View Full Version : Adapting an acrylic box frame to use for an OP painting

02-19-2008, 12:22 AM
I've been talking for a while about an idea I had for adapting a acrylic box frame for framing an OP painting. Box frames cannot be used as is to frame an OP. The way they're made the surface of the OP painting would end up being pressed against the back of the acrylic of the frame, which would tend to damage or distort it. This is a method that will offset the frame from the OP painting itself, avoiding that problem.

I'm using a 5x7 acrylic box frame
and I measured the card that I used for this piece so that it would fit exactly on the cardboard liner that makes up the inside portion of the acrylic box frame. Then I gessoed both sides of the card and primed with Colorfix. When I did the painting, I worked all the way out to the edges.

I bought some thin balsa wood strips at an art supply store. They're about 3/32" square - just about the same thickness as the acrylic of the sides of the frame. I cut the strips into four pieces, measuring them to fit the sides of the cardboard inner part of the frame, mitering the corners
Then I painted the strips white and glued them to the bottom part of the frame. You can see that my mitered corner is less than perfect. Although the photo makes them appear to be a beige color, the cardboard liner and the strips themselves are white.

02-19-2008, 12:24 AM
I used 3M Super 77 Multipurpose Adhesive, which is an aerosol spray, to attach the painting to the cardboard part of the frame

I had never used this product before, and managed to spray it all over the place - it's a strong spray! :eek: So if anyone tries this I suggest you test first. Luckily, I took it outside to spray, so there was no harm done, except to my painting shirt which now has adhesive all over the cuff. :lol: It's hard to get off one's hands too - please let me know if you're aware of a good method to remove it! If I use it again I'll wear tossable gloves.

Then I put the acrylic frame over the cardboard liner. You can see in the following photo of the corner of the frame how there's an offset between the painting itself, attached to the cardboard liner, and the inside of the acrylic at the top of the frame. That's because of the strips at the bottom; the sides of the acrylic frame rest on the strips instead of lining up with the bottom of the cardboard liner.
The small size of the strips meant that they fit just about perfectly under the sides of the acrylic cover of the frame. It looks reasonably clean and unobtrusive - the closeup makes it look cheesier than it really looks IRL.

So, here it is all finished
This is just the prototype version. I rushed through this a bit because I was so eager to see if it would work, so this isn't quite as nicely finished as I would want. It doesn't look bad though. I found it difficult to miter the edges so that they met just right. Part of that was the small size of the strips and part may have just been my less-than-perfect eyesight - even with reading glasses it was hard to see to make such tiny cuts. The balsa wood is so soft that it was hard to cut it exactly as well. X-Acto used to make a small miter box that came with a tiny saw - that might help. Glueing the tiny strips onto the sides of the cardboard liner also seemed a little difficult, but that may be because the particular box frame I used was a cheap one (they all are inexpensive, but these were some that I picked up at Walgreens, at four for a dollar, and the the liners were not as cleanly put together as the ones that I've gotten at my local art store). It probably would have been easier to put this together if I had started out with a better-made box frame, and next time I try this that's what I'll do. I just pressed the strips into the sides of the cardboard, but there may be some better manner of holding them tight to the cardboard while the glue dries. If anybody has an idea on that, please let me know.

Another idea would be to use Frame Spacer strips, which are clear plastic with an adhesive on one side, in place of the balsa wood strips. They're a little bit thicker - even the smallest ones - but I think they would still be unobtrusive, and it would mean a lot less fussing around with painting and glueing, which is messy. There may be other approaches to using this concept as well. If others have better ideas, I'd love to hear them.

The largest acrylic box frame size that I've found so far is 11x14, but there may be larger sizes too. This isn't the sort of framing that one would want for a piece at a show, but if, say, one were selling small pieces at a street fair, or if an inexpensive way to frame pieces for presents or for one's own use was needed, this method might be a good possibility. The 5x7s I've got from my art supply store are only $1.35 each, making it a far more economical method than framing under glass, and they're lots lighter too. I hope this is a method that others will find useful.

Well, I got so carried away with this that it's now almost 10PM, and I haven't had dinner yet! :o Off I go to make soup...

02-19-2008, 12:51 AM
Annie-Interesting idea and I look forward to seeing future modifications if you try this again. You know, your idea triggered a thought that many of us (we?) "noobs" (got this from Bob and kinda like the sound) could use some basic advice on storing WIP's, finished works, support stocks, etc. For me, at least, the stuff I've done til now (well, even now but my hopes are higher) have not seemed worth the effort to protect them in storage so they end up in a stack on a shelf. A thread with some advice on those issues might really be useful.

:music: :heart: :music:

02-19-2008, 02:09 AM
Thanks Bill. I think there is some material on storing OPs in the Pastel Library. I still have many of mine piled up on a bookshelf. :o

02-19-2008, 10:06 AM
Annie, that's a really good idea! I must admit that after reading your first post last night I was a bit confused. After reading the second post today everything became clear.

I use small wooden strips as spacers when framing. At the hobby shop, as well as the balsa wood strips, they had basswood and pine strips. I use the cheaper pine strips. They are harder and you can get a more precise cut. You might want to try these.

I just bought a spray glue made by Krylon called Easy-Tack but haven't used it yet. On the container it says acid-free and low odour. Have you tried it?


Pat Isaac
02-19-2008, 10:08 AM
Thanks, Annie for this interesting thread. It seems to work well. I'd be interested in seeing more as you go along with this idea.
Bill you can put layers of wax paper or glassine between your OPs to store them.


02-19-2008, 10:49 AM
Wendell: Thanks! I'm glad it became clearer with more info. And thanks also for the tip on the pine and basswood strips, although I have to admit that it's just possible that's really what I was using, as they only offered one type and I just presumed they were balsa. The thing that will probably help the most in cutting miters is new reading glasses! :lol: I really haven't worked with adhesives much at all, so I'm not familiar with that product. I can suggest to be very careful with overspray as you work, because the 3M product was very difficult to remove from my hand.

Pat, thanks. I don't think the photos really did this justice because they seemed to emphasize small flaws that aren't really visible when the piece is hanging on the wall. I also thought I might try painting the cardboard liner black. That way, a piece that wasn't exactly the same size as the frame could be used, with the edge of the liner showing. In that case I'd have to paint the strips black too. I'm not certain that I'll spend the time to pursue this further soon, as I would prefer to get back to painting.

There have been people in the forum who have said that they sold their pieces at open air markets and street fairs, and for quick OP paintings, meant to be sold inexpensively, I think something like this, with perhaps some of the small kinks worked out, and/or using Frame Spacers instead of the wood strips to speed things up a bit, would be ideal.

I forgot to mention that I used Sennelier varnish on the piece before sticking it in the frame. By doing so there was less likelihood of an OP smear getting on the white of the sides of the frame. It also might be possible to attach the painting surface to the cardboard liner before painting, using low-tack drafting tape to temporarily protect the sides while painting.

02-19-2008, 11:11 AM
Annie, you may already know this but a little tip when spraying aerosols is to place the object in an old cardboard box when spraying. The overspray stays mostly in the box.

Pat, have you ever tried using non stick cooking parchment paper? You can often find it in supermarkets and it's used for lining cookie sheets and cake pans. I often mix oil paints on it instead of a disposable palette and it works great.

Just a couple of tips that I thought might be helpful...


02-19-2008, 11:39 AM
Annie, what a neat idea! Thanks for showing the details. I like the idea of painting the cardboard liner a colour to act as a 'mat' for smaller, non-standard sizes (that's what my paintings generally are). Do you know if the Frame Spacers are the right size? Can Colourfix paper be spray attached to a backing without any wrinkling or archival issues? I've wondered about mounting a few of my OPs on Colourfix to a harder backing but haven't tried. I would want to mount it on an acid-free board and then attach it to the cardboard liner. Jane

02-19-2008, 11:57 AM
Annie,Pat- Thanks for the direction to info on storage.

02-19-2008, 02:06 PM
Wendell: Thanks for the tip - I'll try that next time! Several scrubbings with Lava soap finally got my hand clean.

Jane: I think there's a fairly small Frame Spacer (I think they call it Econo-space) and I believe it's 1/8" square. That means it would stick out just slightly from the edge of the acrylic at the side/base of the frame, but since they are clear, I think that might still look ok, and as if it were an integral part of the frame. I'm not certain how well the adhesive on the Frame Spacers sticks, and using them would probably be more expensive, but if it grips well, using them might be a far better approach than messing with those tiny wood strips. I've also thought of using a small square bar of acrylic, attached directly to the bottom edge of the acrylic frame itself, rather than to the cardboard liner. It might make for an even cleaner look, and might ultimately be even easier to do. But I've never seen tiny acrylic bars like that - I don't even know if they're made or where to get them if so.

I know nothing about how Canson would take this adhesive. Perhaps you could test some. I imagine there are other methods of securing the painting to the liner. I think if I were to paint the liner black, I would use a spray paint, to reduce the likelihood of the cardboard buckling from wet paint. I believe the Frame Spacer also come in black, so that might look nice. It also would be possible to leave the cardboard liner white, leaving a white border.

I doubt that the cardboard liner is archival, so your idea of separating the pieces you want to frame from the liner is probably a good one. In this case, the gesso I used probably did the trick. In the case of Colorfix though, I'm not sure you'd have a problem. Isn't the entire paper impregnated with some sort of something that would create a barrier? I suppose you could always gesso the back of the Colorfix to be certain. Or perhaps spraying the cardboard liner with Krylon or something similar would have the same effect.

This probably wouldn't be a long-term framing solution at any rate, because I'm sure that cardboard in the liner will break down over time. OTOH, I have a few really old acrylic box frames (early 80s, perhaps?) and the acrylic is kinda banged up, but the cardboard looks mostly OK, if a little bent. But the method is so inexpensive that if there starts to be a problem, one could always just simply place the painting in a new frame in 20 years or so. Of course, if one was really ambitious, perhapsa new cardboard liner could be constructed out of something like archival matboard (you'd probably need the type with the color that goes through to the core, or else there would be disturbing edges), and then there would be no worries at all, and you could choose your color. I think that one would really need model-making skills to do that effectively, though.

Bill: You're welcome! One thing that I've used to store OPs, although it probably sounds strange, is an unused large pizza box. :eek: They're pretty sturdy and of a large enough size to store much of what I've done. I find the interleaving layer isn't always necessary - mostly they dry enough after a week or so that there isn't any sticking together. Mine aren't anything more than student-grade work though. If you've got stuff that's really special, you'll probably want to take greater precautions.

02-19-2008, 02:17 PM
Goo be Gone has a hand cleaner that removes oil, grease and just about anything you can throw at it. Think it costs less than $3. It's ideal for oil pastels.

02-19-2008, 03:14 PM
Nice cheap alternative, Annie. A great way to reuse all those acrylic frames from the 80's to display your sketches. I have a few, myself. I'm sure they're beat up too, if I can ever find it again. If the frame is bigger than the painting you can still use a 2L mat/mount to keep the plastic off the artwork.

Pat Isaac
02-19-2008, 03:29 PM
I have never used non-sticking parchment paper. Sounds like a good thing. I'll try it.
Annie, I have found that the adhesive on the spacers is quite strong, at least it sticks to glass well.


02-19-2008, 04:17 PM
Paula: Thanks for the tip about Goo-be-gone. I'll look for it.

Julie: Thank you. :) The plastic box frames are so inexpensive that it's hardly necessary to dig up your old grungy ones. While it's possible to add a mat, it's not necessary with this method, as it creates an air space between face of the painting and the back of the acrylic. I think if the frame is bigger than the painting it would be possible to simply affix the painting to the cardboard liner somehow, with an even amount of the white of the liner showing all around. I've framed some art postcards that way and it looks fine. I used double sided tape to attach the postcards, but I don't think that's an archival method, which is what Jane seemed to be concerned about. I also think Jane was more concerned about the contact between the back of the painting and the cardboard liner, which may contain acids or other nasty stuff that could damage the painting.

The spray adhesive I used is archival. There are always the traditional hinged hangers for works on paper that might work too, although I've never used them.

I did a little more searching and Blick, ASW and Jerry's carry acrylic box frames. They come in sizes up to 18x24, costing roughly $17 at all thre
e stores, while the 8x10s are only about $3. (Both Blick and Jerry's prices are for bulk orders, singles cost a little more.)
ASW: http://www.aswexpress.com/discount-art-supplies/online/2828/art-supplies/3

This may give me the impetus I need to start working larger. I had held off in part because in my relatively small space, I didn't know how I could easily store larger works.

Pat: Thanks for the info on the spacers. I may try them.

02-19-2008, 05:15 PM
Annie--I just walked past a bottle of Goo Be Gone at Michaels a few minutes ago!!! I would have picked a bottle up for you if I had only known.

:music: :heart: :music:

02-25-2008, 11:16 PM
For quick removal of the spray adhesive, I have found that a small amount of rubbing alcohol on a paper towel will remove, at least before it's completely dry. I know that goo be gone would also work well.


02-28-2008, 04:35 PM
Annie, thank you very much for sharing this creative idea. Think that I'll have to check the stores for some acrylic boxes tomorrow. :D

02-28-2008, 07:54 PM
Bill, John, thanks. Of course, the simplest solution would simply be not to spray the adhesive on one's hand in the first place. :D Next time, I'll be more careful.

Silvia: I hope the method works for you. Let us know! :)