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There are five major parts or areas of consideration of a picture frame. These are material, color, shape, width and rabbet. As one evaluates picture frames and picture frame molding, these five elements need to be understood in order to ensure that one is selecting a product that best meets his/her needs. This applies to the buyer of either readymade or custom made picture frames. This article covers these five aspects of picture frames.

Picture Frame Material

Traditionally, picture frames were made of a high quality hardwood that would resist the test of time. Originally, these frames were hand-carved and used mostly as religious ornaments. Ever since these first picture frames hundreds of years ago, the product has been going through one technological improvement after another. For instance, since hand carving frames was so time consuming, eventually furniture manufacturers began making molding with routers. Later, developments included the use of gesso to get a hand-carved look.

Picture Frame Color

The second aspect of a picture frame is its color. Picture frames are available in many colors, shades, textures and accents. Really if you can imagine a color, there will probably be a picture frame in production today. Having said this, no single retailer can carry all picture frames made. Therefore, if you are looking for something specific, it is best to shop around, both online and in a retail store.

Generally wood frames are available in natural wood tones, as well as in various colors. The more expensive wood frames have various coatings such as gold leaf and silver leaf. Metal picture frames were traditionally available in gold, silver, and black. However over the past 10 or so years, these have become widely available in many bright colors as well as specialty finishes such as brushed or galvanized.

Picture Frame Shape

The shapes of picture frame molding varies from a simple flat or round molding to elaborate designs such as Swan, scoops, and floater frames. Generally there are only a few basic shapes that make up the bulk of frames sold. Generally metal frames have less elaborate shapes then wood picture frames. This is because of the way metal frames are made. Since they are extruded, there are far fewer design options.


Rabbet refers to the amount of space that is available for the frame package (matting, artwork, mounting board, etc...). When looking at a frame on a wall, the rabbet is located behind the lip of the frame. Again, it has all of the frame package components in it.

Picture Frame Width

Sometimes the width of the frame is given as a dimension. Picture frame dimensions range from 1/4" to over 6 inches. Besides aesthetic considerations, an important width consideration is choosing a thin width for very big frames. Very large frames that have very thin widths will buckle under the weight of the frame package. One way to overcome this is to use a metal picture frame. These are typically stronger than wood frames and can stand up to heavy objects.

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