All About Imitation Wood Frames

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How to Build Polystyrene FramesSee our FAQ's about imitation wood frames

Imitation wood picture frames are made of polystyrene, a dense, substantial plastic, easy to cut and to screw into.  Their chief benefit is that they are half the price of comparable wood frames yet are indistinguishable from wood frames when hanging on a wall. 

Given the fact that picture framing is primarily a visual art and, further, that customers are increasingly sensitive to the rising cost of picture framing, one would think that less expensive frames that look exactly the same as wood would be tremendously popular.  Yet among traditional picture framers imitation wood frames have received a chilly reception.  On reflection it’s not hard to figure out why.

Why Most Traditional Storefront Framers Don't Like Imitation Wood Frames

Most traditional framers work from commercial storefronts.  They have fixed overhead costs.  Since many traditional framers arrive at their price by marking up the cost of their labor and materials, if they start out with a lower base material cost, their mark up may not be sufficient to cover their overhead. 

Of course they could increase their mark up to arrive at a similar price, but imitation wood picture frames, when held in the hand, are noticeably lighter and clearly made of plastic – they only look like they’re made of wood.  Customers perceive the difference and expect a lower price, a lower price that – given the high cost of overhead – may not be sufficient to keep the storefront framer in business.

So if traditional storefront picture framers aren’t the right audience for imitation wood frames, who are?

Why Most Contract Framers Love Imitation Wood Picture Frames

Imitation wood frames are used commonly in contract framing where the framer is bidding on a large job with multiple pieces for a corporate client’s offices or for large hotels or for hospitals or other institutional spaces.  Such contracts often include hanging – which means the client never actually handles the framed art – and are budget sensitive as the client is choosing the framer based on his ability to deliver the contract within a certain budget.

While the framer may have to accept a lower per piece mark up for each frame to win the contract he will benefit from having the larger quantity of pieces the contract delivers and will make up in volume what he gives up in margin.  For most framers this a wholly acceptable trade-off.

Why Most Do-It-Yourselfers Love Imitation Wood Frames

Imitation wood frames are also an attractive option for do-it-yourselfers who are often looking to frame at a lower cost.  This is particularly true when the framer intends to frame something that is not itself intrinsically valuable, such as posters, open-ended digital prints, snapshots and sentimental keepsakes where the cost of framing should be reflective of the lower value of the item to be framed (no one wants to pay $300 to frame something that is worth less than $100). 

In these cases, imitation wood frames can dramatically lower the cost of framing and present a wide range of attractive possibilities in which the framed pieces look more expensive than they actually are.


Frequently Asked Questions about Imitation Wood Picture Frames


What exactly are imitation wood picture frames?

Imitation wood picture frames are made of polystyrene, a dense, substantial plastic, easy to cut and to screw into.  Their chief benefit is that they are half the price of comparable wood frames yet are indistinguishable from wood frames when hanging on a wall. 


Do they have be joined differently than real wood frames?

Yes.  Imitation wood frames cannot be routed for assembly with a slot and peg system.  Rather, they are glued together with Plastibond Glue and clamped in a band clampRead more on this topic.

Are they available in any size I want?

Yes.  We will cut them to any size you specify and send you the four pieces to glue together to make the frame.  We also carry the glue and band clamp you will need to complete the job.  Check out our selection of custom cut imitation wood frames.

Do these frames look cheap and plasticky?

Not at all.  Hanging on the wall imitation wood frames are indistinguishable from real wood frames.  For many people, the first time they know they are looking at an imitation wood frame is when they hold it in their hands.  Imitation wood frames are noticeably lighter than real wood frames, which in itself can be a benefit.

Are they strong enough?  

Yes.  Imitation wood frames are sturdy and will not bow under weight.  But don't drop them.  A hard blow can shatter pieces off of them.  Also, if you are framing in sizes greater than 22"x24", opt for acrylic instead of glass, to reduce weight strain at the joints.

Who stands to benefit most from imiation wood picture frames?

Price conscious framers and consumers.  By reducing the price of a typical frame job, the use of imitation wood frames saves money while surrendering nothing to looks.

Will they crack when screwed into?

Imitation wood frames can take self-tapping wood screws (the kind most commonly used in wood frames) without cracking.

Will imitation wood mouldings melt when cut with a power saw?

Some melting is possible along the edges but the flaw can be corrected.  What's more, melting can be avoided if done correctly. Use a 40-tooth blade in your saw and don't let the blade linger as you cut through the moulding.  Read more on this subject.

Can they be cut with a manual miter saw?

Yes, because a manual miter saw generates very little heat when cutting.

Can they be sanded?

Yes, but only with a manual rotary sander.  Power sanders generate too much heat.

So why aren't imitation wood picture frames more popular? 

Traditional storefront frame shops tend to steer clear of imitation wood frames as they reduce revenues by introducing a cheap framing alternative. 

What advantages do they give me?

Imitation wood frames are less than half the price of real wood frames and look exactly the same. 


See our selection of imitation wood mouldings in lengths to cut and join yourself