More people should do their own picture framing. The reason they don't may have a lot to do with uncertainty about whether the savings to be expected are worth the price of investment in tools and equipment.
Well, considering the cost of an average frame job (defined as a 16"x20" wood frame with a single acid-neturalized mat, glass and foam board backing) is now between $200 and $250, the answer shouldn't be too hard to decipher.
It's a simple fact, the more you are willing to do yourself, the less expensive picture framing will be. Yet some consumers try to come at it incrementally are disappointed. In an effort to save upfront costs, they choose to have someone else cut the mat, glass and backing for them, and then purchase the frame already assembled with the idea that they will put it together with the art and reap huge savings. Not likely. In this scenario they are actually paying someone else to do most of the work.
To enjoy significant savings, you must be willing to do most of the work yourself, which means you must cut your own mats, and, for even greater savings, cut and join your own frames.
So how much can you save by doing your own picture framing? Let's take a 16"x20" framed and matted picture and examine it piece by piece. Starting with the glass, you can find regular single strength window glass at a local paint and glass store or home improvement center for as little as $5 per 16"x20". Non-reflective or UV protective glass will cost more.
The foam board backing that will go behind the artwork and fill the frame will cost about $5.50 for a 32"x40" sheet. But you can figure even greater savings if you plan to do more than one frame job. A 32"x40" sheet yields four 16"x20"'s, so if you will be doing additional frame jobs, you can hold on to what's left and charge only what you're using to this frame job. In that case, the 16"x20" piece costs only $1.38. The same is true of mat board. A 32"x40" sheet will cost about $8.00, but if you are using only a quarter of the sheet, the 16"x20" piece out of it will only cost $2.00. In total, the contents of the frame, the mat, glass and backing, should only cost about $9. Now what about the frame itself?
Again, there are significant differences in the cost of the frame based on how much of the work you are willing to do. Buying custom cut frames (already cut to the size you want) will run you in the neighborhood of $30-$60 per frame for a relatively standard moulding that is 11/2" to 2" wide in a 16"x20" size. Wider and more elaborate frames will cost more. Polystyrene frames (imitation wood frames made of plastic) will cost less. However, if you are willing to purchase the moulding in long sticks and cut and join it yourself, the cost drops to $20-$30. The remainder of what goes into making the frame; ie., the hanging hardware, the nails, the glue, etc. should not exceed $2.
So the finished 16"x20" frame job should cost between $35-$75, depending on whether you cut your own frames or use custom cut frames. It will cost more in the neighborhood $50-$100 if you insist on using non-glare or non-reflective glass as well as higher grade conservation materials.
In the grand scheme of things, however, this means savings of between $100 and $200 on a single frame job when you do your own framing versus going to a traditional frame shop. When you consider that the cost of all the tools and equipment necessary to accomplish these savings will probably add up to less than $1,000, it means that you can pay for the cost of all your tools and equipment in a mere 10 frame jobs.
If you do 10 frame jobs a year or more, you should consider doing your own framing. Think of it this way. If you had started a year ago, you would have paid off your tools already, and you would be putting all those savings back into your pocket.