Framing Artwork: Part 1 - Understanding Sizes and Dimensions

I've always enjoyed framing my photography, my artwork, and other people's artwork. A frame can make your artwork pop, or highlight it so it looks amazing. The wrong frame, however, can leave it looking dull.

So many of my customers come to me asking how to frame their prints, that it seemed like a great topic to cover. Framing, however, can be quite complicated, and so, I've decided to make this a 3 part series. This first post will give you all of the information you need for choosing the right sizes of frames and mats for your artwork. Other parts to this series will cover style and recommendations on where to find good frames. My goal is to provide you with as much information, and some examples, so you can make the best informed decisions for framing artwork, more specifically, prints.

Tweet This: Make DIY Framing easy by understanding sizes and dimensions to create the perfect look. @brettblumenthal 

Size Matters

Size does matter, and you need to know all of the different sizes you need to consider. This is probably the most confusing component to framing for people, so I'm going to do my best to make it as straightforward for you as possible. To illustrate, I will use an example of an 8.5x11 print of my Baby Horse Portrait that can be purchased in my shop.

Your Print

There are two sizes to consider when purchasing your print.

  • Paper Size: This is the size of the paper of your print.
  • Image Size: This is the size of the actual image on the paper.

For example, an 8.5x11 print is on 8.5x11 paper (paper size). The image (art), however, is probably no more than 7x9 (image size). I personally leave enough white space around the image to allow for mat and frames, and to provide a bit of give for potential corner damage during shipping. Plus I LOVE white space. As you can see in the image to the right, the actual image size of my Baby Horse Portrait is 4x8 in comparison to the actual 8.5x11 paper size.


The next thing you need to consider is whether or not you want to have a mat for your print. I think a mat can look beautiful, but I also believe no mat can be just fine, as well. You can actually use the same size frame for two different print sizes, depending on whether you choose to use a mat or not. Look below for an example of what I mean. The horse on the left is a smaller print, but utilizes a mat to fill out the frame. While the horse on the right is a larger print with no mat in the same frame. Both are beautiful, so it really depends on your taste and personal preference.

If you choose to use a mat, then you should consider the following:

  • Mat exact opening: This is the size of the opening or window of the mat. Ideally, it should be approximately 1/2" smaller than the paper. So, for an 8.5x11 paper size, you'll want the mat to be 8x10.5. However, in the example above, you could even go a little smaller if you so choose. 8x10 is another standard size, and the artwork of my 8.5x11 prints will all fit inside that opening.
  • Mat external size: This is the overall size of the mat edge-to-edge. So, for an 11x14 frame, you'll want an 11x14 mat. However, if you want a larger frame, and a wider mat, you can choose that option, so long as the actual window is the appropriate size for the paper size. Look at the example below to see how the 8.5x11 print looks with a smaller mat and frame (on the left) as compared to a larger mat and frame (on the right).

Again, this is really about personal preference. Both look beautiful. If, however, you really want to fill up your wall, and you like white space, you might want to consider going with the larger alternative.


When it comes to your frame, you need to think about how much "frame" you want to see. Thicker frames are going to be a bigger part of the art than if you go with a more discreet or smaller profile. Regardless, this is what you need to know about the size of frames:

  • Frame Size: This is the actual size of the window of the frame (glass). So, an 11x14 frame will be appropriate for an 11x14 print, with no mat. With a mat, it might be perfect for an 8x10 or 8.5x11 print.
  • Outside frame size: This is the actual size from edge to edge of the frame. For instance, an 11x14 frame may have a 1.5" wooden profile, which would actually make the dimensions of the 11x14 frame 14x17. In short, the larger the outside frame size is in comparison to the frame size, the more frame (wood, metal, plastic) you'll see. This is something to consider if you are trying to figure out how much space you need on the wall, but generally isn't a huge part in the framing process.

As I mentioned, understanding all of these dimensions is probably the most complicated component of framing artwork. If you can make sense of this, the rest of it is fun. In the next parts of this series, I'll discuss style, color, and my personal recommendations for buying frames.

If you have any questions or are considering a frame for one of my prints and want some input, feel free to reach out!

And, if you know someone who is struggling with some framing questions, share this post with them!

Thanks so much,



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