The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Author: Annie Groer - Washington Post Staff Writer
In the great pricing pyramid, the least expensive frames are ready-made, complete with glass, mat, backing and hanging hardware, from large retailers such as Wal-Mart, Pier 1 and Ikea.
But at low prices -- $6 for a frame that holds a 16-by-20-inch image -- do not expect archival materials or specialty glass.
Chain hobby stores, such as Michael's and A.C. Moore, are the next step up in terms of price and quality. Both sell a range of pre- made metal and wooden frames, with and without glass, plus standard mats in a range of sizes, colors and window shapes. A.C. Moore also carries pricier, pre-cut acid-free mats; at Michael's they must be ordered. Both chains offer custom work: in-store at Michael's, jobbed out to New York for A.C. Moore. To save money on an odd-size piece of art, have an archival mat and mounting custom-cut to fit inside a pre-made frame bought there or elsewhere.
At least two area wholesale framers that supply local frame shops or do work for hotels also sell to the public at a discount. Walk- ins are welcome at Frame Factory in Alexandria, where the best deals are on discontinued molding. Framemakers Inc. in Rockville is open to the public by appointment. Custom work is priced below retail, but the biggest savings are for overstock and discontinued frames and molding.
Some designers and artists swear by Internet sites such as www.pictureframes.com, www.framesbymail.com and www.artframes.com, which claim to offer discounts of 5 to 30 percent. Online ordering can be daunting for a novice, so visit a frame shop first to become familiar with all components. You may have to buy sample mat corners to ensure a match with your art. You may also have to order a minimum number of frames or spend a specific amount for big savings.
Those who prefer a hands-on experience could use the few surviving you-frame-it sections in full-service shops. (These do-it- yourself shops peaked in the 1970s and '80s). Framers' Workroom in the District cites "typical" savings of 25 to 30 percent on mid- level, in-stock supplies. If you bring your own frame, you'll pay a $5 "table fee," plus costs for mats and glass as necessary, production manager Thomas Morris says.
American Art Make-A-Frame in Rockville touts discounts of at least 20 percent, more if customers undertake such labor-intensive tasks as stretching and sewing needlework to frames. "We order you around and then you pay us," says owner Bosco Zia. Staff at both shops do all the cutting; patrons do the assembling.
Custom frame shops are usually the most expensive places to get something framed. Pros there will do it all, from giving advice (mat color and window shape, border size, frame style and finish) to creating shadow boxes for three-dimensional objects and specialty frames that show both sides of a piece of art.
Archival Art Services in the District has framed the Emancipation Proclamation for the National Archives and the Masters Tournament green jacket that golfer Gary Player auctioned for charity, says owner Bill Butler, who would not reveal prices. "Everything we do is to museum standards, even your kid's finger painting. We have a wood shop with four people who do nothing but hand-mill, hand-stain and hand-polish hardwood frames."
Credit: Washington Post Staff Writer