Give new life to old photos, frames, and that boring old wall with some paint and an eye for the right arrangement. Here's how to do it with style -- without big framing costs.

August 26, 2015

Thoughtful framing and placement helps avoid chaos when you assemble an array of antique photos. Search flea markets, antiques stores, and discount stores for inexpensive frames in various shapes, styles, and sizes.

Paint can unify different looks in frames. Consider a few rounded frames to help soften frames with right angles. Professionally cut-to-fit mats can help preserve your pictures and set them off from the frame as well.

If you have mats professionally cut, this project can be done in about a day by a beginner.

Expect your costs to run about $50 to $100 for frames; add about $15 for each professionally matted picture (or add about $50 for mats and a mat cutter if you do it yourself).

What You Need:

04HDT-Wall of Photos in Dining Area with Wood Floor
  • Picture frames with glass
  • Acrylic crafts paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Photos or artwork
  • Scissors, paper, and tape
  • Professionally cut mats (or mat board and mat cutter)
  • Picture-hanging hooks
  • Hammer, measuring tape, level
  • (See full instructions below)


Photo 1: Visualize your collection with paper first.

1. Take a pile of photos or prints and pare them down to your favorites. Choose mat colors that complement but don't overpower the photos. The mat color should blend with your interior. Use different shades of the same color to more closely match each photo; for example, use four different shades of blue. Keep to medium or pale mat tones to help each photo stand out while unifying the group.

2. Paint all the frames the same color. When dry, clean the glass and set into the frames. Then lay the matted photos down on the glass and seal the back of the frame to secure.

3. Practice first. Lay out your frames on the floor or on a large table. Measure the size of your wall and begin to play with the pictures until you find an arrangement you like (see tips in #4 and #5 below). This way you are free to rearrange as many times as desired without having to fill in nail holes.

4. Begin by creating order and balance in your arrangement. Align the bottom edges of some frames with the top edges of others, align some left-hand edges, and center some frames over others.

5. Black-and-white photos displayed in rows make a graphic floor-to-ceiling focal point. To avoid a cluttered look, frame photos in the same fashion. Consider white mats in black metal frames, placing more than one photo within some of the frames. Positioning bigger pieces low and to the left keeps the display from looking top-heavy.

6. When you like what you see on the floor, trace and cut paper to the size of each frame. Replicate and refine the arrangement by taping all the papers to the wall. This way, you can be sure of your arrangement before you begin nailing (see Photo 1). Mark on each paper the name of the photo as well as the location of the hanging hardware.

7. Secure the pictures to the wall using whatever hardware is appropriate for your wall type and the weight of the pictures. (You can nail right through the paper if the location of the nail hole has been marked.)

8. Remove each paper and replace it with the actual framed picture. Level each frame and enjoy your arrangement!

Comments (2)

July 19, 2018
Just though I would share this since we're talking about picture hanging. Here in NY, we use a great app called Hang-a-Pic for the iPhone to hang pictures spaced evenly. Saves us a ton of time hanging pictures in our gallery. It would be an excellent picture hanging app for a home user for sure. Thanks for the article! Tammy
May 29, 2018
So simple! So brilliant. So why didn't I figure this out before?