I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to frame something really big to create a whole lot of impact, only to shy away from the idea, since framing can be so darn expensive! Not to mention large-scale printing or artwork! I swear, I have had this conversation with so many creative friends. So I finally decided that it couldn’t be all that tough to give it a try on my own. With a few basic tools and a pretty day on my side, I used my little bit of skill to knock out this simple frame. Low cost + big impact = win! Enjoy! —Erica Loesing
Photography by Kimberly Murray Photography
DIY LARGE-SCALE PICTURE FRAME
Tools + Materials
-Large print/photo/something pretty to frame (see tips below!)
-White illustration board (make sure it’s thick/dense enough to stand without waving)
-Acrylic sheet (such as Plexiglass, I used a 32 x 44 inch sheet)
-Straightedge + utility knife
-4 wood boards (I chose 1/2” x 2” Poplar – you won’t want much narrower than this)
-Saw + miter box
-Fine sandpaper or sanding block
-4 corner braces (I used 1/2” x 2.5″), + tiny screws that won’t puncture the face of your wood frame
-Drill + Phillips bit (could use a manual Phillips screwdriver, too!)
-Wood glue (I like Elmer’s)
-Paint or stain (I used a black satin spray paint)
-Turn buttons (I used nylon)
-Large picture hook (you may need a hammer to attach this)
Somewhat of a secret is that most office store print shops (I used Staples) offer something called an “engineer print.” Large-scale prints for only a few dollars! So that’s what I did here. I had this super cute pear illustrated and then printed nice and big in a matter of hours for only a few dollars. (I have also seen people print photos using this process and have great results!) The paper is pretty thin and the print isn’t necessarily photo quality, but I think it works so great for this application and would totally recommend it if you’re mindful of your costs and feel it wouldn’t compete with the aesthetic of your project.
Now I want to mention a few constraints here. Of course there will be a maximum print size at your local print shop (most likely 36 x 48 inches). But the largest acrylic I could find locally was 33 x 44 inches. So I sized my print to be no larger than this, choosing 33 x 40 inches. And here are the reasons I chose acrylic over glass — while it does have more size restrictions (yet you can typically buy larger pieces of acrylic than glass at a basic hardware store), the acrylic is very lightweight (and I didn’t want to have to build a frame within my frame to support glass), you can cut it with a knife (and they’ll also cut it down for you in the store, typically for free!), and it won’t shatter. I just didn’t have the courage to handle such a large sheet of glass. The downsides are that it is, well, plastic and not glass, and I think it tends to have a bit more of a glare. I don’t love that you can tell it’s acrylic, but again, I was trying to be mindful of costs, time, and my low skill level. And honestly, I never notice it now that it’s hanging on the wall.
First, spray mount your print to a board. Since my print was on thin paper with a lot of negative space and you could sort of see through it, I used a white illustration board to back it. You want to use something that isn’t too thick (the thicker this backing is, the further from the wall your frame will rest), but also something dense enough that can stand on its own without waving or warping. This will be the backing of your frame. I first tried sandwiching everything together without mounting, but since my paper was so thin it looked terrible behind the glass (since it’s so large and gravity wants to pull it to the bottom). Also, if you are using something thin like I was, be extra careful for bubbles and other ugly errors when spray mounting. I may or may not have had to redo mine the first time around…
You can now trim the mounted print down to whatever size you’d like it to be, keeping in mind the size constraints of the acrylic. Measure your print. You want your acrylic to be about the same size as your mounted print. Again, you can have this cut exactly to size at your hardware store. Or, if you’re feeling up to it, acrylic sheets can be cut at home with a utility knife and a straightedge! You don’t even have to worry if your edge isn’t perfect because it will be hidden behind the frame.
Moving onto the frame. All you need for this step is a pencil, a tape measure, a saw, and your four wood boards. (For this step I set up my wood on sawhorses in my backyard, but the sawhorses aren’t necessary. I just prefer working at table height.) I created mitered corners for my frame, which is typical for framing, so I also used a miter box for accuracy, which came with my saw. I love that I can get the exact angle I need, and everything will fit together nicely without needing any fancy tools or causing extra frustration. Of course you could opt for square corners and skip this step! Or use a power saw, or a handy friend! There are a bunch of ways to achieve the look you want.
When measuring your boards, first consider the size of your mounted print + plexiglass. Then consider the size of your corner braces and how much space you’ll need to leave for them. (I would sketch this out. See below for the sketch I did for my project, based on the measurements I was using.) Obviously, you want the interior measurement of your frame to be overlapped by your plexi/print, and I recommend planning for a solid 3/4” on all sides.
Using your saw, cut your measured boards down to size, at 45-degree angles. You want your frame to be as square as possible, which means cutting equal angles and equal lengths. I always check mine after each cut to be sure.
Once all four boards are cut to equal size, use a fine sandpaper or sanding block to sand the rough edges.
Now we are ready to assemble! For this step you need wood glue (I love Elmer’s), and I also like to use a square tool to check that the corners meet up nice and, well, square. Apply wood glue to each mitered end, and join your frame together, checking your corners with the square as you go. Give the glue a little bit of time to dry. Now, you could choose to stop here. Depending on the size of your frame and how tight your mitered edges meet, maybe you don’t need the corner braces. While the wood glue is surprisingly strong, I still chose to use the braces, just for peace of mind that my frame would stay together when it was all said and done.
The corner braces are as simple as screwing them into place, one at each corner. (Be sure to choose screws that will not poke through the front face of your frame. I had to buy smaller screws than the ones that came with the braces.) It is helpful to place your print/acrylic sheet on the glued frame at this point to use as a guide; be sure there is enough space for the braces to be screwed outside the outer edges of your acrylic. The braces make a nice little shelf on the bottom for the print to rest upon, too! (I recommend marking the location of each of your four braces with your pencil.) Once the brackets are screwed into place, flip the frame over and use your square to once again check your corners. If everything looks good, hooray! As a final detail I like to use a little bit of the wood glue to fill any open spaces where the corners meet on the front face of the frame, especially if you will be painting over it. This is the last step using the wood glue. Once this dries, use your sandpaper to lightly sand all of your faces and edges that will be visible when displaying your frame.
Time to paint! I chose to spray paint my frame in a black satin. You could choose to leave the wood bare, stain it, or paint it any color of the rainbow.
Once your paint is dry, flip the frame over and set your print + acrylic into place. During this step I finally removed the protective coating from my acrylic. I like to keep it on as long as possible to prevent any scratches. Note that the acrylic is extremely attractive to any bit of dust or dirt or whatever may be nearby. (In hindsight, I would have done this step inside on a clean surface.) Time to install your turn buttons. Just like the corner braces, these are as easy as simply screwing in place. They are the same as you’ve probably seen used on a wall mirror. Again, check the length of screw you’re using given the thickness of your wood frame. For the size of my frame I used five turn buttons up the sides, then four at the top and bottom. (Avoid placing one in the center of the top, since a picture hook will eventually go here!)
It will be so tempting to flip your frame over and call it a day, but there is one more tiny step! Measure across the top of your frame and mark the center point. Use this mark to install a picture hook if you plan on hanging your frame (probably using a hammer). I chose the largest picture hook I could find to accommodate the thickness of the backing. If you choose too small of a hook, the frame may not hang flush on the wall, but instead protrude out at the bottom. Even though I used a really large picture hook I still went back and used the back of my hammer to bend it slightly outward to accommodate the board + turn button thickness.
VOILA! My frame is hung and I am just so pleased with the result. It’s large and cool and makes such an impact for only a little bit of cost + skill. And I was glad to spend a pretty day outside working with my hands and building something I could show off on my otherwise big, blank wall. I hope you will be able to follow my instructions and learn from my many mistakes on my first go-round, but please don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions!