Giant picture, Giant problems

Mar 12, 2004
Hello Grumblers

Hoping you have solutions to the latest dilema to walk (back) through our doors. Quite a while back we did a large job for a local photographer. He works in 25 1/4 x 25 1/4 size photo that he insists on framing in a triptych. Ultimatley the end, unmanageable dimension is 98 1/2 x 42. To cuts costs and against our warnings he insisted on putting a 1 1/2 inch wood frame (we tried to steer him to a wider option). There is a 5 inch mat and 3 inches in between each picture.
The main issue we are having is that both the mat (s) and photos are buckling. We encountered this problem from the beginning and have made sure they all have a generous amount of space and are not jammed by any means inside of the frame. We have adjusted hinges as well. However the problem seems to be getting worse. The photos are framed with plexi and I feel as though the static charge of such a huge piece of plexi might be pulling at the photos and aggravating the buckling issue.

The photographer does not like the idea of mounting the photos but is this the only solution?

Could the width of the frame play into the buckling issue, i.e there isn't enough support from the frame to prevent the plexi from moving in and out, creating a static charge? On one that I more closely examined this afternoon, the center of the top rail seems to be bowing inward. Could this then be helped by a strainer of sorts?

Help please. Any ideas or suggestions. Many thanks in advance. -Michelle @ Valley FrameWorks
Hard to tell without seeing it. Cockling (waviness) is generally caused when the media is not free to move. Getting art on paper to lay completely flat without mounting may be a futile exercise. Some waviness should be accepted if the art has value and can't be mounted. Looking at the waves to see if they are in a certain area or follow a certain direction or pattern can be useful in determining the cause.

Perhaps I can learn something here. This sounds like a triple opening mat. Isn't a triptych three separate frames with a continuation of a single piece of art? (or one of those travel maps you get?)


triptych =
"1 : an ancient Roman writing tablet with three waxed leaves hinged together
2 a : a picture (as an altarpiece) or carving in three panels side by side b : something composed or presented in three parts or sections"
The problem that has not been addressed is the 1 1/2" frame (you did not indicate the thickness nor how stiff the backing board is). I would be very hesident with that size frame, even a hard wood.

I would be more confortable with a strainer. I would also like to see 1/2" Gatorboard or similar still backing. I don't think a single 3/16" foam center board or Coroplast is stiff enough.
Jerome and others: yeah, agree with the Gatorboard. And if money is the issue--and I don't know this--wouldn't a metal moulding, like the Nielsen 117 line, be more rigid than that wood 1 1/2"?
beyond the backing/support issues, what kind of paper are the photographs on? Is statis mounting the photos to plexi and option?

Just a thought.
if the plexi is not thick enough at that size, it will buckle.

Add to that the narrow frame and you have multiplied the problem.

And if you use a thicker plexi with the same narrow frame, your problem might still persist!
True Paul, it would definitely have to be a thicker plexi. This is one of those unfortunate situations that customers insist on. Reality is that it should be mounted, have a sturdier backing such as gator and an appropriate frame.

I don't think the solution is to change any one of those factors but to change all. Hopefully Michelle you will have success in convincing your customer in re-framing the pieces to your original suggestions, you already know what to do. The hardest part of this frame job is to convince the customer to do it properly. you have the proof before you of what can happen when the limits are stretched.

Good luck
It seems to me that a 4 ply mat that large is not strong enough to support its own weight especially with 3 openings. Gosh, they get floppy at much smaller sizes than that! I would think about a way to stiffen it- perhaps with a mightycore or fome core (not pieced) layer tucked behind the mat. That's assuming you have enough depth in the frame and room around the photos. I would consider an 8 ply mat a minimum for the future.

If the photos are buckling, then a more rigid backing is in order as well. On a frame that size, no matter the width or depth of the moulding, a strainer (with cross braces) is a necessity, in my opinion. THAT will help lend stiffness to the backing and hopefully help the buckling of the photos. Of course, this photog knows that unmounted photo paper will ALWAYS have a bit off looseness to it, right?

Acrylic moving in and out... ? static build-up...? Sounds like a stretch to me. I would eliminate the weak mat and backing problems FIRST before I considered something unlikely like that. It should be fine once those structural issues are addressed. I don't think you should rely on the acrylic (like using a thicker piece) for rigidity, I think you can get away with the regular thickness acrylic if all else is solid.

I don't think you need to reframe this piece at all, just a few more supports should do it.

Edie the wishingihadlongerarmsforpieceslikethis goddess
How is the piece hung? Have you added any cross or corner bracing?
Where is the piece hanging in relation to A/C ducts and windows?
As per other posts...need more info to offer any decent advice.
Guys - the only true solution here is to educate the customer in what we do - something of this size and complexity CAN be done cheaply (relative to expensive) but it won't be done right AND inexpensively.

Bigger frame - strainer - corner supports - mounted(?) photos sound like the RIGHT way to do it - but it won't be cheap.

I don't think the problems with this piece have anything to do with the customer wanting to do it cheap. Even if a beefier and/or more expensive frame would have been used, the structural problems with the mat and backing would still have existed.

edie the wearetheprofessionalshere goddess
Everyday framing materials that we all use are good for jobs up to about 3 feet x 4 feet. Bigger than that requires different materials and techniques. Failure to face this situation and adjust just leads to failures, returns and major headaches. And you must be in charge. Tell the customer the techniques and materials required and if they won't accept this and won't pay the price then tell them no thanks.

A piece of the size above must be built on a solid foundation - at least 1/2 inch Gatorboard and maybe 2 sheets glued together. And a frame strong enough to suit - if the design calls for a small frame for appearance then put a big frame behind the Gatorboard, perhaps just a 1 x 4 frame with a couple of strainers attached to the frame with pocket screws. This whole wooden frame should then be glued solidly to the Gatorboard. You are going to need a big flat work table or floor to get this all together and be sure it's flat. Now that you've got the foundation built I suggest you drymount the prints. Drymounting was invented for photographs and I think it's the right way to deal with them. If you don't want to mount them to the gatorboard then mount them to rag board and hinge this to the backing. Then add rag spacers around them to keep everything flat. The spacers should be glued in place solidly and I suggest the mat be glued to the spacers. Use a conservation grade glue. The mounted prints are now hanging in a pocket made of rag which is flat and solid. At this size at least 1/4 inch plexi and then a frame deep enough to cover the edges. Then weight it and face the hanging issues - this is part of the framer's responsibility. I like French Cleats and something this size would be happy with screws in about 5 studs.
Thanks for the suggestions thus far. To answer a few questions, there is a foam core back and then gator on top of that for support in the back. There are also 2, 1 1/2 inch wood strips in the back running horizonatlly for support.
As I remember, (my boss handled the initial job) the customer was pretty price driven. We didn't even cut the mats because we didn't have the space in our back room....he farmed them out to another shop but went with us for the frame, plexi and materials because I assume that we were cheaper.
The frame is not that deep, just about an inch...not the hardest wood either.
Is 8ply available in this size? I was contemplating that as a possible solution. I was also thinking about building up the mats with foam or gator to give them some more support and then insisting that he mount the photos.
Right now the finsihed pieces have been sitting (not hung at all) so there's no stress on the actual frame/ plexi in that respect.
His orginal show was in a very old building in the winter, if I recall, and I am sure that they were exposed to hot then cold for quite some time.
The customer seems to think that a thicker plexi will do the trick, but I have told him that there is no way his frame will support that.
B ply mats are only available upto 40x60 I believe. But you could alwasys make you by adhereing two 4plys.

Now the best thing to do that is reversable is to statci mount. You can do all thre and not have a problem. Then you have the frame. Having the type of brace in the package you describe is not going to do much. You should make a stainer that acts to support the frame as well as the art. Although a wider frame and deeper would make these two things both easier.

I swear, if this were my Torture of the Day, I would open it up, return the art to the customer and write him a check back for the amount he spent. Sometimes ya just gotta cut your losses....