locks you in; if/when something goes wrong, there's no way to rescue the print. That could be some unknown deterioration mode, but it could simply be mistaken use of the wrong or of improperly manufactured framing/matting materials (common). Some of the knowledge needed is arcane and subtle. Buffered board? Good with inkjet prints and with MOST metal-based black-and-white prints. Bad with any color darkroom print (save for tricolor pigment) and with ALBUMEN prints. You all knew that, right?

Or it could be an accident like water or smoke damage. Or it could be an inherent problem with the print. I recently inspected a large exhibit of work at the request of the curator, because he observed that some of the black and white prints appeared to be yellowing slightly. From my observations, it appeared they had not been quite adequately washed. Close but not entirely sufficient, some yellowing was occuring in the base and sulfiding of the image area. Most of the prints were hardly damaged at all. Re-washing them and lightly toning them would've completely arrested any further changes.

Except, you guessed it, they were all dry mounted. I told him there was nothing he could do except to replace them at some point.

3) I sign my inkjet prints using the light gray inkjet ink and a quill point pen. That way I know the signing is no more nor less archival than the image itself (I do the same thing with my dye transfer prints, but that information is of less relevance to most of you.)

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

For years there was a wonderful art gallery and frame shop that was actually within sight of my house. Even better, the owner was a great guy who became a good friend. I could wander over there and talk about art whenever I was in the mood. He did all my mounting and framing. I used to cut my own mattes, but found it was cheaper to pay to have them cut than to pay for all the boards I ruined.

Unfortunately, a couple years ago cancer took my friend and the shop closed. Since then I've been getting my frames on line, from Frame Destination, which has already been mentioned here. I've always been very happy with their quality and the speed of delivery. Another plus, since I'm often framing prints to be shipped to gallery shows, is that the excellent packaging they do for their frames gives me a perfectly sized box and packing material to ship my framed prints on to the gallery.

I used the standard metal frames for 40 years or so, until I was told they were old-fashioned (go figure) and wood was preferred by the galleries I was sending stuff to. So I've switched to black wood frames these days. I almost always do a float so my signature shows. I sign my pigment ink jet prints in the print border using an ultra fine Sharpie.

In addition to the glass vs. no glass issue, you might want to discuss the use of anti-glare glass and UV blocking glass - e.g. is the extra cost worth it?

Tips/explanations I've received:

Galleries hereabouts want not glass but plexiglass, for less likelihood of damage to the print if it takes a spill. (Plexi is also available from AmericanFrame.)

We are apparently different out West: what you call a 'floating' mat we call a 'reveal' mat. Just in case our work is valued for decades and centuries (oh, sure), a reveal mat makes for even fading of the print surface, without an un-faded darker border underneath the overmat.

The main reason for just 1/4" distance on 3 sides is that it keeps the paper's surface from showing much tonal difference in relation to the mat board.

The usual archival mat board for photographs is 'bright' white. You might take that to mean it's glaring with optical brighteners, but it isn't. It's just plain archival white.

Another way to cut expenses is to use Westminster 4 (or 8) ply for the overmat, and Exeter 2 (or 4) ply for the undermat. (But I have a perfectionist friend who thinks Exeter 'isn't archival enough.')

And the preferred white border on unmatted/pre-matted prints for a gallery drawer is 1", which allows handling of the print with less danger of damaging corners and edges. Archival paper protective sheets between BW; ClearBags or the like for inkjet.

And finally, the reason you sign the print, not the mat, is authenticity: another print can't be slipped into your signed mat at a later date and passed off as a work of The Master.

I love practical information.

Here's my problem. If I'm offering matted prints for sale, should I make the decisions about size and proportions and should I stick to 'standard' frame sizes?

Also, when are you going metric over there? It's tiring offering imperial and metric options.

7 tenths of a mile? That seems a peculiar number to come up with as an estimate. 1232 yards!

It's a while since I thought of Furlongs (8th of a mile), a Chain (10th of a Furlong) and Rod/Pole/Perch (Quarter of a Chain) but now I am I thinking you should keep them going and sod the metric system.

However you wont be forgiven for serving short Pints at 16oz instead of 20oz. How did that happen?

[Strangely enough, all that of which you speak is not up to me. When they do make me Emperor of America, however, things are going to be very different here. Count on it.

Or is "Emperor" an imperial measure? Never mind then. --Mike]


Thank you so much for responding to my questions! I like the idea of a float (and signing there), and I think I'll put it to use in my future framing projects. Can't wait to read your thoughts on my other questions.


There's a whole fashion/politics when it comes to framing of course: the late 19th century framed photographs very differently from the early 20th century, which was very different from the mid-20th century. Strangely, for a lot of people, that's where it stops. It's interesting how you mention *museum* framing - because I can't remember the last time I went to a *contemporary* art show and saw photographs in glass frames backed onto mat board. It's float frames, box frames, pins, bulldog clips, sticky tape, aluminium prints, acrylic prints - anything to get away from the type of framing you're talking about...

Is the float always white? Lightroom makes it so easy to use any shade of white or grey as well as any color.

GREAT post, on a great and useful topic, thanks.

On the issue of bang-for-the-buck, I recently had my frame shop take a ready-made frame off the shelf (about $25 for a 16 x 20 inch) and had them custom cut a window mat for it. They then replaced the glass in the frame with good UV glass and then archivally taped the photo to a mat board and framed it all up. Total cost was about $65 plus the frame. This is really just short of a full custom job and very cost -effective. Best part of it is that if I get tired of the picture, I can open it up and replace it (with one of equal size) with a minimum of fuss.

To go even cheaper for a temporary set-up I buy ready-made frames and just have a window mat cut for it and archivally tape the photo to the window mat and insert it in the frame. The photo is not always truly flat, but I often actually like a bit of ripple in my pictures.

One comment on dry mounting: Yes, it is not "archival", because it often is not reversible as mentioned by Ctein; there was a reversible version called "Archival Mount", later "Buffer Mount", but its gone now, and most people probably used the non-reversible "Color Mount" version anyway, since it was used by Ansel Adams.
While I do not see any use for it for most inkjet prints or any RC- or polyester-based prints, color or otherwise, I prefer them for fiber-based prints. Printing paper with a "plastic" support is mostly dimensionally stable and therefore stays flat. FB paper, even if initially flattened, starts to get wavy over time due to humidity and temperature fluctuations. A properly drymounted FB print stays flat. Theoretically, one could take a wavy print and re-flatten it from time to time (in a drymount press, actually), but the handling would endanger the print more than a proper drymounting procedure.
There are other mounting options used by some of the big names you find in museums right now that use equally nonreversible methods: Andreas Gursky has at least some of his prints mounted by the "Diasec" method, where the print is front-mounted to a sheet of acrylic with a silicone-based glue. It looks pretty good, but is at least as "bad" as drymounting, I'd think!

“If I'm offering matted prints for sale, should I make the decisions about size and proportions and should I stick to 'standard' frame sizes?”

Here's an essay about matting that suggests using custom-cut mats with standard (outer) sizes — Matting: The Why & How of Matting Photographs by Alain Briot:

“Third, but not last, matting a photograph makes it more sellable. A matted photograph is a finished product ready to frame, since all your customer has to do is find a frame for it. If you sell your photographs matted your customers will not have to pay custom matting, which is expensive, and if you use standard mat sizes (which I recommend) they will not have to get custom framing which is even more expensive.”

Nice, informative article, with some food for thought to think about.

I personally am adversely against, wide, garish mats and frames. I find it ridiculous to see an image, or work of art, surrounded by this vast, wide mat, and this frame that's equally as huge and ostentatious... it just looks silly and stupid. To me, matting and framing is more seen as functional. They are both there to protect and house the image, that's it. And should be as unobtrusive as possible. So, just a simple inch wide mat, and an even narrower frame if can be had. But, generic white matting and black frame... well, unless it is a B&W image, okay... but for a color image, do feel that the matting and frame should compliment and help accentuate the image in color, texture, and style... just walking that fine line so as to not overtake and draw away from the image itself.

Thanks for the discussion!

I tend to concur with the previous post from Dennis. I attend the local AIPAD show yearly in New York, along with a few galleries, where the the images are displayed in a variety of innovative ways, that do not reflect the traditional frame, back/front mat, glazing format. I have come to appreciate images I've seen from Joel Mayerowitz, and others that consist of printed images with a float/reveal, mounted in the back of a box frame, receding an inch or so away from the opening, that is enclosed in front, with a glazing of glass or plexi. I find the look simple, eloquent and pleasing. I'm not detracting from the mom and pop framing stores, or the online companies. I know they provide a valuable service. However, in my experience surfing the web, or visiting the local framers in my neighborhood, the offerings tend to be limited to the traditional styles. It would be nice if they could think a little more (in this case), inside the box.

Good information to keep.

I think it helps to have a wonderful image to start with, like you have here with Peter Turnley's print.

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