Framing 101: A Guide to Spacers

Spacers are small frame components that are not visible but have an important function. The spacers are usually placed between the glazing and the backing. These come in a variety of thicknesses, starting from 1/16 of an inch.

Spacers are hidden behind the lip on the underside of the interior edge of the frame molding, around its perimeter. They can serve as a replacement for matting if you want to fully utilize the available display provided by the frame’s opening.

What are spacers for?

  • Providing space between the photo and the glass. Framers during the 1970s used bubble or convex glass, where the photo only has contact with the edges of the glazing. Nowadays, the same function is served by spacers, which prevent or at least minimize contact between the photo and the glazing. This is particularly crucial during days that have extreme temperatures – days with high humidity levels or very cold days. During these times, moisture can build up inside the frame, collecting on the inside surface of the glazing. Since there is no contact with the glazing, the photo does not stick to the moist surface of the glass.
  • Provides space for air to circulate. Even when a picture frame is sealed, condensation can introduce moisture into the inside of the frame. When the condensation has nowhere to go and there is no space for air to circulate so that the condensation can dry out, the paper in which the photo is printed can buckle and become warped. The spacers provide additional space for air circulation. In turn, this minimizes the growth of mold and mildew, which is virtually irreparable once these appear.
  • Straightens the photo. The spacers also keep the photo flat against the backing, so that there is only a minimum tendency for the paper to crease.
  • Prevents chipping or shaving. Without the spacer, the glass may rub into the back of the frame. The spacer prevents any rough edges in the glazing to dig into the wood or metal material of the frame, resulting in the scraping or chipping of the paint.

Tips in Using Picture Frame Spacers

  • Choose acid-free spacers. As with your choice of framing materials, spacers should be made of material that is acid free or has a neutral pH. The spacers will be in direct contact with the paper on which the photo is printed. Acid can cause damage to the photo, causing it to be discolored or brittle.
  • Consider rabbet width. The rabbet refers to the space in the inner lip of the frame. This space will hold the glass, the spacer, the photo, the mounting board and the backing board. Before buying, you should check that the frame has enough rabbet width to accommodate all the components you want included in your picture frame. Also, don’t forget the width of the lip – check that the spacer will not jut out of the rabbet when it has been installed.
  • Consider spacers that are easy to use. Choose material that can be easily cut and trimmed using a pair of shears or scissors. The spacers should also be the non-stick variant, so that you can remove it when you need to clean or replace the glazing.
  • Consider frame color and style. Spacers come in various variants – clear, black and white. Make sure that your choice of color will match that of the frame, so that viewers will not see a mismatched spacer when looking into the frame from the side.
9th Feb 2016 Eric Morgan

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