Zenfolio | John Petro | Preparing for a photography exhibition

Preparing for a photography exhibition

March 11, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

To my delight, I was approved for a solo photography exhibition at a local art gallery. The show will take place in Apr-May of 2013, and the gallery has space for about 50 pieces. Since this is a solo show, the burden is entirely on me to have 50 matted and framed works ready for hanging before show start. I was notified of my acceptance back in mid-October, so I've been working on this for two months already. In this note I will describe my post-PhotoShop work flow, equipment, material sources, and expenses for this show preparation.

First off, I am a do-it-yourselfer, so I do everything myself, from pressing the shutter release to final matted and framed 11x14 (or whatever size) piece, it is all done by me. That is not entirely true, I do still shoot film and slides occasionally, and when I do, the exposed film does get sent out for processing by experts, before I scan the negative/slide and process in photoshop (PS). But, in any case, here we describe what happens after the photoshop processing, how we go from a bunch of bits viewable on a monitor to a framed print suitable for hanging on a wall.

There are four advantages for doing the entire post-PS process in-house. Some of these advantages are of course based on my beliefs about how photographs should be displayed, if your opinions differ then this list may not apply. I believe that a frame and matte should not compete with the photograph for attention. Frames should be low key and unobtrusive, they should simply outline the matted photograph and separate it from the wall on which it hangs. I also believe that each photograph is unique and thus should be free to take on any aspect ratio and size the photographer deems appropriate for that image. Even though I did both the taking of the photograph and the framing of it, I much prefer to be complemented on the beauty of the photograph, not the matting and framing. Also, setting the idealism aside and getting practical, I offer my matted, framed photographs for sale and I want to break even if not see an actual profit and my name/photographs do not (yet?) command fine art prices, so expense of materials matters a great deal. My choice of frames, while meeting my beliefs about how photographs should be displayed also meets my requirement of allowing me to very nicely display my work without exorbitant expense. In summary, here are four advantages of doing the work oneself:

  1. Flexibility. I like lots of freedom in selecting the crop aspect ratio and print size for each photograph uniquely. Doing the matting and framing myself frees me from any constraints.
  2. Consistency. While I like flexibility in photograph dimensions, I prefer uniformity of frames and framing style for all of my photographs. I can more easily achieve this consistency over time when I do the work myself.
  3. Expense. Getting 50 photographs matted and framed is not cheap, even if you do it yourself, but it is still cheaper than contracting out all or any portion of the work.
  4. Speed/Control. Time to completion is only constrained by my schedule, not anyone else's schedule.

There are two big, as in expensive, non-recurring cost items one needs for this endeavor.

  1. Printer
  2. Matte cutter

As for the printer, I have the Epson 3800 Color Inkjet printer that I bought four years ago. As with much electronic equipment now-a-days, there is a new and improved version, the 3880 that one can buy for several hundred dollars less than I paid for the 3800. To further rub salt in my wound, presently (Dec 31, 2012) I see that Epson is offering a $300 rebate on top of the already lower price for the 3880. I don't know how long this will last and possibly this means there is yet a more improved version about to be released so they want to get rid of old stock. In any case I find that the 3800 is excellent, but I also know there are many other excellent printers on the market by a variety of makers. If you do go with an Epson product, it should be one that employs their ultrachrome inks. It should go without saying, but you do want to be sure that whatever printer you purchase, that it will allow you to print in sizes you wish to display. There are many blogs and tutorials on how to print, most are focused on specific printers as the technique varies for different printers so I will say nothing more about the actual printing process.

As for the matte cutter I have a Logan SimplexPlus Model 750 that I bought about 10 years ago. It can handle matte sizes up to 40". I see that Logan now makes a model 750-1 called the Simplex Elite. It generally looks like the one I have but comes with many more additional components for cutting glass, plexiglass and paper and an 8-ply matte bevel cutter. I am jealous and wish I had this new model. I like my SimplexPlus model a lot and have gotten lots of use out of it over the past 10 years, so I can with reasonable confidence recommend the new model. I see that on amazon.com, the newer Simplex Elite can be had for about $320.00.

Here is a link for a youtube video made by Logan on the Simplex Elite and how to use it to cut mattes for photographs:


The recurring costs are for the actual framing materials:

  1. the frames and assembly hardware,
  2. glass or plexiglass (I use exclusively plexiglass),
  3. the matte boards,
  4. the foam core backing,
  5. and the hanging hardware.

I purchase all of the above on-line, from one of two places (but there are many others as well). I use either

  1. GraphikDimensionsLtd at http://www.pictureframes.com/scripts/WebObjects/PictureFrames.woa/wa/Home  or
  2. FramesByMail at http://www.framesbymail.com/

Both offer complete kits, all precut to size, for frames, plexiglass, foam core backing and assembly and hanging hardware. They also sell matte boards in bulk or single quantity. I like that one can order these frame kits - at least for the style of frames I buy - in completely arbitrary sizes down to the eight of an inch.

The frame style I use (see my philosophy on frames above) is exclusively what GraphikDimension call Economy Metal. Within this group are many styles and finishes, but I prefer matte black finish. For each frame/size selection one can then add plexiglass and backing also cut to size. Since my older matte cutter did not come with the plexiglass cutter (like the new Logan Model 750-1) I purchase it precut. I prefer the non-glare plexiglass which is slightly frosted on the outer side to prevent, as the name implies, glare. I also get the foam core backing as opposed to the much less expensive cardboard.

I purchase mattes in bulk. A box of 16 mattes, 32 x 40 inches, costs around $94 for the basic and around $236 for the acid-free rag mattes. Note that there is no cost advantage on GraphikDimension for buying in bulk as opposed to single mattes. I buy in bulk so I'll have a good supply on hand. A single matte board, 32 x 40 can provide mattes for four 16 x 20 framed photographs.

I almost exclusively use a 3 inch boarder on my mattes regardless of final frame size. Thus for a given print size I must add 6 inches to each dimension to get the frame size needed. So to display a 10 x 14 image, I need a 16 x 20 matte and frame. If I used this size consistently I'd have no matte board wasteage, and a single board would provide mattes for four photographs. But, as I said above, I like flexibility in print size so I can crop each image uniquely before printing. But, I am not obsessive about cropping, I have three sizes I use very frequently, 10x13, 10x14 and 10x15. I find that most of my images fit one of those aspect ratios, 10x15 is essentially full-frame 35mm format (either FX or DX). The other two sizes enable with more or less cropping of the sides. So the frames I most often order are 16x19, 16x20 or 16x21. Note that from a single matte board I can also get two 16x19 and two 16x21 mattes with no wasteage (cut the 40 inch side at 19 inches gives a 32 x 19 and a 32 x 21, then cut each of these in half along the 32 inch edge). But really good photographs I like larger. Two other common print sizes I like are

  1. 11 1/2 x 16 and with the 3 inch matte window I need a matte and frame dimension of f 17 1/2 x 23
  2. 12 1/2 x 18 1/2 giving a matte and frame dimension of 18 1/2 x 24 1/2

These result in matte wasteage but so it goes.

There is one additional sizing feature I employ that you may or may not find useful. I left it out so far to simplify the description. I actually like for the photograph to have an additional framing feature and that is that the image be inset in the matte window by an additional 1/4 inch, so the white of the print paper shows inside the matte window by 1/4" all around. Thus my actual cropped print sizes are 1/2 inch less in all of the above descriptions. Instead of 10 x 14, I crop the image to 9 1/2 x 13 1/2 (but print on paper that is at least 11 x 15 with the image centered in the paper). Now I center the image inside the 10 x 14 window, so there is 1/4" of unprinted paper all around that also shows in the framed product. I like this presentation style. Also, I can title, date and sign the image on the print paper just below the image and it will show in the matte window.

AS FOR PHOTO TITLE AND SIGNATURE: This is something I have been struggling with recently, here's why. Traditionally, fine art photographs were printed on matte finish photo paper. They were then titled and signed (or sometimes just signed) with pencil along the bottom. Originally I printed my photographs on Epson Archival Matte paper and I signed them in pencil along the bottom. But I have slowly transitioned to Epson Premium Luster paper, preferring that finish over matte finish. Now that all my matte stock has been depleted I have been printing exclusively on luster paper. The problem is, one cannot write on luster paper, not in pencil for sure and most pens also do not adhere. So I have been experimenting. For my upcoming show I have some signed using a Sharpie pen, but my handwriting is not good, and while a pencil on matte was still OK, I do not like the Sharpie. My new method is to use Photoshop. After the photograph is sized properly, say for example 13.5 x 9.5 (for a 20 x 16 frame), I increase the canvas size of the image to 14 x 10.25, giving the image a white border with the photo centered, so it has a border 0.25 inches on the sides and 0.375 inches on top and bottom.  In the white border along the bottom I use the text tool to type in any desired information, e.g. title, date, place and my name. I use the Bickham Script Pro font for my name so it looks like John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence. I like this solution, but I'm not sure how the public will respond. We will see in several weeks when such signed photographs are officially unveiled.

I affix the photograph to the back of the matte using an acid free artist tape. One should only tape along the top and leave the sides and bottom free. This prevents buckling or bowing of the image inside the frame when temperature and humidity cause any expansion or contraction.

Matte cutting requires a good flat space such as a large table, ideally slightly taller than a regular eating table (usually they are around 30" in height), say at drafting table height. One can get a sore back if one has to bend over too much. However, until several months ago, so for 10 years, I used a no-longer used ping-pong table, also about 30" high, that I had in my basement and it worked perfectly fine. It certainly provided lots of surface area that I managed to keep filled with junk and cut matte piece scraps, etc. I've since re-finished my basement and gotten rid of the ping-pong table. I now have a smaller room in which to work but acquired one of the taller dining room tables that is 35" in height and has a 48" square table top. It just fits the matte cutter with a full uncut matte and I like it a lot. All my preparation for the current show has been done on this table. The matte cutter itself does not take up but 20% of the table top so after the matte is cut, I can do the actual frame assembly on the table as well.

So far, over the past three months I've framed over 40 photographs in all of the various sizes described above. It's been a fun and rewarding process and I'm extremely excited about the up-coming show in April. When the on-line announcement for the show is up and running I'll send out a link, check it out. And if you live in the greater Columbia, Maryland, area (Washington, DC, Baltimore, Annapolis, etc) come on by and see the real thing.


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