Wood, Plastic, and Metal: What You Need to Know About Common Framing Materials

Choosing a frame can be complicated. Frames come in a huge variety of styles, materials, shapes, sizes, and colors, and finding the right combination can be daunting to say the least, particularly for inexperienced framers. But a good starting point is looking at the main picture framing materials: Wood, plastic, and metal.


Used in framing for thousands of years before the industrial era, the massive availability and sheer number of possible styles have secured wood’s place as the go-to material for framing. Because the first picture frames were made of wood, they are associated with many traditional art styles that have evolved throughout history – including figure portraiture, rolling landscapes, and still life paintings. The warm, intricate details of traditional art often pair well with the natural grain texture of wood frames, giving a cozy, nostalgic vibe to any room. They can also be stained, painted, and customized more easily than most other framing materials. For the creative framer, this presents an opportunity to make something truly unique.

If there’s one big drawback to wood, it’s the drop risk. Wood frames can get pretty heavy, especially at larger sizes, and can be dented or chipped if they take a fall. Use caution!

Wood Picture Frame Materials
The beauty of wood’s natural texture make wood frames a great choice for nearly any piece, especially traditional art and photography


Lightweight, simple, and reasonably durable, plastic frames are a popular choice for the casual framer. They also run the gamut when it comes to price and quality, ranging from the inexpensive cardboard backed, multi-sided poster frame, to more contemporary polystyrene options.

Plastic frames are most often used when a simple solution is all that is needed. When framing posters in a dorm or bedroom, for example, the frame itself becomes almost secondary. But some plastic frames are nice enough to serve as a great budget-friendly option for art and photos.

But beware: Plastic frames can be bent, cracked, and warped more easily than their wood and metal counterparts. Plus, the look of some plastic frames can can appear a little cheap next to treasured photos and artwork.

Plastic Picture Frame Materials
Plastic frames may not be the most durable or eye-catching, but they work well in a pinch for the budget-conscious framer.


Like plastic frames, metal picture frames offer a look that is simpler and more streamlined than wood, but with a more elegant look and better durability. Typically featuring uniform color, straight lines, and smooth surfaces, the clean look of metal frames beautifully complement abstract, minimalist, and black and white art and photos, where you can use the frame to draw the eye to the subject rather than compete for attention.

Aesthetics aside, one benefit to using metal over wood is the practical durability. Where a wood frame would usually need to be entirely replaced if just one side is damaged, a metal frame can be much more easily reassembled. You can fix them simply by replacing only the pieces that are damaged.

Metal Picture Frame Materials
Their smooth texture and simple, straightforward aesthetic makes metal frames the perfect choice for displaying modern, abstract, and minimalist art.

In conclusion…

Wood, plastic, and metal all have different strengths, but they are each versatile enough to accommodate most framing projects. At the end of the day, beauty is subjective, so there is no single correct frame for any one piece of art. Consider the piece you are framing, the room or environment it will be in, and your budget, and let your personal tastes guide you from there.

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Matt Adams
Matt Adams
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  1. On the larger frames in which glass is not provided, such as for movie posters, can thicker plexiglass be provided in lieu of the thin sheets which tend to bow outward?

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