With New York Comic Con this week, I bet lots of people who will have some art they want to put on the walls. It is to be hoped, some of that art is mine! Thanks!

Whenever I create original art, I try to make it conform to US standard mat or frame sizes so fans can avoid expensive custom matting and framing costs. Some framers and print brokers try to take advantage of customers, talking them into extremely expensive services they really don’t need.

Once, I even worked with a small time printer wannabe who repeatedly ignored my instructions to size my prints with framing costs in mind. Waiting until the last minute to ship the prints (which usually showed up the day of the show, meaning there was no time to get corrections made) I was stuck with prints that not only cost me a lot of money to have custom framed, but cost the fans, too!

Naturally, the client was happy to pocket a lot of custom framing costs; his sideline was to try to get artists to let him sell their prints online…with hefty framing charges passed on to the customer, of course.

Let me give you an example of what custom framing costs means for the fan who just wants to enjoy his art.

When my client printed my work on 13″x19″ paper, and failed to reduce the printed art so that it can fit a standard mat size, every time a fan wants to have the work matted, a custom, double mat job will cost about $60- $80. No kidding. Without a frame! That’s more than I was charging for the print alone.

Yet, to buy a standard, ready made double mat, you will pay only about $10. To pop that mat into a 16×20″ frame, you will pay about $20-$30, MAX. So, to get your mat alone, the custom mat job will cost you 2-3 times as much as mat and frame COMBINED for standard sizes!

It would have been simplicity itself to have the art reduced on to 12″x16″, which is standard. But then, there wouldn’t be a healthy back end in framing money, right?

A lot of art stores really don’t tell their customers little things about stuff like standard frame sizes. When you go in to get your art matted and framed, they will try to get you to cut the mat to fit a uniform area around the art. That is, they will try to convince you to get your 13″ x 19″ original art matted to a frame radius of 15 “x 21” to “make it even”. There is no frame standard for 15″ x 21″. So, your framer will have to make a custom frame for you. This will cost you about another $100-$150.

So, your custom mat and frame job – for the $20 print or the $40 comic page you bought at the convention – could run you nearly $200!!! Honestly, do you really care if the measurement on the top and bottom of the mat is the same as the sides? Even if that will cost you another $200?

I don’t. I just want to look at the picture on my wall.

If you can’t find a mat to fit your art ready made, you will have to shell out the dough for the custom mat job. But the secret to saving money here is to make absolutely certain that the outer dimensions of the mat conform to a standard frame size that you can buy ready made off the shelf. Get your 13″x19″ art matted to fit a 16″ x20″ frame. Then walk over to the frame section of the store and pick up one of those $20-$30 ready-made frames. It probably already has a mat in it that you can use for something else later.

This little trick will save you around $100 per piece of art, and you can afford to have a lot more art on your walls!

Custom matting and framing can be beautiful, but it’s a sucker’s game. The average person does not need to be spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars matting and framing art! You can enjoy your art and save some money, too!

Also, try to have your mats cut in bulk. That is, if you are a comic collector, might as well have ten mats cut at a time. Comic art usually comes in one or two sizes. See if your art store will give you a discount for the bulk order. If not, go someplace else.

Try to make sure you do business with an art store that does their own matting and framing in house! Lots of them do not. They send out, it’s takes days to complete, and they charge a big mark up.

Don’t get nailed on high matting and framing prices! Custom matting and framing takes skill and can be lovely, but it’s not rocket science and ready made frames are easy to handle yourself. If you can pop a photo in a mat, you can pop art in, too. Use art tape, or even cloth medical tape to secure the art. HINGE ONLY AT THE TOP! Do not tape art all around the perimeter. If you make a mistake or need to remove tape, apply high heat with your hair dryer or a heat gun. It will melt the adhesive and it can be safely removed.

Here are the
Standard U.S. Frame Sizes:

4″x5″

4″x6″

6″x8″

5″x7″

8″x10″

8″x12″

8-1/2″x11″

9″x12″

10″x13″

11″x14″

12″x16″

14″x18″

16″x20″

20″x24″

22″x28″

24″x30″

24″x36″

30″x40″

Remember, this is the OUTER edge of the original art or for the mat you have cut to fit. Tell the framer to cut the outer perimeter of your mat to the standard frame measurement, and plop it in the frame. Most standard frames are already supplied with backing and hanging apparatus, so you save money there, too.

Another fun tip: ready made frames usually have sturdy hinged backs that allow you to easily pop a picture in and out without special tools. You can have a number of favorite pieces with inexpensive mats ready to rotate any time you like. Change your wall decor and enjoy a new piece of art every month.

When framing costs more than art, something funny is going on. Save some money on those custom jobs and buy more art to enjoy!

When I first posted this, we got a great comment from Ty who pointed out that ready made frames often didn’t come with UV/conservation glass. Since that glass can be bought in standard frame sizes, you can buy ready made frames with cheap glass and get UV glass later.

Here’s a couple more points I thought might be of help:

1) Buy a pad of acid free paper and back your art with it. This will help protect the art in case the backing is not acid free. Discard the sheet yearly and replace with a fresh one. A block of 20 pages of paper at 16″x20″ should cost about $10. Most collectors do not know that mat board should be replaced periodically as a matter of course, acid free or not. Lining the back of your art with acid free paper and replacing it continually will aid art preservation.

2) You can also buy UV protective spray which can be used directly on SOME original art and glass. Or you can buy UV protective glass/plastic panels. They come in the standard mat/frame sizes and are very reasonably priced. You don’t need to have them custom cut. Most art supply catalogues carry them pre-made.

3) A lot of comic art can be sprayed with de-acidifying spray. Black and white art tends to be a safe bet for this treatment. The spray is a little pricey, but a $9 can will cover a lot of art, and it will reduce the acidity of your paper, preserving it and protecting it. Follow directions carefully.

No matter what you do to protect your art, remember that most comic art was drawn for commercial reproduction, not preservation. Do not display in direct sunlight.

MOST of my art was done with conservation concerns in minds, but some of my early art was not. Most black and white comic art can be preserved with simple, inexpensive methods.

There is no preserving old tone sheets. They are plastic and were not created with longevity in mind. Modern Japanese tone sheets are supposed to be acid free and archival. Mine have not yellowed in a decade.

Buying the ready made frames can be a special problem for me, since most come with glass. Shipping glass usually means that no matter how careful I am, something breaks en route! I like the plastic, but it sometimes has a dull surface that ruins the glossy look of oil varnish. Sometimes I just take the glass out entirely for shipping to shows.