Picture Framing and Art Preservation/Theatre Posters


QUESTION: I inherited boxes of theatre memorabilia from a community group that lasted 40 years, and am creating a collection and donating it to the town's library. I'm not sure how to mat and frame the posters. The largest (14" x 22") was professionally done with a black mat of about 2" and a black flat wooden frame of about 3/4". It looks good. Black is always appropriate for theatre materials, I think, but I'm wondering if all the posters should be done the same way. There are about 20, in various colors, and range in size from 8-1/2" x 11" to 11" x 14". The posters will hang in the library, but probably not in a group. The building has light interior colors and is more modern than traditional in style. Assembling this collection with archival materials is beginning to be expensive, so I'll need to do my own matting and framing. Any advice you can offer will be greatly appreciated. Thank you for considering my request.

ANSWER: Framing a collection of artwork with varying sizes, colors and styles can be a challenge. Matting and framing each to suit its own style is an option, but a room full of different colored mats and frames can get to be a bit chaotic. You only have to look at a museum and the use of fairly neutral framing to see a good example.

If I were doing it, I would choose two or three frame styles to use, all in the same finish. A few different sizes, or profiles, would add to the interest and allow you to use wider frames for larger art, keeping everything in balance. Also choose two or three mats in fairly neutral colors, such as a cream, khaki and taupe. All three will be in the same color family and will work nicely with each other and keep a sense of continuity while still allowing you to adjust the color to the artwork.

Another practical advantage to this approach is the fact that there may be new artwork added to the collection later. Invariably someone will want to match the new artwork to the old and there's a chance that the frame or mat used previously will no longer be available. Trust me, framers deal with this every day. So using a few different treatments will give someone much flexibility down the road.

Finally, this approach can help keep your costs down since you will be able to maximize your use of materials and greatly lessen waste.

Finally, as to the matter of the actual framing, one could literally write a book on the subject. It would be foolhardy of me to even start without a better idea of your knowledge level, experience, equipment available and a better idea of exactly what the artwork is and its condition. Please feel free to ask me any follow-up questions with any specific needs.

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QUESTION: I am grateful for your advice about this project. Your idea of using light colors and different frames and mats is practical and very interesting. I take it, then, that having the first poster framed and matted in black was not a good move? I've seen most theatre posters done this way, which doesn't make it right! But the main reason for my choice is that the poster(along with several others)has yellowed with age. Light colored-mats seemed to make the appearance worse, but I probably didn't spend enough time looking. Do you have any general advice to help me choose mat colors for these aged posters? For example, should the mats be darker or lighter than the posters? Should I lean to or avoid yellowish hues? Thank you very much for any suggestions.

In design, there are rarely mistakes; the only mistake is doing something that makes the art look bad or is distracting.

My suggestion of lighter mats was based on your description of the library setting, where it seemed lighter colors would be appropriate.

When I'm looking at mats for something like a movie poster, I look at the background colors first and take my cues from that. That color is chosen by the artist to provide contrast and make the subject the focal point, so it makes sense to me to choose a similar color. As an example think of the old Star Wars posters. The background was basically black with the main characters, the Death Star and X-wing fighters against it. The dark background made the characters more prominent and your eye is drawn to them.

Now think of an older movie poster where the background is essentially white or off-white. A black mat on that could be overwhelming, especially if the colors in the poster are muted with age. A mat that is too white would make the paper look dingy, on the other hand.

I would try to find a mat that is very close to, if not an exact match, to the paper. If this is not possible I would err on the side of having a slightly darker mat rather than lighter.  

Picture Framing and Art Preservation

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David Lantrip, MCPF, GCF


I can answer questions about all aspects of framing, with special emphasis on preservation framing. Categories of artwork include works of art on paper, needlework, textiles, paintings on canvas and three-dimensional objects. Components of framing includes frames, glass/glazing, mats, mounting, their features and how to select them.


I have been a professional picture framer and educator in the field since 1994, including framing education for a major franchisor encompassing three brands and the Professional Picture Framers Association, and writing and teaching for DECOR Magazine.

Professional Picture Framers Association (PPFA) > Board member, PPFA > Member, Certification Board > Member, Chapter relations Committee National Society, Sons of the American Revolution (NSSAR)

DECOR Magazine, 2005 - 2010 PPFA For Members Only newsletter Member of the PPFA Guidelines task force, assisted in writing PPFA Guidelines for Framing Works of Art on Paper and PPFA Guidelines for Framing Works of Art on Canvas, and PPFA Guidelines for Framing Textiles and Needlework. Picture Framing Magazine, 2012

Georgia State University, many classes as a student and educator through the Professional Picture Framers Association and DECOR Magazine. Current member of the PPFA guidelines task force and certification board.

Awards and Honors
Earned Certified Picture Framer (CPF) designation in 1996, Master Certified Picture Framer (MCPF) designation in 2004 and Guild Commended Framer (GCF) status in 2008.

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