As a former Certified Framer at Michael’s, I can provide a bit of insight. The majority of the cost comes from the glazing (the glass or acrylic) and the frame itself. In order to cater to people from all lines of life, Michael’s offers many different price ranges. For glazing, the most expensive (but well worth it) glazing is the Masterpiece Acrylic. This stuff doesn’t break – believe me, I dropped large pieces, made accidents while cutting, etc. and the stuff holds up and doesn’t scratch or shatter. It also doesn’t show reflections, doesn’t attract dust, and has 99% UV protection. The coolest part about the Masterpiece Acrylic is that you can have the artwork insured (this would be wise for anything from a Picasso piece to your college daughter’s senior BFA show painting). There is also the conservation clear acrylic, but it’s just not as good. As far as glass, there’s the Masterpiece Glass, the Conservation Clear glass, and the regular cheap-o glass.
Ok, now for the frames – there are many options here. Each frame sample at the shop has a colored rubber band. I think the spectrum goes orange, yellow, green, blue, purple (cheapest to most expensive). There are many reasons for the differences in price. Most notably, many of the blue and purple frames are handmade and hand painted/stained. Those people need to get paid too!
Imagine – the certified framer that helps you design your custom frame needs to get paid, the certified framer who puts a lot of thought and effort into crafting all of the elements together, as no two framing projects are the same and we’re talking about a custom service here (frame, glazing, mats, spacers, the mounting process, which entails a lot of precise measuring – nothing is done for the framer, they literally do everything by hand) with your piece of art safely nestled inside needs to get paid, the people who built the frames need to get paid, the people who designed the frames, the mat suppliers and glazing suppliers, and of course Michael’s the corporation, who provides all of the tools and custom supplies that the framers use in order to create this beautiful thing (air guns, matt cutters, drills, nails, archival tapes, archival backing paper, glass cutters, safety gloves, safety glasses, hammers, mallets, dowels, string, needles, paint, markers, awls, staples, screws, dry mounting machine, and so many more things…
After considering all of that, and the barely above minimum wage payment that the framer receives for producing incredibly beautiful, timeless pieces – 300 dollars doesn’t sound so bad after all, now does it?
If you’re not satisfied with the price quote that you’re given, first think about a few things. 1. The importance of the piece. How would you feel if it was tattered, faded, and yellowed in a few years? 2. Many customers often stated that they only paid 20 dollars for the piece of art that they want to frame – why do they have to pay so much to frame it? Here’s the simplest answer: as an artist, I often sell small-scale works at extremely reasonable prices like 20-60 dollars. These pieces often didn’t take a lot of time (in concept, prep work, and/or production), or they were easily made prints (printmaking, digital photographs, etc.) that’s why they were “cheap” or affordable to a more general public. 3. You’re coming to a custom framing shop for a reason – is the reason just because you can’t find the right size or color? Maybe shopping online for less-common sizes or colors is the right choice for you. If you’re coming to custom framing to elevate and celebrate your piece, consider everything that goes into your custom frame as well as the lasting experience it will give.
However, I have some small, super quick paintings that I’ve made that speak to me more than ones that took months and tireless hours to create – art is very subjective, and the importance of the piece comes from your perception of the work. Is it a family heirloom? Then the price is absolutely worth it. Did you buy it for two bucks at a garage sale? The answer to that one is debatable – you bought it for a reason, do you want to elevate it to an elegant level? If so, plopping it into a ready-made frame is not the answer. Yes, I can make a custom frame for that 5/7 piece for 60 dollars, with the cheapest options – or 1,750, with more expensive, yet far superior quality options. What fits into your budget? Perhaps something in the middle. Is the piece worthy enough to adjust your budget to make it happen? These are things to think about before going to any frame shop.
That being said, I would recommend waiting for a coupon. There are always coupons or sales going on at Michael’s, and that includes custom framing. If there’s not one going on now, there will be in a few days or a week at most.