Adding extra artistry to your prints

An in-depth perspective to thinking outside the box

It all began last summer at the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market, when I was chatting with a fellow photographer friend at her booth. Sue Muldoon ( was showing me her latest project which I thought was super cool on a couple different levels. Sue had wonderfully and painstakingly reclaimed several antique windows as rustic looking frames for her prints. Not only is this cool from a visual sense, but it’s also a green method of thinking. Reclaiming old items helps with recycling and keeping our footprint as artists down more than before! Framing this way adds an artistic flair to your photos (for when you need to convince laymen that photography truly is art) and if paired with the right photo will really make you stand apart from the average photographer. So how do you go about reclaiming a window as a frame? Let’s fast forward a bit to last Fall where the process began for me…


I had recently done a full day shoot around my town of Vernon, CT. It was one of the rare days when I made the time to shoot with the intent to hone my HDR skills. One of the photos I took was a beautiful shot of the Fox Hill Tower, a very popular landmark that Vernon is known for. It is one of my favorites from that day.

Fox Hill Tower (original ratio HDR)

A few weeks later, we got nailed by the freak Nor’easter that knocked our power out for over 9 days. During that time we needed to find a laundromat. We drove all over central CT and found a small plaza we had never been to over in Windsor Locks. While waiting for our laundry to finish we decided to explore the plaza and saw a consignment store. One of the first things I saw upon entering were two 18″ x 44″ solid oak cabinet doors with glass panels. Both doors had two black coat hooks on the bottom and one of the doors also had a matching black door pull. What really drew me to these doors was that each door had two panels of glass, where the smaller upper panel is beveled with lead giving the appearance of 9 inner panels. They were heavy for cabinet doors and solidly constructed. It appeared that someone had previously hung these up as a decorative piece.

The previous conversation with Sue immediate resonated and the image of Fox Hill Tower came to mind as a strong possibility for a great match. I told Jennifer about my thought on how these would make fantastic frames and even pulled up the image of Fox Hill Tower on my smartphone so I could visually compare it with the doors. It seemed like a no-brainer to us. The owners of the shop came over to see if we needed anything, and I excitedly tried to explain my vision to them. I don’t think they really understood what I was talking about. We made a mental note of the shop and said we’d have to come back when we had extra funds to get the doors.

Fast forward to Christmas…

My Christmas present! YAY!

We were just about done unwrapping our presents, when Jennifer told me to check behind the tree. There against the wall was a covered item. I honestly had no clue what it was. Once the cover came off, there before my excited photographer eyes were the two oak doors that we had both loved from the consignment store! Jennifer went back without me and purchased the doors knowing full well that I would run with this and turn it into something beautiful.

For the record, I truly am blessed to have found someone who just naturally “gets me”. For anyone else, a gift of unattached, used cabinet doors would be on the same plane as socks or that gaudy necktie you might give to a distant relative. But for me, it was magic! Here are the materials I needed to complete my first ever attempt at reclaiming in an artistic sense.

I think it’s important to make note here that for me, finding the frame first and then picking a print worked better than trying to find something to fit a specific photo. Doing it that way allows me to make sure the composition doesn’t get broken up by the door. Case in point; the doors I am now working with have a cross member that physically divides the glass into two separate panels. So this requires that I have an image where the main subject would live in the lower 2/3 of the image. That’s why the Fox Hill Tower immediately came to mind.

Now the “hard” part… Ordering a print

So now I know what I’m dealing with as far as dimensions. I measured out the overall visible area of the frame (where the glass panels are) to get a minimum print size. The next step is to find a print size that will match that as closely as possible without going under the dimensions in either width or height. I happen to use Bay Photo with my SmugMug site and have been very happy with them. I first checked to see what sizes they offered via SmugMug. Unfortunately, they don’t have panorama prints that big. Not a big deal because I know that Bay Photo also offers a more versatile service, bayroes. I use the Professional version for any of my print orders. Luckily I found one that met my needs. I uploaded the full size image to the application, dragged it onto the template, moved it around to ensure the best possible cropping, selected the finish (I also selected a Metallic finish which in the right light makes the image “glow” in a Thomas Kinkade fashion), and sent that puppy to the shopping cart… a process that took me about 30 minutes with me double checking everything. As far as print costs go, this is definitely more than your typical 8″x10″, but given what you’re getting, it’s very affordable. Prices will depend on size, finish and any other customizations you may select.

Bay Photo had the print to me within 4 business days (it would have been 3 if UPS had their act together and actually bothered to deliver it when they said it was out for delivery). One of the many shining points about Bay Photo is how they package your prints for shipping. Every order comes immaculately packaged with plenty of thought put into consideration of the violent rigors of shipping across country. In this case the print came in a thick cardboard tube with plenty of packing material to keep the print from moving. The print itself was rolled up in an acid free plastic sleeve which in turn was layered with protective tissue paper, There wasn’t a single wrinkle in the tissue paper!

After unpacking, I laid the print out on a flat surface that was out-of-the-way (my work area table). I kept the print in the sleeve to protect it. I then carefully placed flat heavy items on it and left it for 3 days so the print wouldn’t curl, a by-product of being in the shipping tube for a few days.

Tear-down…and Assembly

I spent the first day or two trying to figure out how to best approach the gut-wrenching task of getting the over-sized print trimmed down so it would fit in both panels and look like it was one piece. One could build a paper template, but that leaves an extra entry point for human error. While I thought about this, I decided to start the process of extracting the glass panels from the frame. Perhaps seeing how the door is constructed will help in finding the solution. I laid out some soft blankets to help protect the wood during the disassembly and assembly process (Thanks to our toddler for donating his soft crib blankets).

This particular set of doors had vertical plastic strips that were stapled to the wood. These strips were what was tightly holding the glass in the wood frame and needed to come out anyway for mounting the print. These may be wood on other doors, so you’ll have to take a look at how they are attached to the frame and adjust accordingly. So I carefully pried the strips off with the thought that I may need to re-use them.

Carefully removing the plastic panel retainer strips.

After the plastic strips were removed, I found that the glass panels could slide out of the frame. So I carefully took those out.

Carefully removing the glass panels from the frame.

It was at this point that I realized the best way to get the print trimmed and fitted properly is to simply (and very carefully) lay the glass panels on the print. The important thing is to make sure I’m as close as possible with the measurements of the space between the panels. So I measured the cross member and compensated for the routed channels that the panels sit in (roughly 0.25″ each):

Measuring the cross member.

Then the next thing is to carefully lay the panels out and make sure to account for the cross member space and keeping the panels aligned with each other. This is critical to keep the image flow looking consistent, thus fooling the eye that it’s not two separate prints, but one continuous one hiding behind the cross-member.

Measuring the outer margin to help ensure a balanced composition.

Measuring and adjusting for the cross-member spacing between both panels.

Now that we have the glass panels laid out the way we want, ensuring that the composition is positioned with the proper margins, alignment, etc., we need to mark the print so that it can be trimmed. I thought about a Sharpie marker, but was concerned about smudging, especially as this print has a glossy, metallic finish. So I opted for my mechanical drafting pencil that’s loaded with a hard lead. The trick is to score the print, without tearing it.

Scoring the template on the print so that we can trim the print.

To me, this is the most nerve-racking part of the process. There’s a lot of apprehension when you’re about to hack up an expensive print! I also found out the hard way that these prints are fragile as I tore a bit of the print while scoring. Thankfully it wasn’t going to show in the end product.

Scoring of the template on the print.

And now to cross the point of no return…

Loading the print in my Logan Model 450 Mat Cutter

Loading the print in my Logan Model 450 Mat Cutter to be trimmed.

Trimming the print.

You’ll notice in the picture above that I am wearing gloves. I usually put on gloves once I start handling the print or working with the frame’s glass during and after I have cleaned the glass. This is to keep any oil from my skin damaging the print or smudging the glass. I make sure to meticulously clean both sides of the glass. I don’t want even a speck of dust, or the slightest smudge as I seal the print in the frame with backing paper.

IMPORTANT! The other thing I want to stress is that when you go to trim your print, make sure that the edge that will be removed is always on the outside of your cutter. In my case, when I drew back with the blade on the 450, I noticed that it was scuffing the ink on the part of the print that was to be discarded!

While I have the glass out, I pre-drill the holes for the hanging hardware. One trick I picked up over the years is to wrap tape around the drill bit so I know how deep I need to go without going through to the front of the frame. It also helps me better match screw lengths to the piece as I often find the provided screws with the hardware can be too long.

Pre-drilling screw holes for hanging hardware.

Next I measure out and fit the backer board.

Measuring the backer board using the inner edges of the frame.

Mounting the print so it doesn’t flop around in the frame is the next challenge. Normally, I would mount the print to a cut mat board. But in this case, there is none. So I do the next best thing… I mount it directly to the glass panels using the same technique that I would for mat board.

Mounting the print to the glass panel using filmoplast P90 archival tape.

After mounting the print, I noticed that there is a small amount of the print that sticks out beyond the edge of the glass. This needs to be trimmed off so the print will not wrinkle when installed in the frame.

Carefully doing the last trim of the print using a razor blade.

Once both panels have been properly trimmed, it’s time to begin installing them in the frame. Take your time with this as it is likely going to be a tight fit. You want to be careful about bending, or scraping the print when sliding the glass in the frame’s slots!

Installing the mounted print and glass panel.

After both panels are in place, insert the backer board to help secure the print and secure with framing points. This is what will replace the plastic strips that were taken out earlier. We can’t use those because the strips would not fit flush against the back of the frame any more. Plus it’s easier to secure everything like you would in a traditional frame scenario.

Inserting the trimmed backer board.

Securing with framing points.

Now that the backer board panels are secure, I go around the back of the frame with double-sided tape and roll out some backing paper to clean up the back. Then I attach the hanging hardware and install 50lb professional hanging wire (this wire is encased in clear plastic to help reduce corrosion).  The final part is to add my signature, “About this Photo” card and sign the piece.

The finished product.

Taking into consideration that this was my first attempt at this kind of project, I spent roughly 4 hours from start to finish (not including the time spent flattening out the print). I was taking my time to make sure that no mistakes were made that would detract from the end product. I can’t say enough about not rushing a piece like this, especially when you are working with high quality materials. Having to start over would be expensive both in time and materials.

I am happy to say that everyone who has seen this piece in person absolutely raves about it. It’s a fresh idea that can get your art noticed! It has opened a lot of doors (pun intended) for me artistically! I hope this helps to inspire you and look forward to your comments!

Thanks again to Sue Muldoon for openly passing on her ideas and inspiration!

[UPDATE] I am proud to say that this particular piece took First Place at the 2012 Digital Art Exhibit sponsored by the Vernon Community Arts Center! For more on this, check out this article in the Reminder News.

6 responses to “Adding extra artistry to your prints

  1. Dan, I have utilized this idea years ago, though not as professionally as you’ve portrayed, in mounting prints and displaying them. Having the right tools makes all the difference, like the 450 you mentioned. I recall once seeing a glassed-in front porch, on a home. The owner had various styled window frames hanging in what appeared to be “free open space”, while viewing them from the outside of the home, through the large front porch windows. From the road, the effect was very creative, as they were each painted different bright colors. From the inside out, the windows literally “framed” the outdoor view. Here, the frames themselves were perceived as the objects of “art”. Lets say there were 9 lights in each rectangular frame; there would be pieces of various colored leaded glass installed in each of the 4-corners, to dress them up even more, This effect too could be utilized within a framed-print-area, to either add visual interest, or in separating prints more dramatically within the area of display. Another idea is to make a hanging “mobile”, out of several prints each displayed within old small wooden picture frames. I really enjoyed your creative pictorial walk, through the process of reclaiming this old window frame unit, and asthetically reusing it to highlight your photo. Sure makes one think of all of the other object display possibilities, that are made available to us daily.

    • Thank you so much Don! I appreciate hearing how other artists have done similar things. That porch idea sounds amazing! If only we had a porch. I do have several variants of this process running in my head as of late. It will all depend on what doors I can find to reclaim. I also have some things in the works that will allow more of these kinds of projects to be viewed by the public (especially in the Vernon, CT area). Stay tuned for more updates on this. =)

  2. Loved just seeing it last Sunday, but am now even more impressed after seeing the entire process! You are amazing! And so is Sue, for sharing her ideas.

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