It's a common scenario at this time of the year: there's finally a really great family photo where no one is crying; everyone looks happy and clean, and suddenly, all of the Christmas gifts are looking really easy this year. It could be a high-quality snapshot from vacation, or a beautiful, professional portrait carefully chosen from dozens of proofs. To make these easy gifts look like a real gift and not an afterthought, professional framing is the way to go.
Framing can make or break that beautiful portrait. Most people walk into frame shops and get overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of choices and combinations of those choices. That's what quality framing really boils down to a whole series of interdependent choices.
Photographs are framed using one of three types of mats: paper, alpha cellulose, or rag. Paper mats are made out of wood pulp, which will deteriorate over time and stain the photograph. “Preservation-quality” mats are alpha cellulose, treated to preserve a neutral pH. Rag mats are 100% cotton, and they are “museum-quality,” which is usually the priciest option.
White mats are often best for black-and-white photographs or portraits, expressing a modern, clean look that puts the emphasis on the subjects. Another choice is a white mat with a black core for even greater contrast between photograph and mat. A 3-inch-wide mat is a good choice for a photo that will be hung in a group.
For a color portrait, the mat color should not be distracting. Choosing a color that appears in the background, and matching it with a mat will complement the portrait without competitiveness with the subjects. An accent mat can add a layer of interest and finish if a single mat looks too stark or plain.
Good frame shops will have plenty of wall-hung examples of all types of mat and frame combinations on real photographs and artwork, which will save time for those who need help visualizing the final product.
Choosing the Right Framing
The perfect frame for a family portrait will be a good balance between what makes sense for the portrait and the personal decorating style of the recipient. It's a gift, and a gift that should show some consideration for the recipient's tastes is far more thoughtful than picking something that is not really “them.” A sleek, modern frame may look out of place in a room full of traditional furnishings and paintings, though it would do fine in an eclectic decor of classical and mid-century pieces. A simple frame of disturbed barn wood could look right at home in an otherwise dated, French-country room.
The Perfect Gift is Not Cheap
The larger the portrait, the larger the mat and framing, which means a higher price tag for the end result. Quality frame shops typically offer greatly deducted 'pre-cut' mats and frames on projects that were ordered and never paid for, or for some other reason. Getting lucky on the dimensions is the key in this scenario. Taking advantage of holiday and end-of-year sales and coupons can lower the cost, and sometimes all it takes is asking for a discount on a bulk framing order.
One last tip on framing: Get your holiday order in now. Last-minute orders always cost extra.