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

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.


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.

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.

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.

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 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.

Printing at Costco

And now, back to photography... I just discovered printing at medium-large prints at Costco and this might change my thoughts on printing drafts of photos.  As you know, I'm all about the print and images look different on paper than they do on screen. You usually have to go through a few revisions on paper before an image is really "right" and the turnaround time on prints really slows the process down if you don't have a photo-quality printer at home.

I've always known Costco had a photo department but I never really noticed their "poster" sized printing before.  It turns out that for $6 you can get a 16x20" print, and for $9 you can get a 20x30" print.  These prices are less than half of what charges, and there's no shipping, and they print them while you wait.  The prints are from an Epson 7890 with a 20" roll of Fujifilm Photo Paper Satin 270 - an entry level paper.

You can choose to have your order processed without color correction and they only have one printer, so the consistency from job to job should be pretty good.  Prints smaller than 16x20 are printed on a different printer so the color won't be exactly consistent, but you can gang up four 8x10's to forma single 16x20 and it will be printed on the big printer.

This is a fabulous deal for draft printing and is pretty close to the cost of materials for this sort of print.  These costs are so low that it could really change the way I think about print proofing.  This means 8x10 test prints are $1.50 each with about a 30 minute turnaround time.  (60 minutes including driving and parking)

The Epson 7890 will take rolls up to 24" wide and the photo guy mentioned that they might start stocking 24" paper which would let them offer 24x36 prints as well.  I would guess they would charge around $15 or so, which is a really amazing deal.

I envision the final versions of most of my work printed larger than 20x30" and usually mounted too, so having a place like The Picture Element is still important for final versions, but using Costco for printing proofs might become a regular part of my workflow.

Charlie Cramer's fine art printing class

I had the great pleasure of attending Charlie Cramer's excellent Fine Art Printing Class this past weekend, held at The Picture Element here in Santa Clara, California.  It's an intensive three day class running from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm Friday and Saturday and 9:00 to 5:00 on Sunday.  That's 32 total hours of time talking about printing, looking at prints, making prints of your work, and having your prints reviewed by classmates.  It's an intensive session to say the least and with only eight students, getting the attention of Charlie or his assistant isn't a problem at all. The first half of the class is mostly lecture, as you follow along on your own computer with what Charlie does on the projector.  We covered a lot of good Photoshop techniques for enhancing images and making them more pleasing to the eye.  By Saturday afternoon we switched to working on our own images, making test prints as we went, trying to get the most out of each image.  As the images became more refined we made larger prints, all the way up to 36" x 24".  (Or even larger for wide panoramic shots)   I worked on about 12 images which is probably more than most people did, and I ended up with about 10 nice 11 x 14 images,  a few 24 x 20 images, and a large 48 x 20 panorama.   It's safe to say that I got a lot of prints.

The main part of the class revolves around his "master file" idea and the "print, evaluate, refine, reprint" workflow.  There were a lot of Photoshop techniques to help an image's contrast, color balance, etc. that were discussed and I ended up much more comfortable with Photoshop CS4 than I had been before.  (A lot of the Photoshop interface changed with CS4 and the repetition of doing all the exercises in Charlie's book really helped it become second nature.)

If you're interested in the print as the final destination for your photography and you feel like something's lacking in your prints, then I would recommend this class whole-heartedly.  It's biased toward nature photography but the concepts carry over to any sort of photography.   I happened to get lucky and find this class being offered so close to home but he also offers it in Yosemite Valley, combined with a couple days of shooting.