Introduction: Make Your Own Picture Frames for < $50 and < 15min
I wouldn't be the first person to say that I had a lot of things that I wanted framed but couldn't afford custom picture frames for well over $100 each. I searched the "cheap" picture frame websites and still found myself surprised at the cost. I'm a DIY-er so I put my thinking cap on and came up with a great way to frame pictures, posters and more at a fraction of the cost and in only minutes of your time at home.
Materials To Buy:
- Clear Acrylic Sheet (price depends on size - I got a 36"x30" at Home Depot for about $30. Depending on the size and number of pieces you want to frame, you might be able to buy a larger sheet and use it for multiple frames, saving extra $$)
- Acrylic Cutting Tool - $3
- Gaffers Tape - $10 (Gaff tape is similar to Duct tape but has a cloth matte finish rather than the glossy outside of Duct tape.
- Picture Frame Hanger - $0.50 each (make sure to get the 'hooked' kind illustrated in the picture)
I had these extra mats at home:
- Cardboard box
- Straight Edge
Step 1: Gather Materials and Measure
Before buying the acrylic sheet, ask yourself this question about the piece you are about to mount: Does it have a border on it?
Your finished product will have about a 1" gaff tape border on each side of your frame. Thus (depending on your picture/poster), you want to make sure to purchase an acrylic sheet that is at least 2" larger than your piece in each dimension (width and length). For example, if you are framing a poster that is 16"x24" and it has no border, make sure that the acrylic sheet you buy is at least 18"x26". Many stores that sell acrylic sheets have about half a dozen sizes in stock, so be prepared to buy a sheet that may be much larger than the one that you need. Also, you can get sheets with varying degrees of thickness - go for cost here and choose a thinner sheet.
*TIP* If you want to frame multiple pieces, calculate if you can buy a single acrylic sheet that will be big enough for both pieces after it has been cut. This way you can save time and money when framing multiple pieces at once.
Before making your permanent measurements, remove the clear protective film on the side of the sheet that you're going to be cutting initially. You can leave the back film on for the time being to keep it from getting scratched on the table while you cut. Make sure to measure precisely here, because cutting these can be a bit of a pain and once it's cut, it's cut. As the acrylic is clear, you can lay the picture/poster you want to frame under it and try to visualize having approximately one inch on either side of the picture for the gaff tape border. Once you're happy with the measurements, use a sharpie to draw along your ruler or straightedge so that you have guide lines for when you cut.
Step 2: Cut the Acrylic to Size
With your acrylic sheet marked and ready for cutting, find a large surface to lay your sheet on (any table is fine, but keep in mind that a wrong move can mean a potential scratch or gouge on your cutting surface, so don't do this step on your nice dining table). Your acrylic cutting tool has a weird arrow shape like a harpoon. You're going to use the hook, not the tip, of this knife to do the cutting.
*TIP*Be smart when you're cutting. This knife is quite sharp, so be conscious of where it is relative to your body to avoid stabbing yourself in your hand or leg.
With your acrylic sheet held sturdily in place (body weight can do this, but if you have a small clamp it can help the process substantially), place the hook end of your cutting tool square on the line you drew earlier. Apply downward pressure while you drag the knife slowly and steadily along the line. You'll hear a squeaky sound as you cut. It can be difficult to keep this line perfectly straight so don't worry if your cut wavers a little bit, as long as it stays within the sharpie line. But if you get off your mark, just reset and try to continue straight down the line. You're really just cutting a deep score into the acrylic sheet - don't expect to cut all the way through it in one attempt (or even several). This valley you cut into the sheet allows you to simply crack the acrylic when you're done, so don't go overboard cutting here.
*TIP* Don't feel the need to remove any marks that your sharpie left along the line you are cutting. These will be well-covered by your border when you mount the sheet.
You'll notice as you cut that the cutting tool will shear off small strands of acrylic that tend to curl up into little tails. Feel free to stop periodically and clean these off to avoid having to vacuum the whole area later. When you get to the end of your line, cut the other side in the same fashion and make sure to cut a little further down the sheet than the intersection of your two lines.
One both sides are cut, reposition yourself to apply pressure right along the edge of the cut. Align the cut edge of your acrylic along the edge of your cutting surface so that the remainder of the sheet hangs off the side. With a pushing motion, break the sheet along the edge that you cut earlier. This should require very little force if you cut far enough into your mark. If not and you push too hard, you take the chance of breaking an uneven line which is your worst case scenario. Once both sides are broken, you should have a perfectly rectangular sheet just about ready to mount. Sometimes, extra strands of acrylic still stick to the edges that you cut, so take your knife and run it along the edge to remove these.
Step 3: Cut the Cardboard, Tape and Mount
Lay your newly cut acrylic sheet over the picture/poster your are framing and make sure that the cuts were made correctly. If your sheet is a little larger than you intended, don't be concerned. You can adjust your border to compensate for this. You now need to make a backing for your frame that will consist of a piece of cardboard cut to the exact size of your acrylic sheet. You can simply lay the sheet onto a piece of cardboard and use your sharpie to trace along the border of the sheet. Cut the cardboard piece out with scissors and that's that.
You're now ready to put the three pieces - sheet, picture/poster, cardboard backing - together with the assistance of your black gaff tape. Since your boarder will be about 1" in width, I found it helpful to rip off smaller strands of tape and use these to make sure that the three pieces are fully attached so that you don't have to worry about things moving on you when you build your border.
Tear off a strip of gaff tape that is longer than the side it will go on, and (holding the tape taught) get the tape as close as possible to the acrylic as you can without touching. This will allow you to eye small adjustments and ensure that the border is perfectly straight along the edge of your picture. Lay it down and make sure to press it firmly against the acrylic to remove any bubbles. You want to ensure that the tape covers the corners completely, so you may need to fold the ends of your tape to give your corners a nice crease.
Follow that step for each side, and go over your corners to make sure they are at a perfect point. If you did the tape job well enough, a spectator shouldn't even be able to tell that it's tape from a few feet away. I've had several friends surprised when they found out that my posters weren't framed with metal and glass. This project is all about attention to detail, and if you take the time to make sure that everything is straight and clean, it will look great.
To mount your frame, pick the approximate spot on the wall where you want to the picture and nail in two 'hooked' picture hangers parallel to one another. One of the beauties of this design is that you don't need to have the hangers in a precise spot, because you're simply going to be using the hooked bottom of the hangers to stick into the cardboard backing of your frame. Press the frame against the hangers and pull it down slightly to punch the hooks into the back of the cardboard. Be careful not to shove too hard to ensure that you don't cut the picture or poster with the hooks of the hangers. You can step back and make sure the placement is good and the frame is level, and can simply take the frame off and readjust if necessary.
That's it! I have about 6 posters framed and hung in my apartment, and aside from costing a fraction of getting them professionally framed in glass, the fact that they all match adds a nice touch to the overall appearance. Hope it worked well for you and you're happy with the result! Feel free to post and questions you may have below.
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