Mounting and framing large prints

Although I haven’t been able to get out and take many new pictures this year, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time printing and hanging some large prints of photos I took years ago.  I’ve talked to some potential clients about some large prints for large spaces but I haven’t had many large pieces to show them, to give them a sense of how things would look in their space.

In the last couple months I’ve mounted and hung a 2′ x 4′ (24″ x 48″) print in a frame I built, and now a 30″ x 60″ print “floating.”  If you’re interested in filling a larger wall, now I have some samples to show you.

30" x 60" floating print after hanging

30″ x 60″ floating print after hanging

There are lots of extra challenges when working with large prints that you don’t have with smaller prints.  Anything up to about 16″ x 20″ you can just print (in-home, online, or at a print house), buy a frame off-the-shelf, throw it in, and hang it on the wall.

With larger prints there are all sorts of extra concerns, like how to you get a 5 foot print to your house without damaging it?  Unless it’s rolled up, you better have a minivan because it just won’t fit in your car without getting damaged. The weight of the paper itself makes the print vulnerable to creases when you handle it in any way.

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The raw print before mounting. It has to be carried on the cardboard backing to avoid creasing or dings.

Then there’s the question of how you’re going to display it.  Frames this size aren’t very common and they’re probably expensive.  I chose to “float mount” it which means you don’t need a frame but you still have to mount it on something rigid – a board or some foam core or something.

Heck – even if you want to frame it you need to mount it (glue it) to some sort of board anyway because large prints don’t lay completely flat when you frame them – they have ripples that get distracting.

For both these prints I decided to spray-mount them (sometimes called “cold mounting”) to a piece of 1/8″ thick expanded PVC board as a first step.   This involved a can of spray adhesive like Scotch Photo Mount, a large flat surface, and a roller.   Cold mounting is pretty nerve-racking because you have to get it right the first time when you’re working with spray adhesive.  The print itself costs between $50 and $200 so if you screw it up and end up with a messy pile of sticky paper, you’re out some decent money right off the bat.

Spray-mounting half the print.  The other half is clamped in place at the other end.

Spray-mounting half the print. The other half is clamped in place at the other end.

For the 2′ x 4′ print I decided to frame it because I wanted it to look a little larger on the wall than it already was.  Instead of getting a custom frame made I decided to buy some wood moulding and make a frame myself.  I’m pretty handy with a miter saw and it worked out pretty well.  I spent far more in time than I would have spent in money.

For the 5′ print (30″ x 60″) I decided to just float-mount it.  First, because it’s was the easiest option.  Second, because the print is already pretty large and a frame around it would only make it larger.  (and heavier)  The primary purpose of this print is to take to potential clients’ locations to give them a sense of size so keeping it something that can easily fit in a minivan and be carried by one person is important.

The way this print is mounted it could framed later, so I haven’t given p any flexibility.

The 1/8″ PVC board feels rigid when you pick up a small piece but it’s pretty flimsy at this size, so it needs bracing.  I decided to glue 4 pieces of 1/2″ x 3/4″ aluminum C-channel to the back, which both give it rigidity and give me something to drill holes into for hanging.

The aluminum frame on the back adds rigidity and gives me something to attach wires to.

The aluminum frame on the back adds rigidity and gives me something to attach wires to.

We have picture rail in our house so our photos are hung with picture wire and picture hooks – no drilling holes in the wall.   I like picture rail because it gives us a lot of flexibility to move things around without damaging the walls at all.  Nudging something to the left or right a few inches is easy.

You can’t really tell from the picture above but there’s one continuous wire running through a variety of holes which give one loop of picture wire on each side, to make hanging easier.  The wire can be slid through the holes to even out the lengths one each side, which makes leveling the hanging photo easy.

Detail of the rail on the back, held on with Gorilla Glue.   I drilled holes for the picture wire, which I attached with ferrules with crimped ends.

Detail of the rail on the back, held on with Gorilla Glue. I drilled holes for the picture wire, which I attached with ferrules with crimped ends.

The finished product is at the top of this post.   I’m pretty happy with it.  It fits in the minivan well so if you’re interested in a large print for your space, let me know and we can talk about what works for you and possibly bring this one over for a “test fitting.”

Thanks

Thanks go out to Charles Cramer for helping make the 5 foot print a reality.  After editing this image off and on for about 6 years I thought I had it all ready for him to print out but he helped me make it even better.   Charles runs workshops about editing and printing landscape photos both here in Santa Clara and up in Yosemite.  I took his class many years ago and I’ve been happy to keep in touch since then.

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