My Material Life

Flexible Framing with Foam Core Board

Have I told you how much I love foam core (a.k.a. foam board or foam core board)?  This is a material one usually discovers in art and design classes where it’s used for mounting projects and building models.  It’s also useful for making frames for inexpensive art in whatever size you wish – as long as that’s not bigger than 20″ x 30″ or so.

When I was younger, I’d frame prints from art calendars sandwiched between a backing of foam core cut to fit the print and a sheet of acetate cut to the same size on top.  I’d seal the whole thing around the edges with some colored plastic tape.  I didn’t have a lot of money for frames and the prints I wanted to frame didn’t fit the frames I could buy, so this was a good solution.  Also, the framed art was lightweight, so I could use mounting tape to attach it to the wall instead of using nails and hooks and wire which was (and still is) a plus.  Years later I realized that this was a smart way to frame children’s art and I used the same technique for a few pieces of my daughter’s pre-school art shown in the photo on the left above (the wide yellow frames are from IKEA).  Samantha is nine now and those pieces are still hanging in our hallway.  It’s about time I made some updates around here, so I created a new foam core frame for some more recent art using a different technique that I made up as I went along.  I think it turned out pretty slick if I do say so myself, especially with the white of the foam core set against such a colorful wall.

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What you’ll need to make a frame like this:

  • Foam core board (Elmer’s even makes an acid-free version that I found at Michael’s)
  • Dura-Lar (a polyester film found at art supply shops)
  • Utility knife with fresh blade
  • Metal ruler, long and preferably backed with cork to prevent slipping
  • Cutting mat
  • Pencil and white eraser
  • Adhesives of your choice – I used 3M double-sided scrapbooking tape and small adhesive dots (If you are making a simple sandwich of foam core, print and Dura-Lar, you may not need these; you will, however, need colored tape to seal the edges of your piece.)
  • Masking or drafting tape

The reason I didn’t use the simple three-piece sandwich and seal for this piece of art is that it’s a watercolor.  My plan was to cut 4 narrow pieces of foam core that would act as risers to keep my polyester film from touching the painting.  This is the same function that a mat performs in traditional framing.  Then I was going to place my polyester film on top of the risers and seal the whole thing with colored tape around the edges.  But I liked the way even those narrow strips of foam core looked as a frame.  And I didn’t really care for any of the tapes I selected as an option for sealing.  So I decided to cut another mat or frame from the foam core that had the same sized-opening you can see within the risers on the piece, but that extended beyond the size of the art and backing.  That was a neat trick.

But let me back up and tell you the first thing I did and that was to determine the size of my foam core backing.  The art is on a 9″ x 12″ piece of paper, but there is some writing on it that I didn’t want to block from view, so I decided to make my backing 3/8″ longer and wider than the art.  You can see what that looks like in the photo above on the left.

Now let’s talk about cutting foam core.  This is something that requires a bit of finesse and of course, the proper tools in their proper order.  And when I say proper order, I’m talking about that fresh blade; do not attempt this without a fresh blade or your foam will crumble and look a mess.  Now if you are sealing the edges with tape that won’t really matter.  If you are trying the foam core frame, however, it will matter.  The next order of business is your ruler or your metal edge.  Cork on it’s back will prevent slipping; I recommend it, especially if you are new to cutting foam core.  Beyond that the most important tip I can give you when cutting foam core is to use repeated passes of your knife against that metal edge.  Don’t try to cut through your board on the first pass.  Just score it, and make deeper cuts with each pass until you feel your knife making contact with your cutting mat.  Practice will be very useful.  Believe me, clean foam core cuts are very satisfying.

So I cut my backing, used double-sided tape to attach my art to the backing, cut my risers (about 3/8″ wide), used small adhesive dots to attach them to the art, cut my Dura-Lar (polyester film) the same size as my backing and used more small adhesive dots to attach it to the risers.  Then I cut my final piece of foam core, the frame or frame/mat.  Again I used the same dimensions for the interior cut as for the area that can be seen within the risers.  My exterior cut is 1″ beyond that all the way around.  I cut the outer edges first and then my interior edges, along faint pencil lines I had drawn.  Now here’s an important tip for this.

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When you cut your interior rectangle lines, it’s pretty easy to guide your knife just where you want it to go at the top or start of the line you are cutting.  It’s much less easy to guide it to where you want it to stop.  So I make a break for the end of my cutting lines by layering pieces of masking or drafting tape (tape that is easily removed) right where I want that cut to stop.  This works amazingly well.  Just pick up that little tower of tape (1/8″ or less high) and move it to the end of each line before you cut it.  When you have cut away that inner rectangle, use your white eraser to erase any remaining pencil lines.

IMG_8361a

Then, place more small adhesive dots around the inside inner edge of the frame you just cut, turn it right side up, and place it in position on top of your polyester film.  Now you can congratulate yourself.  It might not be up to a conservator’s standards, but it’s not half bad either.

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