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What to do when an image does not fit in a picture frame

Custom framers make frames to fit all image sizes, but what do you do when you have a frame that doesn’t fit your image?

People often end up with a frame that doesn’t quite fit the image they have. This may be because they have purchased a cheap frame that is slightly larger or smaller than the image they have. Sometimes it can be when you are upcycling or reusing a frame that was made to fit a different sized image. Whatever the reason, there are a few solutions to fix the problem.

The two easiest solutions, if the frame is larger than the image being framed, is to break and cut the frame to fit, or insert a mat border to bridge the gap between the image and the frame.

If the picture being framed requires glass, and when the wrong size frame already had glass to fit the frame, the best solution is often to cut a matte border for the picture to fit the frame rather than cutting both the frame and the glass. When the image does not require glass because it is an oil or acrylic or some other item to be displayed then it may be best to cut the frame to fit the image.

Breaking and cutting the frame is fraught with risk.

If the frame is wood, it’s a safer option to break the frame and reattach it than if it’s a synthetic trim. Synthetic frames tend to take apart poorly and often fracture and break at the miter joint.

When breaking a wood frame that has been glued and V-nailed or V-nailed, you must first break the glue joint by forcing the joint apart by twisting or, on occasion, may require a sudden hard blow by striking the corner against a firm surface perpendicular to the joint. If you are trimming the frame more than a few inches or more than the width of the V-nails, you can cut the frame with a handsaw to break it into separate pieces and then re-mit the frame to the correct length. Then it’s a simple procedure to put the frame back together and reassemble the image.

The other option of cutting a board to bridge the gap between the image and the frame is a simpler process. Simply calculate the difference between the frame and the image and calculate the mat widths needed to fit the image into the frame. After the mat is cut, the picture can be hinged to the edge and repositioned in the existing frame.

In some cases the frame is smaller than the image and this presents another set of challenges.

When the image is just a photo or print, a decision may be made to crop the image to fit the frame. If the picture has monetary or sentimental value, this may not be an option and you should seek professional advice on how to make a new picture frame.

If the image is a print or photograph on paper or mounted to a flat back plate, you can precisely measure and mark where you need to cut the image and then cut it out with a sharp knife and ruler. A normal picture frame recess is usually cut with a small 2mm allowance to facilitate installation of the glass, picture and backing. When you are measuring the image, be sure to cut it smaller than the set size of the recess to allow for expansion and contraction of the paper over time. It is always advisable to place the ruler on the drawing aligning it with the inside of the line that you want to cut. That way, if you swipe with the knife, the image is protected and you’ll cut into the scrap section. Cuts out the image in multiple passes, gradually cutting across the board or paper.

If the image you are framing is a stretched canvas and the frame is smaller than the painting, you have three options to consider. You can remove the canvas from the stretcher and then cut the stretcher frame to fit the outer frame and then re-stretch the painting. Another alternative that could be used if the frame is only slightly smaller than the painting is to make the recess in the frame larger. To make the allowance larger you can use a router, but a quick method for small adjustments is to trim the allowance with a craft knife. Make two cuts with the craft knife, one parallel to the face of the frame using the existing rabbet as a guide, then cut 90 degrees from the back of the frame. This requires several cuts gradually working downward and cutting a small rectangular section to widen the recess. This is a simple technique when the wood is soft but can be difficult when it is hard. The third option is to make a new frame of the correct size.

Sometimes the cost savings of buying a cheap pre-made picture frame that is just about the right size is easily offset by the added expense of trimming, mat cutting, or stretching as described above.


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