When you think of a photo frame, chances are you think of a traditional wood or metal frame and a glass pane. It’s what you’d probably find on the walls at your parent’s house. But there’s a new kid in town that we’d like to introduce you to: acrylic.
First, let's chat about glass
We were huge proponents of glass when we first launched our Frame Shop. It’s classic and the weighty feel of it makes the frame feel luxe. It’s been a mainstay for years and when you walk the home decor aisle of any superstore, or even in your own home, glass is always there. This is mainly because glass is inexpensive, lowering costs of production for manufacturers, and durable, being able to withstand some rough treatment from cleaning agents. A couple of pro photo labs use glass in their photo framing as well.
But as we, and many of you, quickly learned, glass is a huge pain. Huge. Here are the realities of glass:
It’s highly breakable. Especially in transit. We can’t even tell you the number of times we had shipping damages when our frames were comprised of glass. Too many. It’s for this reason that many online retailers, ourselves included, prefer frames with acrylic. Acrylic weighs less than half of glass, which helps keeps shipping costs down. If you ever ship or hand deliver your frames, acrylic is the superior option.
In addition, because of the high breakability, frames with glass should never be used in rooms where children frequent - living rooms, nurseries, etc. Anything could happen, and you don’t want the risk of the glass breaking and injuring someone. Not to mention when glass breaks it can seriously damage the photograph itself. Plus the pain of having to sweep of all that broken glass? Ugh, no thanks.
That weighty, luxe feeling that we all love? Yeah, that’s not a good thing when it comes to medium and large sized frames: the weight of the glass will cause the frame to bow. There’s not much that can help you avoid this issue. Even at a professional custom frame shop, acrylic will be recommended in frames over 16x20 and in frames with modern, thin profiles.
The glare and tint. While most don’t realize it, glass is not completely color-free. It commonly has a green tint due to the iron content which Compromises the viewing quality of your work. No one wants to see a greenish tinted wedding photo.
What’s so great about acrylic?
Otherwise known as Plexiglass and Acrylite (or Polymethyl Methacrylate for you science-y peeps), acrylic has gained in popularity over glass for framing in recent years. And with good reason.
It’s shatterproof and lightweight, in contrast to glass. This characteristic makes acrylic preferable for photographers that work with children and families - especially babies. Hanging a frame with an acrylic panel in a nursery or playroom is far safer than the glass alternative, as it is less likely to hurt anybody should it fall. No, it’s not witchcraft, it’s just science!
Additionally, the shatterproof and lightweight nature makes acrylic ideal for shipping. There are fewer instances of broken acrylic due to transit and helps keep the cost of shipping down (a win-win for everyone!).
If you're a photographer that sells large wall galleries, definitely look into acrylic. It's the preferred material when hanging large-scale artwork and for storage: it won’t cause the frame to bow over time.
Not to mention glare and tint-free. Due to the manufactured quality of acrylic, it lacks the typical green tint you see in most glass frames. Score! The special glazing of acrylic renders it virtually glare-free and will filter UV rays, protecting your photography for years to come.
But it’s not all rainbows and sunshine
Real-talk: acrylic is great, but it’s not without its downfalls. But in reality, the issues that crop up with acrylic, while annoying, are an easy fix in comparison to glass.
Static. Oh boy, the static. A dusty wall gallery of cherished family photos? No bueno. But luckily, there’s an easy fix for that. We made a tutorial for peeling the protective film off acrylic frames, but simply wiping the acrylic with a microfiber cloth will eliminate static and dust.
Shatter-resistant =/= scratch resistant. Traditional cleaning methods - like wiping down with an ammonia-based cleaner and paper towel - can easily damage the acrylic. The wood pulp in paper towels and harsh chemicals are the culprit in these situations. We recommend using a microfiber cloth as the soft fibers will not scratch the acrylic and will easily pick up any dust on the frame.
There’s a misconception that acrylic is cheaper than glass. This is not true. In fact, acrylic is more expensive to manufacture than glass and is used commonly by museums and art galleries due to the resistant and lightweight nature of the material. Glass is more commonly seen in those ready-made, inexpensive frames you’d find in big-box and discount stores.
The final verdict
While the cons of acrylic are valid, we believe they don’t outweigh the benefits. Acrylic-paned frames are more versatile and ideal for any living situation because they are so much safer, not to mention it will preserve photographs and frames much longer than glass. In addition, many of the downfalls of acrylic are easily remedied, whereas the opposite is true of glass.
It’s for these reasons we decided to switch from glass. But we’re not alone in our stance - you’ll find that highly respected frame companies, photographic labs, and certainly professional framers all use acrylic in their products too.
Regardless, once your framed art is on the wall, you (and your clients) will be able to enjoy it for years to come.