How to Start a Picture-Framing Business

by Tom Streissguth; Updated September 26, 2017
Woman selecting picture frame in frame shop

The age-old business of picture framing can be just right for art enthusiasts, skilled woodcrafters, photographers or basement hobbyists with an aesthetic bent. A minimum of space is required, along with a good set of tools and the raw materials that go into frames, including wood, metal and paper mats. You can size the business to your level of interest and budget, and even run the whole thing out of your home.

Space and Stuff

Stake out a workshop space where you can set up a framing table and store your materials and tools. This can be a garage, a basement, or a rented space in a commercial building, strip mall or storefront. The space should have good lighting and ventilation for the various adhesives and paints you may need to use, and to vent the dust created by cutting and shaping frames and heavy paper stock. The temperature needs to be under tight control; excessive heat and cold -- as well as moisture and high humidity -- will affect wood frames as well as mats.

Tool Time!

Obtain the necessary tools. The picture framing business demands some hardware, starting with a straight-line mat cutter, which can range from about $20 for a small, hand-held device to $2,000 for a professional, precision mat-cutting system. You'll also need wire cutters, a glass sharpening stone, pliers, screwdrivers, a hand or power drill, wrenches, manual glass and acrylic cutters, files, and a set of miter vises, which allow you to glue and set the corners of a frame. Many of these items cost less than $20 and will be available at hardware or home-improvement stores, while others may be available through art-supply stores or wholesale suppliers that serve hobbyists and small businesses.

The Raw Material

Set up accounts, via phone or online, with your raw material suppliers. Starting a small framing business means contacting local wholesalers that are willing to vend small lots or bulk amounts of whatever you need: paint, glue, glass, wood, metal, paper, and so on. It's smart to engage multiple suppliers for similar materials; you'll need to shop and compare the cost of your materials constantly. You can eventually expand the business to the sale of framed prints, photographs, artwork and posters, which are available from art stores, galleries and wholesale suppliers.

Setting Up Your Knowledge

Check into specialized software, such as FrameReady or ezFramer, that will help you stay on top of material costs, prices for your framing services, an order history and a customer database. The software needs to track inventory, prepare financial reports, provide point-of-sale receipts and generate invoices and statements. Subscribe to industry trade publications such as Picture Framing Magazine; this publication offers an online calendar that lists training opportunities -- novice to expert -- at supply outlets, framing and art shops and the American Picture Framing Academy. Check into annual trade shows, where you can meet other framers; and join the Professional Picture Framers Association, which is dedicated to independent framing businesses and offers seminars, educational materials, online forums and advice.

About the Author

Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.

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