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Custom Frame vs. Stock Frame

So, you've got a brand new piece of fine art which you want to display on your wall.  Your next step is to get it framed.  Now you run into the question of what kind of frame do you choose?  Do you go grab something off the shelf or do you go get your fine art custom framed?  Today, that's what we're discussing.

Why a Frame at All?


Wall art is something which almost always requires a picture frame for display.  There are kinds of art which don't require a frame but the bulk of what is considered fine art is designed inherently to be displayed in a frame.  You will find yourself needing a frame for most of what you want to hang on the wall.

Photograph of a framed and matted version of Cramer Imaging's Misty Mountains photo in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Frame Options


Now that we've got the 'why' out of the way, you have 2 options when it comes to picture frames.  You can get something which is mass produced and provided in a store like Wal-Mart, or even an art shop, or you can go get a custom frame made at a frame shop.

While you could make your own custom frame, most people don't have the knowledge or tools to do that sort of thing.  Also that is a topic for a crafting, woodworking, or metalsmithing blog so we won't be covering it here today.

Cramer Imaging's framed and matted fine art photographs at the "Expressions of Light" art exhibition in Pocatello, Idaho
In this photo, you can see both stock frames (smaller) and custom frames (larger).

Size Restrictions


What your exact framing options are will depend greatly upon the size of the art you are trying to frame.  If it's very small (such as 4x6 or 5x7 inches), you probably won't have custom framing options.  If your art is too large (say larger than about 20x24 inches), then stock frames won't be an option for you.  If you have an unusual size to deal with (such as a panorama), then you might not have much luck in the stock framing department.

Graphic image depicting the standard or common picture frame sizes for photography and fine art by Cramer Imaging
These are common stock frame sizes.
Once you graduate out of the photo album sized photos into the wall-sized photos, then your framing options start to open up.  You can choose between having a custom frame done or going with a stock frame for your art.  The question becomes which do you choose?  Well, let's start by comparing the two together.

Comparing Frame Choices


Price


Obviously there's quite a bit to consider here.  Price is the obvious first point.  Custom frames are more expensive by an order of magnitude.  That is unavoidable due to the custom nature of creating something to meet your specific needs.  You likely wouldn't be seeking a custom frame out if a stock frame would meet your needs.

Cramer Imaging's photograph of a single navy blue colored plastic picture frame corner on a white background

Quality


Next, there's quality.  Stock frames are cheaply produced for the mass market.  This means that you will not necessarily be getting a top product for your money.  Stock frames should hold up to most of the normal rigors of life which most people will face.  With custom framing, thanks to the nature of the business, you can be sure that you will be getting a quality product for your money.  Custom frames are designed to last much longer than your lifespan as they are often heirlooms.

Cramer Imaging's photograph of a single brown wooden picture frame corner on a black background

Ability to Return


On the flip side, stock frame mass production means that defects will be expected and returns will be much easier for you as a customer.  If you find you don't like the frame, even if there's actually nothing wrong with it, you can often return the frame hassle-free.

Cramer Imaging's photograph of an award-winning photos depicting a waterfall in a simple double mat and wooden frame
Stock frames like this are easy to return.  They should resell quickly if there's nothing wrong with them.
If you want to return a custom frame for any reason, you might not find that as easy to do.  Often, custom work of any kind will not be returnable unless there is a defect in the product itself.  This is because a custom items (frames included) aren't quite so easy to resell.  The framing materials might be reusable as is or cut to a smaller size or they might not be.  Due to the low volume of custom frame customers, a perfectly good custom frame in resale condition might sit around for years before it sells.  That is assuming that it's in a size which could be easily resold.

Cramer Imaging's photograph of a single ornate wooden picture frame corner on a black background
Double check to make sure you can return a custom frame before you buy one.  You might find that you can't.

Variety


Now on to variety.  You will find lots of variety in stock frames for the most common sizes.  I've shopped this section before and found that the 8x10 inch frame section is stocked with tons of different options.  I daresay that it could be the most commonly stocked frame size for general use.  Other common sizes are also high in variety.  In custom framing, you will also find a large array of options.  This is because a custom framer never knows what will work best for a piece of art until the art walks through the door with the customer.

Cramer Imaging's photograph of a single gold colored metal picture frame corner on a white background

Wall Hanging Methods


Finally, there's hanging methods to consider.  With stock frames, you will most likely have 2 different orientations (landscape and portrait) which you can work with but you will likely only have alligator hooks which come standard.  If you're doing a custom frame, you can request whatever hanging option you want and the frame/wall will support.  Often, thanks to large and heavy art, you will find picture wire as the default hanging option for a custom frame.

When to Choose a Stock Frame


Photograph of a framed and matted photo of a couple hanging on the wall by Cramer Imaging
Stock frames are common and cheap.  You can find them lots of places.  It doesn't take much effort to find a stock frame to meet your wall decoration needs.

If you're looking at getting a stock frame for your art, you may want to consider what your art is.  Are you looking to display a small portrait or wedding photo?  Found a cheap and mass-produced lithograph you love?  How about a small watercolor?  Got some needlepoint which you're extra proud of or a hand-drawn piece of art on a standard size of paper?  These are all great choices for a stock frame.

Rule of Thumb: If you're looking to display something rather small, something cheap, or something on a temporary basis (like portraits which get updated every few years), then a stock frame will suit your needs very well.  You can even mat the art for that extra fancy feel and size up to the next standard size of frame.

When to Choose a Custom Frame


Custom frames are not as common as stock frames.  You actually need to find a vendor selling custom frames before you can purchase one.  Oftentimes these people are art dealers in some fashion.  A little internet research should help you find someone local to meet your needs.

Custom frames are expensive.  You get specialty attention for your unique needs at a higher price tag.  Most kinds of art can have custom frames made.  Often, it's a matter of whether or not it's worth spending the money to do so.  For most of the common art, it's not.  If you do have something requiring a custom frame, be prepared to shell out some cash for the right frame to be custom made for your art.

Cramer Imaging's photograph of an award-winning photos depicting a waterfall in a simple double mat and wooden frame

Is a custom frame right for the art you have to display?  You may want to ask your self the following questions.  Do you have an extra large piece of art (be it a wedding, portrait, or something else)?  Want to display art on canvas (no matter what size)?  Do you have a piece of art which you want to be an heirloom for any reason?  Do you have something especially heavy which you want to display on the wall?  These are all good reasons to pursue a custom frame.  For some of these reasons, a custom frame may be your only option.

Cramer Imaging's fine art landscape panorama photograph of a sunset with clouds in the mountains in Idaho
You will not be able to get a stock frame for displaying a panorama like this.  You will need to get a custom frame.

Rule of Thumb: When a stock frame won't do, for any reason, custom framing is the way to go.  Extra large art, unusually sized art, heavy art, and art on canvas will necessitate choosing a custom frame since custom framing will be your only option.  If you are looking to display something for a long period of time (say decades) or make something into an heirloom for your children and grandchildren, then custom framing is your best choice.

Conclusion


Stock and custom frames have their purposes and niches in the market.  Which one you will likely need for your wall art will depend greatly on what your art is and what you intend to do with it.  For most of the wall art out there, a stock frame will probably meet your needs just fine.  For some specialty cases, you might look into getting a custom frame done.  The rest is up to you to decide for yourself.  Do you need a custom frame or will a stock frame meet your needs?

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