How to frame photos without a mat

Framed Mad Mouse panorama without a mat -- by Joe Reifer
Framed Mad Mouse panorama without a mat -- by Joe Reifer

I've always framed photographs with a mat, both for the traditional look, and to keep the print separated from the glazing. Over the last year, I've noticed the variety of framing methods for photographs at the high-end New York galleries via the art show reviews on DLK Collection. Recently I was printing a panorama for a show with a 36" size restriction. I wanted to use the full width for the image. If you just put a print into a frame without a mat or spacers, contact with the glass can cause sticking, buckling, newton rings, and a variety of other problems. The trick is to use spacers to create an air gap between the print and glazing (glass or acrylic).

Here's what I did:

  1. The image was printed on 36 1/2" wide by 9 3/8" high paper that included 1/4" black borders. The actual image area was 36" x 8 7/8".
  2. The print was mounted on black gatorboard. The mounting process removes about 1/16" from each side of the borders.
  3. A custom frame was ordered to fit the overall size of the mounted piece at 36 3/8" x 9 1/4". Measure the mounted piece carefully before ordering your frame.
  4. The thin profile Nielsen 117 metal frames hang over the artwork by about 1/4" on each side, covering the remaining black borders.
  5. I applied a 1/8" black spacer to the entire edge of the acrylic glazing. The spacers covered the remaining black borders on the print, and are not visible under the 1/4" lip of the frame. The EconoSpace spacers are easy to cut with garden pruners (really!), and the 3M adhesive is easy to apply. The whole process only took a few minutes.
  6. Insert the mounted print and backing board, tighten the frame, and add your wire hanger. Ready to go!

There is another variety of plastic spacer that doesn't use adhesive called FrameSpace. Here's a FrameSpace and EconoSpace comparison chart.

My favorite online retailer for mats and frames is They carry a great selection of mats and frames in the 2:3 aspect ratio, and their customer service is top notch.

If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, I highly recommend The Framer's Workshop in Berkeley. I brought my print down and they helped me install the spacers and make sure the finished piece looked great. I felt like I was in a parallel universe where everyone is genuinely friendly. Framing a piece at The Framer's Workshop was one of the best customer service experiences I've had in a long time.

If you're printing photos for an art show or your wall and don't want to use a mat, I hope these resources are helpful!