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Do Picture Frames Need Glass?

Ornate picture frame without glass

How To Display Your Photos Without Glass

A beautiful photograph deserves to be hung on the wall for all to see & enjoy.

There’s quite a few options these days for printing & presenting your images, but using a picture frame is still one of the most popular ways to display a print.

Most picture frames come with glass or acrylic, but maybe you’re wondering if glass is necessary.

Do picture frames need glass? Not always, a photograph can be displayed in a glassless frame, but this has it’s advantages & disadvantages. But there are mounting methods where a print can be framed successfully without the need for glass or acrylic.

There’s valid reasons for & against using glass or acrylic in the framing process, so let’s take a look at the pros & cons.


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Advantages & Disadvantages Of Using Glass

The Main Reason For Using Glass Or Acrylic Is To Protect The Print.

  • Fading - nothing will degrade a photograph quicker than regular exposure to sunlight.

Even ambient light will take it’s toll over time.

I’m not sure about shop bought frames, but when using a reputable print lab or custom framer, your glass or acrylic will have UV resistant qualities.

  • Degradation - as well as sunlight, photographs can discolour & generally degrade over time due to airbourne contaminants.

This isn’t just dust in the air as cooking odours, cleaning products, nicotine & wood burners all contribute to a yucky build up on the print.

  • Moisture - a print needn’t be in direct contact with water, high humidity can eventually cause the photograph to warp, especially where there are fluctuations in temperature & moisture content in the air.

It’s also vulnerable to mould & mildew.

The back of the photograph may be sealed & mounted to the backing board, but the face of the print is totally at the mercy of the elements.

  • Other Contaminants - fingerprints are always a possibility when a photograph is displayed out in the open so to speak.

But the print is also at risk of spider & insect poo .. not nice!


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When Wouldn’t You Use Glass In A Picture Frame?

  • Reflections - this is probably the number one reason why people don’t want a sheet of glass in front of the image.

This can be a problem especially under certain lighting conditions.

Clear float glass is most commonly used in picture frames due to it’s low cost, but anti-reflective glass can be obtained, be it at a higher price.

But there’s a cheaper alternative with matte or anti glare acrylic.

  • Breakage - you wouldn’t want to drop a glass picture frame!

As well as having to replace the glass, the print itself could get damaged.

This is why most print labs use acrylic, as shipping glass picture frames is a risky business.

  • Weight - this becomes more of an issue the larger the frame gets.

Extra care needs to be taken in hanging & displaying supersized prints.

As for shipping? Not only does the odds of breakages increase, so does the price.

  • Colour Accuracy - standard clear glass can cause glare, but anti-glare glass or acrylic can soften or mute colours slightly.

Something to consider if you have a really punchy image with high contrast & saturated colours.

How To Frame A Picture Without Glass

If you’ve decided that a glassless frame is what you need, then there are ways this can be achieved whilst still providing protection for the print or photograph.

The first thing is to mount the photograph.


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There’s a few options of substrates you can use.

  • Polyurethane - the most well known of this type of mounting board is Gatorboard.

A sturdy but lightweight material that prevents warping or buckling of even the largest of prints.

  • Museum Boards - made from 100% cotton, these archival boards are acid free & trap airbourne contaminants which are ideal for expensive prints.

  • Aluminium - not to be confused with dye-sublimation or direct print metal art, aluminium is thin, lightweight but sturdy.

It’s also considered archival due to being chemically inert.

  • Acrylic - again, not to be confused with dye-sublimation or direct prints, the photograph can either be mounted to the face of the acrylic (sometimes called Plexiglass) or the back with the image facing forward.

  • Dibond - using a hard plastic core sandwiched between aluminium sheets, Dibond is still lightweight whilst offering great rigidity.

Whichever substrate you decide on, except for rear mounting on acrylic, the back of the photograph will be sealed & protected.

Then applying a clear coat will seal the print completely from any environmental exposure, including moisture & other contaminants.

The use of UV resistant clear coats is now common practice & also makes cleaning the photograph simple.

Handy Hint - another way to protect your photograph whilst still being easy to slip into a picture frame is to have it laminated.

Laminating is commonly used for certificates, posters & the like & is available in gloss, matte & non-reflective finishes.

Framed Prints That Don’t Require Glass

We’ve mainly been discussing photographic prints, but there’s a couple of mediums you can print your image to that can be framed without the use of glass or acrylic.

Framed Canvas Prints

A very popular & affordable way to display your photographs.

These prints can be ordered with a standard or floating frame.

Because a protective clear coat is used, glass isn’t required, plus it detracts from the texture that canvas offers.


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Metal Prints

Although these prints look amazing without framing, a direct or dye-sublimated print can be framed.

Because of the printing method & protective clear coat used, again, these prints are protected from environmental contaminants & fading.


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I guess you found this article because you want to display your images in a frame, but were wondering if glass was needed or necessary.

But another way to display your photos behind glass, but without a frame, is by using acrylic prints.

Acrylic is a type of glass, & the way these prints are produced is by having the image mounted behind a sheet of frameless acrylic.


These articles explain these prints in more detail:


Final Thoughts

Picture frames can be the finishing touch.

The style & colour can also enhance the image it’s framing.

Even without glass, they offer protection by preventing corners getting bumped & bent.

But the use of glass or acrylic isn’t always necessary & as we’ve learned, you can safely display your print with or without a glass frame.

I hope this article was helpful & feel free to share if you think it could be of value to someone else .. remember .. sharing is caring.


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