Picture Frame Types


There are five major parts or areas of consideration of a picture frame. These are material, color, shape, width and rabbet. As one evaluates picture frames and picture frame molding, these five elements need to be understood in order to ensure that one is selecting a product that best meet his/her needs.

Picture Frame Material

Traditionally, picture frames were made of a high quality hardwood that would resist the test of time. Originally, these frames were hand-carved and used mostly as religious ornaments. Ever since these first picture frames hundreds of years ago, the product has been going through one technological improvement after another. For instance, since hand carving frames was so time consuming, eventually furniture manufacturers began making molding with routers. Later, developments included the use of gesso to get a hand-carved look. In the 1950’s the metal picture frame was developed. This molding presented framers and artists with fresh decorating styles and methods. Today, metal frames are as prevalent as their wood cousins. They remain the preferred choice of frame for photographers, contemporary artists, and for artwork in offices or hotels.

In the 1980s, commercial picture frames began to be made of additional materials including plastic, fiberglass, and particle board.

Another development of the past 20 years has been the use of high volume automated machines. Ready-made frames purchased at retail stores are made with this equipment, usually overseas where labor costs are lower. The benefit of this machinery is that hundreds of frames can be made each hour; these efficiencies in turn result in a low per unit cost which is passed onto the customer. As with any product, the quality of these frames varies considerably and one should pay careful attention to them when purchasing.

Picture Frame Color

The second aspect of a picture frame is its color. Picture frames are available in many colors, shades, textures and accents. Really if you can imagine a color, there will probably be a picture frame in production today. Having said this, no single retailer can carry all picture frames made. Therefore, if you are looking for something specific, it is best to shop around.

Generally wood frames are available in natural wood tones, as well as in various colors. The more expensive wood frames have various coatings such as gold or silver leaf, water gilded and more.

Picture Frame Shape and Design

The shapes of picture frame molding styles varies immensely, from a simple flat or round molding to elaborate designs such as ornate , classic to contemporary. Today the choices have never been so great, from the inexpensive to the outrageous they are master crafted to suit even the most discerning customer. Many factors come in to play to determine the shape of your frame, certainly consideration must be given to the art piece as well as the customer’s personal preference, the environment it will be in may also play a role. The common shapes such as rectangular, square or oval still remain the most used today, however a more creative approach in the shape of your frame will remain an interesting option.


Rabbet refers to the amount of space that is available for the frame package (matting, artwork, mounting board, etc…). When looking at a frame on a wall, the rabbet is located behind the lip of the frame. Again, it has all of the frame package components in it. If the rabbet is too small, then not all the artwork will be able to fit into the frame package.

Rabbets become very important when framing 3D objects such as baseballs, textiles, or coins. Basically anything that is not flat. When purchasing a frame, the rabbet is always given as a measurement. This aids the framer in making a good selection.

Picture Frame Width

Sometimes the width of the frame is given as a dimension. Picture frame dimensions range from 1/4″ to over 6 inches. Besides aestitic considerations, an important widht consideration is choosing a thin width for very big frames. Very large frames that have very thin widths will buckle under the weight of the frame package. One way to overcome this is to use a metal picture frame. These are typically stronger than wood frames and can stand up to heavy objects.

Once a frame is selected, the rest of the picture frame components can be selected. These include a backing material, glazing and matting.

You will notice that several items were not covered in this article. These include items such as height, lip thickness or joining method.These are simply items that are generally not covered in the picture framing industry.

While technological developments are taking place in the framing industry at a faster and faster pace, the five basic consideration are not expected to change any time soon.