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In a nutshell: Construct a three-inch photographic frame by playing with textures on your computer, print the frame with your photograph on matte paper and wrap it around a one-inch dowel wood frame and staple it secure. Simple. Mount it flat on the wall. It will be as good as your imagination, not your pocketbook.

By Tom Whitney

The reflections off glass-framed photographs and gloss and semi–gloss photographic prints have always been an irritating distraction. Other barriers to simple enjoyment of photographs are the three inch white illustration board mats, unattractive black frames and the wires on the back of pictures that cause the tops of the pictures to hang out so far from the wall. This photograph shows some of the problems and solutions. It is time for a change. Frames are expensive. The lovely Hawaiian koa wood frame with the glass on the upper right cost $150. My cost for the lower right frame was an hour of time and $8 for materials. The additional bonus was Photographs printed on matte paper look good from any angle. a nice feeling of The photograph on the left was printed on a coated semi-gloss paper craftsmanlike at OfficeMax. It catches the glare from a door on the left. The matte accomplishment. print second from left can be viewed clearly from any angle. It was Another problem printed on a coated matte paper also at the local OfficeMax in Hilo, when attaching Hawaii. The two prints on the right were printed on top-of-the-line photos using a dry 100% rag Hahnemuhle Photo Rag fine art paper at Keaau Fine Arts by mounting press for Robbyn Peck. The glass-framed one is a problem because we see so the uninitiated is the much of the back yard reflected in the glass. The one at the lower right bubbling that can is beautiful from any angle. Both photographs won awards in different occur when large years at the Hawai‘i Photo Expo. prints have to be 


mounted using small dry mount presses. Using the method explained here you will not need to dry mount your prints. Also, it is frustrating for photographers when costing out their work for photography shows and galleries to realize that the cost of the frame, the cost of the print and the percentage that goes to the gallery is much more than they are likely to make from the sale of a photograph. Once set up to use this new method, at least the cost of the frame Bubbles from dry mounting. can become a minor expense. My out-of-pocket cost for a 2 foot by 4 foot frame for a panorama of Native Americans dancing was $16. Sweet . . .

Framing Photographically Digital printing has made greater experimentation possible and allows a new approach to framing. As you can see in the photograph below, in the lower left, the “frame” actually consists of a panoramic photograph of rocks that form the heiau shrine in the background. This photographic frame extends three inches from the photograph and was printed on the same sheet with it and wrapped around a dowel frame as will be explained below. Here in Hawai‘i I have been documenting Hawaiian, Native American and Filipino cultural

I have created four styles of frames that will be used for my photographs of different areas and cultures. Clockwise from upper left are ‘ohia tree trunks for Kilauea Volcanoes National Park photographs. Next, for Mauna Kea photographs the night sky and seeds from the Hawaiian gourd, that in mythology were thrown up into the sky and became stars. For Native Americans photographs, a birch tree trunk, for birch tree bark was used for canoes by the Ojibway, Abenaki, Iroquois and Algonquin tribes, among others. At the lower left, rocks of the heiau shrine will be used for photographs taken at Pu‘ukohola Heiau National Historic Site in Kawaihae, Hawai‘i. The same rock border was used in the photographs on the right in the picture on the first page of this article, showing a closer view of the heiau.


events and ceremonies and have created frames that relate to the various cultures and locations in which the activities take place. I have been intrigued by the textures in this land. As I started to learn more about the Hawaiian culture I saw the myth that seeds of the Hawaiian gourd were thrown up into the sky and became stars. Betsy’s and my friend Grace Califea brought some gourd seeds and I photographed them on a piece of white paper on the floor near the back door. Originally I used them as thematic strips at the top of huge panels that were used in the “Mauna Kea – The Temple” exhibition I created that appeared at the Lyman Museum in Hilo and the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. This can be viewed on my website at A few years later I took a picture of the stars in the night sky and combined it with the seeds to use to frame photographs taken on Mauna Kea. The method of preparing the seeds photograph for use in the frame is to open it in Photoshop. Then go to the Layer drop-down menu and make a duplicate layer of it as a Background Copy. Then go to the View menu and click Layers. Then click on the background layer and go the the Layer dropdown menu and delete it. Next, click on the Magic Wand tool and select a tolerance level high enough to select the whole background, if you can. For the seed photograph with the light background a tolerance of 40 was sufficient. Click the Wand in the background. When you have done this there will be an outline of crawling dashes around the area selected. Next hit the delete key, and the background will become a series of little grey squares as shown. Perform any Photoshop touch up necessary and then save it by going to the File menu, to Save As, and in the Format section of the dialog box choose Photoshop. This puts a .psd suffix on the photograph and makes the seeds appear with no background when imported into a program like Freehand, Illustrator or Word. To make the night At the top is the original photograph of the seeds. Next is the Photoshopped version sky behind them, in Photoshop, Illustrator or ready to be saved with a .psd suffix. Below Freehand, I put the night sky picture right up to that the pieces that will make up a framed the photograph, then placed the stars around it print are seen. The night sky is at the top, at the edge of the main photo. Typically I would placed next to the main photograph and the seeds are brought in to form the edge. place one set of the stars, then duplicate the 


graphic and filp it horizontally and place it next to the first graphic and continue as necessary. I did this so there was a smooth gradation in color. My original inspiration to use the round frames was a photograph of Keoni Choy walking in full regalia along the Kilauea Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park shown earlier with the grouping of four frames. I thought I would use a photograph I had taken of a small ‘ohia tree trunk and I would make the edges be round, like the trees. ‘Ohia are the first trees to grow after a lava flow. Eureka! To prepare a photograph of something like the tree trunk, with a complex background, use the methods described above to copy the layer and then delete the background layer. The next step in Photoshop would be to use the Eraser tool to eliminate the background behind the tree trunk, then save it as a .psd file. When placing the .psd files to make a border frame, multiple copies of the graphic will have to be used to fill up the space. Therefore, when picking a pattern make sure the image is large enough to fill up a decent amount of space. When using the rock wall, I created an edge to the photograph that followed the shapes of the rocks so that when the various images overlapped, the line where that happened would be completely obscured. You can use a similar process with Freehand or Illustrator to prepare a photograph for a border. Below on the left we start with a simple snapshot of the ground showing clover. Then

we draw an uneven line around the clover roughly following the contours of the clover petals. I used a yellow line to indicate that. Next I clicked on the photograph and pressed Command and x. The photo disappeared. Then I clicked on the outline and pressed Command, Shift and y. The photograph appeared in the yellow outline. Then I made the yellow outline color change to none. On the second row I show the graphics being placed with edges overlapping to form an almost seamless border. I turned each graphic on the second line in 90 degree increments 


just to mix things up. The dominant orange flower is something you might avoid because it could distract attention from the photograph inside the frame; or just take a picture that has more flowers. The color contrast is an attractive one. Here is another approach. You can take a part of the photograph you are framing and use it to make your frame. Here I took part of a brick wall on a building near the clock tower in the famed Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy, and used it, and manipulated it by stretching in Photoshop and cloning it many times to make the frame. This idea of playing around is one of the things I like about photography and going to our monthly meetings of the Hilo Photography Club and seeing photographer friends. It is great fun to see what others have been doing. We all inhabit the same world but see it in such different ways. There is wonderment and magic in it.

Play around with textures Almost anything could make a frame. To create the Igorot ‘Ohana frame and print for Filipino friends, various of the Filipino fabrics were photographed. Then they were arranged to make a pleasing design. The people in the multiple-exposure collage are wearing the border.

The turtle poster below was created when the Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo was in the early design phase and a period was allotted when public input would be received. I took it upon myself to come up with twenty 1 foot by 3 foot posters that showed textures and culture of Hawaii. On the border of the turtle are weathered lava, a conch shell owned by Leila Pihana in the upper corner that is often used in Hawaiian ceremonies. On the right end vertically are stones that form the long rock wall at Pu‘uhonua o Honaunau. My presentation apparently had little effect on the architects, as there are virtually no traces of cultural or natural design in the 


finished building, although one of the designers said that they had put some of the posters up on a wall for a few days. They finally commissioned some floor tiling that was Hawaiian.

My first effort to make a digital frame happened in the mid 1990s after I took my European tour and chanced to vist Rothenburg, Germany, a small city that has done a fine job to keep it looking like it did over four hundred years ago. I made the outside frame from the timbers in the photograph in the upper right corner. I mounted it on coarse foam board and taped the flaps together in the back.

The four blocks immediately above have, of course six sides. On two sets of blocks the images are flipped horizontally so when the blocks are placed together as shown in the five smaller photographs on the next page, it offers the opportunity to play with the magic of bilateral symmetry.  


The effort to inspire architects by assembling texture posters easily led me to my next venture, the creation of an award-winning three dimensional photography entry in one year’s Hilo Photography Club Photo Expo. I guess you could call it a decorative plaything. I have it on a table in our living room and can see the four blocks across the room and will change the faces on them occasionally. There are

The blocks are one-inch thick and were attached to the foam using “Hold the Foam!” glue for Styrofoam. The glue did not stick very well, so I would not recommend people using it to mount photographs in flat frames. The glue was $4.50 for 2 ounces and I used about fifteen tubes to complete the project! It was time-consuming but fun. This photograph shows the more porous foam used for the blocks above on the right. My more recent discovery at Home Depot was large panels of insulating foam with a texture like that on the left. For square corner mounting of photos, this is now my choice. It accepts tape and glue better. The label on the lower left of my photographic table, mounted on thick foam, says “Explore the Hidden Meanings of Hawai‘i.” The orange on the edges is from a spectacular solstice sunrise on the top of 13,796-foot Mauna Kea, Hawaiians’ sacred mountain. 

also photographs of different parts of the island and various Hawaiian cultural ceremonies that I have documented. The orange and yellow band on the sides of the table shows a dramatic sunrise that occurred during one solstice ceremony on top of Mauna Kea, the Hawaiian culture’s most sacred mountain. So it is a cultural reminder each time I pay attention to it. It is a fun meditation and touchstone for memories. The label on the lower left of my photographic, not wood, table, also mounted on thick foam, says “Explore the Hidden Meanings of Hawai‘i.” It was fun. The lesson from all this it to take the time to play around. The blocks unlock the magic of bilateral symmetry with which we are so familiar on our faces. I played around with a Hawaiian wreath to create the vegetable man on the first page I call “Our Cousin,” because we share cell structure with everything in nature. The birds, the bees, the grass, the trees – they are all our cousins. 

Playing around led to using photography to make vegetable type for a diabetes program With vegetables I created photographic type for my diabetes support group at the Bay Clinic to make flyers posters and t shirts. Below is the header for my web page about typography that shows about positioning photos behind type: <> Pearl Kadota, a member The way you put vegetables inside type is, in Freehand, select of the diabetes support group I attend at the Bay the type, then click on the Text menu and go down to Convert To Clinic in Hilo. Paths, so each letter becomes a separate graphic. Then you ungroup the line of type and place a photograph behind a letter. Select the photo and go into the Edit menu and go to Cut. The picture disappears from the screen. Then you click on the letter – make sure you Ungroup the letter – and press three keys: Command, Shift and y. The photo will appear in the letter.

My first attempt at a round frame I learned the basic mechanics of the process from Robbyn Peck at Keaau Fine Art Center in Hawai‘i as she talked about “gallery wrap,” the method of stretching canvas around a square frame, usually about 2” deep and stapling the canvas on the back so the stitches do not show 


on the sides of the art piece. It is becoming an increasingly popular method of framing art and photography as the purchase of an outer wooden or metal frame is not necessary. Robbyn said she often will duplicate a few inches at the sides of a piece of art work and flip them and place them next to the art so that before she prints there is extra printed area that flows from the existing art in the same colors and style all around the piece so there is not visual disruption and nothing is lost from the main image when a few inches have to be obscured by the wrapping process. Robbyn says she provides a three inch border, so that is what I settled on for the round frames. My first attempt was needlessly complicated. I created a wooden frame using one-inch dowels. Then I thought I must have a solid surface within the frame to attach the photograph, probably with spray glue, so I found one-half-inch Foamcore at the art store and cut two pieces for a tight fit within the edges of the frame and spray-glued them together. Then, to make a smooth transition from the squared Foamcore to the round edges of the dowels, I filled in the space with Spackle, which took numerous coats, with lengthy drying time and sanding for each coat. The resulting frame was sturdy and smooth. But when attaching the photograph I realized that I did not need to use spray glue to attach it to the Foamcore! It was strongly held when attached at the back of the frame with tape. It was a relief not to have to deal with spraymount air bubbles. So the next time I tried it without the Foamcore and Spackle as a gluing surface and thus developed the simple method described here. So here we are, starting with a piece of ink jet printed paper. This one measures 18.5” x 24.” We measure the frame size by the simple subtraction of 3” from the size of the print. When the print is finished I trim the excess blank paper to the edge of the image. When you are constructing your frame on the computer add about a quarter inch more-orless extra border to the bottom part of the frame to account for the optical illusion that occurs if the top and bottom border are exactly the same: it will look like there is less at the bottom. Purchase 1” to 1.5” dowels from a local lumber yard. I have not yet figured that one diameter is best for all sizes. For an image that is four feet by two feet I am using the one and a half inch dowels. Here in Hilo, Home Depot carries them. They are 48” long and cost about $4 each. I usually use the 1” diameter ones. 

I use a $40 Black & Decker Workmate WM125 portable work bench that folds up when not in use and provides a sturdy surface for making frames. As you can see in the photograph I have adapted it exclusively for frame-making. I have used screws to attach a yellow 12” Miter Box from Ace Hardware, part number 25432, cost about $8; with a saw $12. I already had a saw. On the left in the photograph you can see that I have attached what is a 44” board to hold the 48” dowel pieces securely while they are sawed. There is a I” x I” stick also screwed to the edge of the 44” board as a guide and for clamping. I use 3” C-clamps to anchor the dowel near the miter box. I hold them in place away from the miter box with a short stick cut to a 45 degree angle that is C-clamped as shown in the photograph above on the right. When the pieces have been cut I sand them with the hand sander you can see on the in the upper right edge on the Workmate. Usually the dowels are pretty smooth on the sides so I do not sand there. Next, I assemble the frame using Pony corner clamps, about $9 each; you will need four to get the whole thing fitting snug before drilling holes. There have been a few times when the final corner did not match tightly and I found two ways to deal with it. One was to keep the corner firmly clamped and to use the saw to cut into the joint where the corners did not fit. This usually trimmed off enough so it fit more snug. Other times I just ignore it and let there be a little space. The screw will hold the corner tight and the print will cover it completely. An electric drill is used, first with the small drill to start the screw and then I used the quarter inch drill bit to help counter sink the screw. There is a counter sink tool that fits in the drill, but I do not have one. They cost about $5. 


The Grabber coarse thread 6 x 1 5/8â&#x20AC;? interior yellow zinc screws shown in the picture are perfect for making these frames because they hold the sides together tightly. These screws are also good for mounting photos on walls because they really do grab; they are easy to start. Once the screws are in, I sand the corners again, and then use a Sharpie pen to color the joints the same color the printed frame will be. Black works for most of the frames I have done so far.

The next step is to center the frame on the back of the print. It is convenient to use a simple protractor like that in the photograph to center the print. I have recently started to use Scotch double-sided tape to help anchor the paper on the frame before stapling. So I place two or three pieces of tape on the edge of the print, extending the tape pieces to cover most of the length of a side without overlapping crosspieces at each end. It is easier to handle smaller pieces than one long one. Then, pressing firmly on the frame to keep the paper from slipping, I bring the print up with my thumbs and press it on the inside back edge of the frame, keeping an even pressure to minimize any creases or buckling of the paper. Then I staple the paper to the frame. A testimonial is in order here. I discovered the PaperPro Prodigy stapler that has a powerful patented staple driving mechanism that can staple 25 sheets and leave a flat even staple! It is the equivalent of a better mousetrap! It works great for framing. Using stainless steel staples would be the best idea from an archival perspective. A box of them costs about $5. It would be best to tape and then staple both sides before starting to trim the paper as shown in the photograph with only one side â&#x20AC;Š


attached. This way the paper will be in firm contact with the dowels before corner trimming. This is the most uncertain part of the process, getting a good clean cut of the paper at the corners. I use a thin X-ACTO knife with #11 pointy blades and carefully cut the paper, following the groove between the two frame pieces to start the cut, and then following the round surface of the dowel down to the worktable. After careful cutting of one set of corners, I then use the Sharpie to blacken the edges of the paper. In the photograph, you can see that the cut looks a little messy. You can also see that the paper is not pulled tight around the dowel, which is because the opposite side was not taped and stitched before the photograph was taken. You have to cut all the way around the dowel to the flat surface beneath, so that the paper will be able to brought over the dowels on the other set of sides without wrinkling the corners. If you are careful, cutting the corners becomes less and less of a problem. Like any craft project, experience helps. Theoretically, one could print the corners with rounded corner flaps that should fit exactly correct and could be trimmed precisely, but in practice there are too many variables, like getting the length of each member of the frame exact, for it to match up like a machine tool or watch piece might.

Protective coating The final step is a protective coating. Robbyn Peck recommends PremierArt Print Shield. It is an ultraviolet and water-resistant lacquer for inkjet and water soluble images. Robbyn says after using it you can lightly dust the surface of your print without damaging it, as you would with a non-coated piece. It also greatly helps reduce the scuffing that can easily occur on a print with a lot of black in it.” The product literature tells us that “Print Shield protects all ink jet prints from moisture, ultraviolet, light, humidity, atmospheric contaminants, scruffing and even fingerprints. Its low solids formulation maintains the original look of the surface of the print, eliminating gloss differential.” It has been evaluated by Wilhelm Imaging Research, the industry standard firm for longevity research. A more detailed discussion of its merits can be seen on this website: Robbyn sells it a Keaau Fine Arts or it can be ordered on line.

Total cost To get set up, you will need about $175 in equipment and supplies, about equal to a single professional framing job. Many people will have some of these items already. Here is a complete list, suppliers readily available on the Internet: the WorkMate, $40; the Ace hardware 

miter box and a saw, $12; two C-clamps, $8; 4 Pony corner clamps at $9 each for $36; XACTO knife, $7; #11 blades, 5-pack for $5; sandpaper, $5; 6” plastic protractor, $6; Grabber 6 x 1 5/8 screws, bugle head, coarse yellow zinc, about $6.50 for 200; PremierArt Print Shield Spray Solvent Coating - 400ml spray can, $16; Sharpie pen with a fat poiont, $5; Scotch double sided tape, $5; counter sink tool for the electric drill, $5; PaperPro Prodigy stapler, $21. An electric drill would add about $35.

Mounting the photographs FLAT on a wall Here are some other experiments in framing I have done. The prints fit nicely in the walls in our kitchen. The vegetables on the side are a pleasant frame for my tasty alphabet. I wrapped the tower and veggies around thick foam cut with a coping saw and taped the flaps together in the back. The tower photo weighs 1 pound, 4 ounces, very light, and mounts nicely with a single small finishing nail extending from the wall. To attach it, one simple pushes the print on to the finishing nail that goes easily into the foam. The veggie print leans out because the photo show I entered it in (and they didn’t accept it) required that wire be used to enable hanging of the prints. The angle makes it look awkward. The round-framed pictures are also light and respond equally well to a single finishing nail. It needs to stick out about ¾ inch to enable a good overlap on the frame. I also use the great Grabber coarse thread 1 5/8” screws for mounting the pictures on the wall. The back of the frame sits lightly on them. I usually use two finishing nails or screws to hold my mostly panoramic pictures up; otherwise it seems like every other day they are out of alignment. I like to see anything mounted on my wall to be flat against it. The man who made the fine koa frame on the first page puts a notch at the top on the back side to hang the pictures up flat. With my methods a couple of long finishing nails or screws will accomplish the same thing. It has been interesting to observe Robbyn Peck’s explorations at Keaau Fine Art Center with mounting pictures flat. She has become quite inventive herself with some quite elegant gallery shows. Ask her about it. Visit her website: 


A few more thoughts Semi-gloss vs. matte With the photograph showing the two cousins I have tried to show the difference between matte and semi gloss paper. It may not come through well on the web. Aside from the reflections, which have driven me away from using it, the semi-gloss on the left nevertheless offers a deeper, richer black than the matte paper. My hope is that paper manufacturers will keep up their research and solve this problem for us: create more matte, yet keep the deep rich color. It is amusing to compare this photograph with the one on the first page of this article. There the matte poster seems darker. It depends on the lighting situation and time of day. Gallery wrap vs. foam wrap This is the technique increasingly used by painters to wrap canvas around a two-inch-deep frame and secure the canvas to the frame in the back. It offers a nice clean and attractive mounting. I explained earlier how Robbyn Peck adapts pictures to come up with an adequate 3 inch border for the wrap. More and more photographers are also using this method. However, for me, printing photographs on canvas does not seem quite kosher, so I have adapted the gallery wrap for square frames by using inexpensive 1.5” thick building insulation panels I was lucky to find at a lumber store. This foam has a less porous texture than other foam I have seen. I used this material to mount the picture of the clock tower in Siena, Italy, that is in the earlier photograph showing the coffee table. I was surprised to get reactions from a number of people that I had used the ink jet paper and not canvas to wrap the photograph on the frame. It looked to them like it should have been a canvas wrap. I had Robbyn make me a nice big print of one of my friend Tim Fountain’s pieces after he had passed away for his wake, and she mounted it on half-inch black Foamcore covered with a selfstick adhesive. It was a simple but careful matter of placing it squarely on the sticky material. I had prepared the image for gallery wrap but there was a time constraint. This worked well Tim Fountain art mounted and has stood up pretty well on my wall since. However, it does on black Foamcore with not look as good as a wrap would have. You can see on the self-stick adhesive on the upper edge, the white of the paper is showing unevenly as it Foamcore. It would have does in some of my own Foamcore pieces over time. It does not looked better wrapped. 


have that finished look. On some of mine mounted on foam with squared edges, the white paper shows up after a while at the corners. I think the paper get brittle over time. Frames vs. frameless For a long time I have advocated mounting prints on black Foamcore and that’s it: tape ‘em on the wall, as seen below on the left. However, photo contest exhibitors will not accept this, so some kind of hard frame is needed. When I created the Mauna Kea museum exhibition and funds were tight, we dry mounted the dozens of pictures on Foamcore. When preparing that show we ran into some problems in dry mounting the large panels as described earlier. Today

I would seriously consider using my round wood framing method even for very large panels. Another benefit of the round frame is that it does not result in the photographic or ink jet art paper being folded or creased at a sharp angle that can tend to lead to the underlying whiteness of the paper showing through at the sharp edges. Some papers are more brittle than others. This seems to happen the longer pictures sit on a wall. The round frame renders this problem moot. My continuing attention to framing with textures has led me to accept that the new printed “frames” are more attractive than frameless black Foamcore. With the round frames and texture patterns, there is a more finished look. In the last photograph are two versions of the same image of Hawaiian cultural activist Harold Käula on Mauna Kea on the left, matte and semi-gloss. Judge for yourself whether the “frame” looks better. On the right are two more in my Mauna Kea series that look nice grouped together and framed in the same thematic way. All photographs and the writing in this article are copyright © 2010 by Tom Whitney. See my website at


Low Cost Framing  

Article by Tom Whitney