Principles for Selecting Colors in Picture Frames

Whether you are planning to use vintage picture frames, classic wood frames or more contemporary designs, the choice of colors is an important step you do not want to neglect. As frames provide the background and borders for the photo or artwork, you must select colors that set the image off and bring it to the best possible light. The wrong choice of color can detract the viewer from the image.

Here are some basic considerations when choosing the colors of the picture frame molding, as well as the matting or backing.

  • Intention. There are two basic purposes of putting a photo or artwork to a frame: to highlight the image and to complement the room or wall gallery where the frame will be placed. Your choice of colors should help meet these two purposes. This means that the choice of colors for the frame and matting should complement both the photo and the room. As such, aside from color, you should also look at the style of the frame. When choosing from among classic inline oval frames, antique picture frames and more contemporary metal frames, take the overall style of the room into consideration.
  • Shade. Match light-colored photos with light-colored frames. Dark colors can overpower pictures that have predominantly light shades. On the other hand, using light colors for the frame can result in a dark-colored photo looking darker.
  • Contrast and balance. The color choices will depend on one’s unique sense of aesthetics and style. However, a color wheel will help point one to the right direction in terms of which colors contrast or complement a specific shade. To prevent the frame from overshadowing the photo, do not use the dominant colors in the photo as the color of your frame, if there is no matting. Instead, use a complementary or secondary color. If there are one or more layers of matting, you may use the same dominant colors for the frame and use secondary colors for the matting. This provides balance and contrast to the image being framed. Meanwhile, black and white photos work best with black or white matting for maximum contrast.
  • Perspective. What perspective is the photo trying to show? The frame should match this perspective. A light background and frame will “push” the image forward, providing an advancing perspective and drawing the eyes into the photo’s bold elements. Light-colored borders will also serve to amplify the photo, making it seem bigger. Meanwhile, a dark background and frame will push the image back, providing a receding perspective and making the photo seem smaller. If the photo has a strong element that is receding (for instance a photo of a road leading to the horizon or water elements in the sunset), the dark background will continue the perspective provided by the photo.
  • Theme. Gold or silver picture frames work well with photos of contemporary themes. Meanwhile, wood with natural shades work with photos that have classic themes.
  • Temperature. Colors can be warm or cool and the color “temperatures” can be used to spotlight a theme. Warm colors usually have tones of yellow, red and brown. Cool colors include shades of light green or blue. The overall “temperature” of the photo should match the temperature of the borders and frame.

An additional note

When striving to complement both the wall color and the photo, the priority is to complement the photo. One tip is to go no darker than the darkest color in the photo and no lighter than the lightest shade in the photo. 

23rd Jul 2014 Eric Morgan

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