Framing and Gallery Wrapping for Professional Exhibitions

Deciding whether to gallery wrap or frame your work is really a decision you should make before you begin your piece, as it can affect your creative process.

framing gallery wraping slider

We have often been asked, “What is the best way to display artwork in a gallery? Should I frame my paintings, or should I show them gallery wrapped?” Well, at Agora Gallery, we are proud to display artwork in a wide range of forms and presentation. In our decades in  NYC, we’ve shown many pieces both framed and gallery wrapped, and while one isn’t necessarily better than the other, there are several pitfalls to avoid in both display methods that can make a painting look unprofessional and messy during an exhibition.

First, let’s quickly define each. A frame is not only the four pieces of wood (or other materials) that surround the border of a piece, but also the backing that provides structure and support to your artwork. Gallery wrapping is when the artwork is stretched and affixed onto stretcher bars.

You can (and many artists often do) frame a gallery-wrapped piece.

Linda Nilsson Nirvana Floater Frame
Artist Linda Nilsson’s Nirvana is both gallery wrapped and placed in what is called a “floater frame.”

It may seem like deciding whether to gallery wrap or frame your work will be the final decision in your creative process. However, this is really a decision you should make before you begin your piece. In fact, you should know when you are purchasing your materials, as your display method will directly influence what materials you need to create your piece.

When to Gallery Wrap, When to Frame

The question of when you should gallery wrap as opposed to frame has many variables. For one, it is often cheaper to gallery wrap than it is to frame, but gallery wrapping isn’t always an option. So to start: what base materials can be gallery wrapped?

Cannot be gallery wrapped:  Can be gallery wrapped:
  • Paper
  • Board*
  • Wood
  • Materials that cannot be stretched
  • Canvas
  • Linen
  • Most textile (fabric)-based materials
  • Materials that can be stretched

*Board can be put on a wooden support and painted on the side, which can have the same effect as gallery wrapping.

If you are planning on working on a base material that cannot be stretched for gallery wrapping, then you can display the works by mounting them or framing them (or both).

What are the benefits of gallery wrapping?

The first answer is often the most commonly cited: it is the cheaper option. Framing your artwork means purchasing a frame, and most art appreciators can tell when you’ve settled for a cheap frame. A cheap frame will make your work look cheap.

It can often save you money and time when shipping. If you don’t need to worry about a frame, it is very easy to unstretch, roll, and ship your artwork in a tube. Many galleries will assist you in re-stretching the work upon arrival.

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Castro ART Life on Mars IV Gallery Wrapping
Castro ART’s Life on Mars IV is a great example of the three-dimensional element that gallery wrapping can provide.

Gallery wrapping creates a three-dimensionality to your artwork. It emphasizes the piece as an art object, and not just an image. Your painting itself will wrap around the edges, so that your artwork is visible from all angles.

What are the benefits of framing?

Framing can often be a signature of style. By using the same frame style to a collection of paintings that may differ in size and style, you are creating a uniformity that separates your work from other artists’.

While it may cost more, framing also adds value to the artwork. A nice, elegant frame will add a world of sophistication to the works that will raise their inherent value to the potential buyers.

Margaret Vega framed
These four artworks by Margaret Vega are unified by her distinct frames.

Finally, frames can be a very useful way to protect the artwork from damage. Though the edges of a frame may often be more delicate than the edges of a canvas, the frame is more replaceable than the artwork. Additionally, a frame with glass or plexiglass will keep people from touching the works, and will add a longer life to your artwork beneath.

Is a buyer more likely to buy a work that is framed or gallery wrapped?

make art wellIt’s almost impossible to predict whether a collector would prefer a work gallery wrapped or framed. On the one hand, a frame can often clash with the established decor of a room: especially ornate, intricate frames. Gallery wrapped artworks can be framed later, so it allows the collector to apply their personal style if they are going to frame the works.

On the other hand, if a collector is looking to buy a framed work, then you are making your work more attractive to them by framing it. The frame does occasionally add a sense of elegance and sophistication to an artwork, and this may occasionally a boost to your chances of sales.

The first and foremost way to make your work buyable is to make it well. A serious collector will not turn away a piece because it is framed, nor will they purchase a work only because it is gallery wrapped. The difference is actually fairly negligible, especially when the frame is simple and neutral, so don’t worry about this too much. Pick what works best for your artwork, and nothing else.

How to Gallery Wrap a Canvas

A poorly stretched painting will either sag and dent, or the bars will warp. Both are very noticeable and will draw attention away from your artwork and towards the hanging of the work itself. If you have decided that gallery wrapping is the way you want to go, you have three options:

1. Buy your canvas pre-stretched. You can paint your work directly onto the stretched canvas on an easel. However, if you are planning on doing this, you must make sure that the staples on your stretched canvas are on the back. If they are visible from the side, then you will not be able to hang them in a gallery or museum. The sides of a gallery wrapped artwork should be painted, so that when viewers look at the work from various angles, the painting does not appear to end.

2. Buy stretcher bars to gallery wrap the work after you’ve finished your painting. Stretcher bars are the skeleton of a painting. If your work is a standard size, you can typically find stretcher bar frames in art supply stores. This method is especially ideal if you want to have the image of your painting continue around the edges (as opposed to painting a solid color around the edges, which is more easily done once the canvas is already stretched.)

No matter which method you are choosing, the most fundamental key to displaying your artworks gallery wrapped is that the staples are not visible from the side. 
No matter which method you choose, the most fundamental key to displaying your artworks gallery wrapped is that the staples are not visible from the sides.

3. Build your own stretcher bars. If your work is an unconventional size, you may have a lot of trouble finding the stretcher bars/frames. It is tough to build your own frame, and will require some wood-working skills. But, if you’re up for the task, it’ll open up a lot of options for you in terms of size, and even shape, of your works.

20151023_133101FAQ: I bought a canvas that is stretched, but the staples are on the side. Can I still gallery wrap this canvas?

A: Yes. However, you’ll need to purchase or create a smaller stretcher bar frame in order to do so, as the material will not reach the back of the bars without tearing.

Whether you are building your own stretcher frame or buying one already built, keep in mind that the size of the canvas you are working on is not the same size as the stretcher you need. Your canvas should be approximately four inches longer on all sides, so that there is room to cover all sides of the stretcher bars. Of course, if your stretcher bars are wider, the piece of canvas should correspond. 

Do not use wood thinner than one inch for your stretcher bars. Narrow wood is liable to warp or snap. Some artworks have arrived at Agora Gallery damaged because the wood was too thin, no matter how carefully the artists wrapped it.

How to Frame an Artwork

layers of a frame

There are many things to consider when framing an artwork. Many artists have a relationship with a local framer, who will have the tools and knowledge to build custom and consistent frames for the artwork. There are many video tutorials online to building your own frames, but we recommend that you work with a professional framer whenever possible.

anatomy of a frameIf you are framing a stretched canvas, the frame must be wider than the stretcher bars. Just like the stretcher bars, the face of the frame musbe wider than one inch. Thin wood will often warp or will more easily break in transit.

For some works, it can be difficult to decide whether you should put the framed works behind glass or not. Again, it comes down to the base materials and the mediums.

Oil paintings need to breathe, which is why we recommend that you do not place them behind glass. You may infrequently see some oil paintings with a protective glass layer in front in museums, but this is typically to keep very old, delicate works free of dust (or guests’ fingers). These museums are often using very special glass, or the glass is placed especially far from the face of the painting.

However, we do often recommend that works on paper are placed behind a layer of glass or plexiglass to ensure that the work doesn’t get damaged. This includes watercolors, prints, photographs, and others. Paper has an incredibly delicate nature, and when it is damaged, it can be impossible to fix. For this reason, we also recommend that your paper works are matted when you frame them.

If you are using a glass glaze, or pane, to protect your artwork, then be very careful when packing your works for shipping. Simply labeling your work “Fragile” will not always protect it, and if the glass shatters, that means it will cut directly into your artwork beneath. Plexiglass, or acrylic, is far less likely to break than glass.

neutral frames

Remember that a frame is meant to complement and enhance the artwork, giving the work a sense of completeness. It should not distract the viewer. When selecting your frame and mat materials, be sure to choose colors and styles that will not distract from the artwork but seamlessly blend with it. The viewer should appreciate the frame without thinking about it too much.

Looking to enhance your career and build a presence in New York? Submit your portfolio to us and get the opportunity to present your work to a broad range of national and international art collectors and buyers. Visit our Gallery Representation And Artist Promotion page for more information.


Whether you are framing or gallery wrapping your artwork, you’re likely going to eventually ship it for exhibitions, or to collectors. Luckily, we’ve got these two simple guides to help you out:

how to pack paintingsIn this video, art handler and installer, Peter, walks us through how to safely pack a painting that has been framed or gallery wrapped and is still stretched. These will typically be shipped in a box or a crate, so it’s important to learn how to carefully pad and protect them from any potential damage.how to roll your canvas for shipping

Or, if you’re able to unstretch your artwork, you can end up saving a lot of money by shipping the works in a tube. Of course, you have to be careful to roll the works in a way that will not damage them. The key? Carefully placed archive paper and plenty of padding!  Our tutorial shows you how.


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17 comments

  • To Agora Gallery: I would like very much to participate of your Internacional Art Contest, but I have a problem:I do etching on a recicled paper that I make.So I created a Concept in etching that I Called Graphotactil,that is, the etching to be touched whithout any frame.My paper is very resistant.I ask:May I participate whithout any frame?l

  • Excellent post.

  • HI, Thank you for the excellent overview. I have followed your gallery and artists and find your presentation exceptional. Here’s my question. As an emerging artist in the NYC, Hamptons area I am starting to gain traction and being asked for prints on paper and canvas to purchase. Is there a company you would recommend for this type of work? The finished product needs to be of gallery or collector quality. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and best wishes for success in your upcoming receptions!

    Laura

    • Hi Laura,

      Thank you for your kind comments. A quick look on this Yelp page would be a good place to start > https://www.yelp.ie/search?find_desc=Canvas+Printing&find_loc=New+York%2C+NY.

      • Fantastic! I appreciate the input and will start vetting companies. I have a second question you may be able to help with. I am painting a large (30×40) oil for a client at Intel in the Portland Or. Area. Shipping costs for a gallery stretched canvas are ranging $150-$200. So my question(s); am I better off shipping the canvas and having it stretched on the West cost, is there a cost effective way to ship fine art? Thank you again for your insights. I feel quality is so important and a professional, top shelf point of view is definitely appreciated. Enjoy the weekend. -Laura

        • Hi Laura,

          If you know someone on the west coast who can do you a good deal on the stretching and framing then by all means ship it rolled, if not, I would advise to just ship it stretched.

  • The information is very useful. Thanks

  • Wow, I had no idea that there were so man different components to framing artwork! My grandmother recently passed away, and she left some of her beautiful paintings to me. None of them are framed, so I will need to get that done. I thought about doing it myself, but there are so many different parts, I think it would be best to leave it to an expert!

    • Dear Maxine,

      We agree, if you do not have enough experience, it is best to get it done by a professional.
      If you need some guidance, you can head to our Collectors’ blog and read this article on framing.

  • It’s so useful to read some precise information and by the way i was close to respond to your information
    thank you

    Pierre Pepin International artist

  • I appreciated the information will help us a lot
    thank you so much Pierre Pepin artist

  • Excelente, muy generoso y detallado, de gran ayuda, los felicito.
    Quiero recibir toda clase de la información que ustedes transmiten, gracias.
    Fue un placer leer sus instrucciones.

  • Great Article, As an Artist and Gallery owner I found this article very informative. Thank-you 🙂

  • Very usefull and informative article, I am an artist and I have a small art gallery with a studio in Dallas, Texas.
    I do my paintings and giving art classes at the studio and I display my art work with some of the students work in the gallery. thank you