Framing Your Oil Painting: 5 Factors To Consider When Picking A Frame

If you're an artist or a patron of the arts, then you know that choosing the right frame for your piece of art is important. Not only does the frame protect your painting, but it also enhances its appearance with a finished look and can make a big difference in how it's perceived by viewers.

When it comes to framing your oil painting or any other artwork, there are a few things you need to take into account in order to choose the right frame for you. In this article, you'll review 5 factors to consider to help identify the best framing option for your artwork. So, without further ado, let's get started!

5 Factors To Consider When Selecting a Frame

1. Medium Considerations

  • Oil Paintings and Varnished Acrylic Paintings: Oil paintings and varnished acrylic paintings do not require glass, but rather are generally framed in open frames. Putting the completed oil original painting or a varnished acrylic painting behind glass is not necessary unless it is on paper, in which case it is the paper that needs to be protected, not the painting itself. If you do choose to put the painting behind glass, then you must include spacers, or a mat to allow the air to circulate. This space will prevent condensation from building up, otherwise, the artwork will mold, mildew or buckle and ruin the piece.
    • The only perk to adding glass over oil paintings or varnished acrylic paintings is it will provide extra protection against dust and debris. That said, you'd be surprised how easy it is to keep oil paintings or varnished acrylic pieces clean (when you dust your furniture, gently just dust the artwork too with a dry lint-free rag).
  • Watercolor, digital, and prints, pastels, drawings, charcoal, or any artwork on paper or thin support should be framed under glass for protection.

2. The Size of the Painting

Artwork Frame Size Options

When it comes to the size of the frame for your painting, you'll want to choose a frame that is large enough to fit the entire painting without being too big or too small. The best way to figure out what size frame you need is to measure the painting itself and then add a few inches on all sides for the matting. Once you have the measurements for your painting, you can then start shopping around for frames.

Small Canvas Painting or Artwork Framing Options and Considerations

There is a balance to choosing a frame that will not overpower the painting. For example: let's say you have an original oil painting on canvas and you want an ornate frame. The general rule of thumb is to look for a frame that would make the artwork the next size up.

Here is a list for frame standard sizes that are typically available and ready for you to place the artowork:

Artwork Size   Frame Standard Sizes
 4x6"  8x10"
 5x7"  5x7", 8x10"
 8x10"  8x10", 11x14", 16x20"
 11x14"  11x14", 16x20"
 16x20"  16x20", 20x24"
 18x24" 18x24"

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Large Painting Or Artwork Framing Options and Considerations

If you are looking to frame a piece of artwork larger than 18x24" you will likely need to visit your local frame shop. If your budget is a big concern, then another good option is to hit the antique stores or thrift stores, or garage sales, you'd be surprised at how inexpensively you can get a good frame with an old piece of artwork that you can just pop out and replace.

3. The Subject Matter of the Painting

Custom Oil Pet Portraits

Another factor to take into consideration when choosing a frame for your oil painting is the subject matter of the painting itself. For example, if you have a painting of a rooster in front of a barn, you might want to choose a frame that has a rustic or country feel to it. On the other hand, if you have a painting of a cityscape, you might want to choose a frame that is more modern in style.

4. The Overall Style of the Painting

In addition to the size and subject matter of your painting, you'll also want to take into account the overall style of the painting when choosing a frame. For instance, if the artwork you select is traditional vs. modern, then the frame that you select should also reflect that style. For instance, choosing ornate frames for abstract paintings would not generally play well to showcase the style of the artwork.

Here are some general guidelines for the best frame based on the style (and of course, like art, there will be exceptions to the rule based on what you want to say about the piece) 


Traditional or Classic vs. Modern or Contemporary Artwork

Traditional Style vs Modern Style Frames

Before we deep dive into types of art frames let's first define what Style the Artwork falls into.

Academics refer to "Modern" art vs. "Traditional" art based on dates. According to academics "modern" art generally refers to any art created after approximately 1860. That said, if we look at today's art as "traditional" vs "modern", then a "traditional" art painting would be a painting in a style similar to paintings produced before 1860 (approximately), while a "modern" art painting would be a painting in the style of paintings produced after 1860. So with that in mind, we can then really define the style:

Traditional or Classic Artwork

Traditional or classic art is designed to be aesthetically pleasing, and express a realistic viewpoint of the subject. Traditional painting styles placed an emphasis on realism in landscape paintings, portraiture, still lifes, etc. Traditional paintings were and are an opportunity for artists to showcase their talents to create realistic art without the use of digital devices. Traditional paintings are often meant to be decorative, but they served another function: they are a major means for artists and patrons to document important things, people, and events in history.

Recommended Frames or ideas for Traditional Art:

  • Ornate frames and/or Floater Frames: For traditional artwork, the options for framing are wide open! The most popular choice for traditional artwork is to use ornate wood frames with some accents in gold or silver, this is typically what we see in art galleries and museums. However, it really depends on the traditional piece itself.
    • For example, if the piece of artwork is rather busy, then it is a good idea to go with a simplistic frame, like the frame above which is a Pelin Air Wooden Art Frame with Gold Leaf, or a floater frame so as to not detract from the piece and showcase all the edges of the canvas. On the other hand, for a traditional oil painting of a people portrait or a gorgeous landscape, then a good choice would be to go for an ornate frame design.
    • The bottom line is it really is a personal preference.
  • Color Considerations: When we think of framing traditional pieces, our minds automatically go to the ornate gold frames that we see in museums and galleries. The color, however, is a completely personal taste based on your decorating style. There are a wide variety of ornate frames available at your local framers or frames that are pre-made at stores like Hobby Lobby or Michaels and you can even order them online! 
Modern or Contemporary Artwork

Modern art and contemporary styles of artwork are is expressive, free, and less formal than classical art. Modern art is generally very stylized and highly personal in the style of the artist. Modern art is not always relatable or aesthetically pleasing in the same universal way as traditional art. Some styles are even considered jarring or aesthetically unattractive (check out my Pinterest board titled "Art I'll Never Understand" for examples of jarring and unattractive :)).  These are pieces that are left for interpretation.

Recommended Frames for Modern Art:

To keep to the modern look, here are some recommendations/considerations for modern art:


    • Floater Frames: for a modern abstract painting or contemporary work, it would be a good idea to look for a frame that has clean lines, like a floater frame. By floating the artwork piece, the edges of the paper and canvas remain visible, showcasing the whole piece and keeping with clean lines. Floater frames are great for any artwork including oil paintings and varnished acrylic paintings. 

  • Glass Frames, Wood or Metal Frames: For artwork that can sit behind the glass (like watercolor, pastels, prints, etc.,) you have seemingly unlimited choices for framing. Framing is readily available at big box stores, but if you want to really showcase the piece with something as unique as the artwork, I'd recommend talking with an experienced framer at your local framing shop.
  • Matting the piece: adding oversized white matting emphasizes the composition and gives this colorful piece a dramatic look and also adds bulk to the piece if you need to fill a larger space.
  • Color Considerations: Look for colors that compliment the artwork. For example, if there is a great deal of white space in the artwork, then look into simplistic white frames so that the focus remains on the artwork rather than the frame. On the opposite spectrum, if the artwork is dark, then you may want to consider a dark frame in either black or a dark wood that would accent the piece well.
    • As I'm writing this article, the popular style of modern art is a "Japandi" style of art (this is a Japanese and Scandinavian blend of styles). This artwork is generally soft tones with dark accents, this is a case where a lovely blonde natural wood floater frame perfectly compliments the light colors in the pieces.

5. Your Budget

Another important factor to consider when choosing a frame for your oil painting is your budget. Frame prices can vary widely, so it's important to set a budget for yourself before you start shopping. This will help you narrow down your options and make it easier to find a frame that fits both your needs and your budget.

  • The most expensive option is to go to your local frame shop. But with that expense for a custom picture frame, or custom floating frame comes expertise and a greater number of stylistic options.
  • The middle budget point is hitting a big box store like Hobby Lobby or Michaels. Here you can purchase pre-made frames or have them frame the piece for you using their custom framing services (don't forget your coupons!!).
  • The least expensive framing option is to adventure out to local thrift stores, antique stores, and garage sales where you can find older paintings or no longer loved pieces of art so you can bring new life into an old frame.


If you are looking for what I use, a majority of my completed oil paintings are painted on Ampersand Gessoboard that is 1/4" thick, so the framing options are wide open for my patrons. In my home, I prefer floater frames that are simple black frames for all my oil original artwork because I want to show off the whole panel of art and I don't want to detract from the painting. I also have white walls so that the artwork stands out and I can easily switch things out without disrupting the general aesthetics of my home. That said, when I sell my original artwork, I rarely frame the pieces because I've found over the years that everyone is different when it comes to framing so I leave it to the client to frame the piece.

Choosing the right frame for your artwork can be a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be. Just keep in mind the size of your painting, the subject matter, the overall style, your budget, and your personal preference when shopping for a frame. With so many different frames to choose from, you're sure to find the perfect one for your oil painting.

I hope this article was helpful in guiding you through the process of choosing a frame for your oil painting. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below.

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Stephanie Weaver Fine Art Artist

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