To Frame or Not to Frame?


The question when choosing a support for your commissioned painting is one every client has to make before work begins…which support is appropriate and would look the best in the area where it will be hanging? Support is the term used for what the painting will be painted on.  Today’s post is about the different supports used and why you would select one over the other.

Standard Professional vs. Student Grade Canvas

There are two main types of canvas on the market….student grade (which is sold at Michael’s or local hobby stores) and professional grade (sold at fine art stores locally or online).  I only use professional grade canvas for all my paintings because the fabric is stretched over wood and is supported in the back on all corners which will prevent it from warping or bending out of shape.  The  material on the support is usually a linen fabric that has been painted several times with layers of gesso paint to give you a quality finish.

Standard Student Grade 1/2″ Canvas

Student grade canvases are for hobbist who are painting for personal use and not to sell.  The standard frames are available in a variety of sizes with a depth of 1/2 inch.   This student grade 1/2″ canvas support needs to be framed to hold up over time. This frame lacks the support in the back which will cause problems down the line.  Usually, the fabric has just been glued and not stapled or supported by wood.  These frames are very inexpensive and good when doing a painting for practice.  There is also a standard canvas board that is flat that can be used but also needs to be framed.  Here is an example of a standared canvas support.

standard frame ex

This painting was painted on 1/2″ professional grade canvas and clearly needs a frame.

Professional Grade 1/2″ – 1 1/2″ Gallery-Wrapped Canvas

Another type of canvas support is the gallery-wrapped canvas. This canvas comes in different levels of professional grade quality and the difference is in the linen fabric and amount of gesso paint used to make it a higher quality support.  This frame comes in a standard size of 1/2″ – 1 1/2″. The nice thing about the 1 1/2″ canvas support is that it does not need to be framed!  It is sophisticated and brings a lovely look to any decor. The depth of the frame can be painted by either extending the painting by continuing the art around the sides of the frame or by just painting it a solid color such as black to act as a frame.  Both are appealing to art collectors and serve as a way to have beautiful professional artwork at a fraction of the cost of additional framing. Here are several examples of 1 1/2″ gallery-wrapped canvas.

wrapped canvas example

This is an example of the painting wrapping around the sides of the gallery-wrapped canvas support.

wrapped canvas example_2

Another example of 1 1/2″ gallery-wrapped canvas with the painting extended to the sides of the support.

Other Professional Supports

There is another type of support that is very popular among fine artist because the surface is very smooth and non-textured.  This support is called a wood panelWood panels come in different sizes and widths with a depth of 1/2″ – 3″ and are made with fine wood…such as birch.  This support is a little more expensive than linen canvas but is worthy of the additional expense.  Most portraits painted by the past masters were done on wood panel.  I love this support because of the detail that I can achieve with my pet portraits and is the support I prefer when doing a commissioned pet portrait.  Here is an example of a wood panel support.

wood panel example

Wood panel made from birch wood. This wood panel support comes in a variety of sizes. This support is 8×11 with a depth of 1 1/2″ but also comes in different depth sizes and framing is an option.

When you are making a substantial investment in a commissioned piece of art, you should take the time to evaluate the quality of the support that will be used.  Art is to be enjoyed for many years and subsequently passed down to future generations to enjoy.  Please make a point to research and understand the quality of what you are buying.  In future posts, I will be talking about paint!  Yes, there are many types of paint and making sure that you understand what type of paint is being used for your commissioned piece is just as important as the support.  See you next time!