These two materials are the go-to options for framing art and photos. We’ve manufactured millions of each, and we love both, but for different reasons.
So which is better?
This guide will help you decide as we deep dive into each materials key features, similarities and differences to determine which option is the right one for you (if any).
Factors we considered when comparing wood and metal
Both materials are designed to display and protect your favourite art, photos, posters and more.
The ideal frame material will enhance the look of your image, keep it safe for years and hopefully, by ordering online, allow you to achieve both whilst delivering some big financial savings vs the high street.
Both wood and metal frames combine all of these features, making them the UK’s favourite choice – outperforming plastic and MDF-wrapped frames in almost every way (a little more on that later).
Considering the above, we have compared each material on the following factors:
- The range of styles, colours and finishes to choose from
- Ease of artwork fitting and hanging
- Suitable sizes and sizing options
- Price range (including which is better for the cost-conscious buyer)
- Conservation and protection of artwork
- Strength and durbility
Wood vs metal designs compared
Design is highly subjective, but by choosing a wood picture frame, you’ll have a much wider selection of choices available to you.
There are literally thousands of designs, ranging from modern to traditional. So, if you’re looking for something to match a particular mood or picture, you’re more likely to find a match by choosing a wooden frame.
Put simply, wood is a great choice for framing due to its versatility, with a huge variety of colours, finishes and profiles.
Buy hey, metal picture frames are still popular; the clean lines and modern range of colours can make wood frames look quite dated. Plus, being able to easily match the colour of your frames to metal accents in your home is a welcome touch.
Wood frames range
In terms of the number of options, there’s no doubt wood wins hands down, but ultimately, you need to question what look you want to achieve.
Some might even find that metal’s shorter menu list means making a decision is easier.
Still, wood has the edge here, and that’s because you’ll have a much easier job of finding a frame to match your decor and art style.
By incorporating elements of your existing decor or art theme into the frame, it’ll fit seamlessly into your space.
For example, pair a minimalist home with simple flat profile frames in a solid paint finish (usually best in black or white). More traditional interiors are better suited for decorative or characterful frames.
Likewise for the art within, clean and simple wood frames work brilliantly with modern art, photography, line drawings, and word art. Rustic wooden frames work well with vintage or historical themes, like maps, and ornate wood frames are perfect for special, one-off pieces. If you have a digital picture to upload and frame then your options are endless.
Metal frames range
In terms of range, metal frames are severely lacking in depth of styles compared to their wooden counterparts. Whilst there are thousands of wood options, easily enough to cater for every taste, there are far fewer metal options. Additionally, metal frames lack intricate detailing, meaning they’re mostly only the right choice for those wanting a clean and minimal look.
The good news is that crispt lines and simple colour palettes can also blend in well with other popular design schemes:
- Modern – The materials used in these homes typically include metal and glass, which makes a metal picture frame an ideal choice, particularly polished chrome or matt steel. The simplistic and stylish designs of aluminium frames make them stand out for those wanting a modern look. Their sleek, narrow and beautiful finishes make them look good in almost any contemporary office or home
- Industrial – Industrial interiors draw inspiration from warehouses and urban lofts, often deliberately left to look unfinished through the use of raw elements, like exposed brick or structural timbers. Frames that reflect this simplicity work well, particularly metal frames, as they have a structural look that is very raw. Some wooden frame designs may fit this theme exceptionally well, as some are designed specifically to look like rebar or other building materials.
- Luxe – Glamour and elegance are combined in the luxe design style. Inspired by Hollywood glam, this style is ideal for polished gold and silver frames, adding a hint of luxury. Plenty of wooden frames with a metallic finish will suit this design style, so it’s worth taking a look through what’s available.
- Transitional – A trendy style that borrows from both traditional and modern design, transitional is all about creating a balance between the two styles. This design style incorporates modern materials with plush furnishings, favouring neutral colour palettes, making metal frames an ideal choice as a metallic accent piece.
Ultimately, however, the look you choose is a personal preference; only you can determine what style of frame is right for your walls.
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A good colour pairing between your artwork and the frame is essential for a cohesive feel. This is achieved by finding tones in your artwork and frame that will work together and complement each other.
Fortunately, both wood and metal frames are available in lots of different colours, including:
- Silver and grey
- and lots of colourful options too
However, as with the styles above, there are more colours to choose from in our collection of wood frames vs metal.
Aside from the obvious fact that wooden frames come in various classic raw wood shades (like mahogany, oak and teak). Having more choice is beneficial if you’re trying to accurately coordinate a hue or colour within the artwork or photo. Undertones (think warm and cool) are the key to creating a harmonious combination of art and frame.
Bright colours are a great way to make your piece pop; fortunately, both aluminium and wood frames are available in plenty of brightly coloured styles.
Why are there more colours if I choose wood?
Solid wood frames can be painted, stained or foiled, whereas metal frames are given their colour using anodisation. Anodising frames is more costly than simply using paint or stain, so fewer colours are available to keep costs down.
The frame’s finish is an important consideration when buying either, as it’ll largely dictate which material you choose.
Wood wins here too. Wooden frames offer the most diverse range of finishes, including:
- Smooth Paint
- Metallic (polished and matt)
Wood frames offer an impressive range of finishes, whereas metal only offers metallic options in polished, matt and frosted. That’s a huge drawback if you’re looking for something with texture or patterns.
The different finishes
Wood frames with a visible grain (stained or natural) provide a beautiful organic feel. Unfinished or barefaced frames with a tight grain pair well with more traditional homes, whereas frames with a more open and obvious grain are better suited for rustic and farmhouse interiors. Then there are distressed driftwood/coastal grains for beach themes.
Stained frames have the benefits of visible graining but also introduce an element of colour into the frame. Brown-stained frames have a vintage look with various shades and undertones that are great for a traditional theme. Using a coloured stain combines the benefits of a painted finish with a bare-faced frame. And, of course, there’s always black and white.
Painted finishes are solid colours where the grain is not visible, usually a smooth matte or glossy finish. These are a great choice for a modern interior and the variety of colours and designs make these frames highly versatile.
Leaf and foil finishes tend to be used with decorative designs with a premium look. Certain foiled frames mimic the metallic look that aluminium frames possess, with the added advantage of combining this metallic look with more intricate designs.
Wooden frames are also offered with unique finishes like hammered iron, faux leather and even linen, which is great for customers looking for a unique aesthetic.
Which is easier to assemble and hang? Can I frame my pictures at home?
The great news is that wood and metal picture frames don’t require DIY competence. Almost anyone can frame and hang art at home. You need common sense and some basic tools!
If you’re still not confident or you’ve got lots of frames to hang, you can always call a professional artwork installer or handyman using a website like Task Rabbit.
Fitting your picture into wooden frames is straightforward; lift out the back and place your picture behind the glazing. It’s just as easy if you have a mount, but you’ll need to hinge your artwork to the mount. Once the artwork is in, you’ll need to reinsert the MDF and push the flexible tabs back down.
On the other hand, metal frames require more effort and a screwdriver. It’s essentially the same process as above, but you’ll need to remove one side of your frame first. Then, slide the bits out rather than lift them out.
Read all about fitting art in wood frames and fitting art in metal frames.
What sizes can I buy wood and metal frames?
Imagine shopping for a pair of jeans, and you find a pair you love. The colour and the design are just right, but they’re three sizes too big (or small). You wouldn’t buy them, would you?
It’s a similar story with frames. Choosing the wrong size can, at best, detract from the overall look and, at worst, be a giant waste of money.
You’ll be glad to hear that both wood and metal frames are available in made to measure sizes, so that’s custom and ready-made (standard imperial, metric and paper sizes) catered for.
However, it’s important to note that metal frames can support bigger artwork sizes while maintaining a relatively slim profile. This is because metal frames are intrinsically stronger than their wooden counterparts.
So, if you want to keep a minimal look even when your artwork is large, opt for metal frames. They’ll be much less distracting.
Wood frames can, of course, also be ordered in oversize formats, but you’ll need to make sure the face width of the moulding is wide enough. Our handy little table below gives you a rough guide on minimum face widths required vs overall size.
|Frame size||Minimum moulding width|
|Up to 14×10″ (35 x 25 cm)||8mm|
|16×12″ (40 x 30 cm)||10mm|
|20×16″ (50 x 40 cm)||13mm|
|24×20″ (60 x 50 cm)||20mm|
|30×20″ (75 x 50 cm)||20mm|
|40×30″ (100 x 75 cm)||25mm|
|Above 40×30″ (100 x 75 cm)||30mm|
Can I order oversize metal or wood frames? Which is better for big pictures?
Larger frames can be used as a statement piece, especially when hung in prominent positions, to set the room’s tone. Alternatively, smaller frames can be arranged to create a gallery wall display of multiple artworks.
Both metal and wood frames are perfectly suited for framing big and small pictures.
Each frame type can support pictures over 1.5m in length. Our contract framing division often frames pictures up to 3m in length for hotels and businesses around the UK and Europe.
We love to see customers taking advantage of the characteristics of metal frames and picking a modern narrow moulding for a large frame. It’s a great way of showcasing your large artwork with a hard-to-perceive frame.
To learn more about ordering oversize frames here.
However, if you want to make doubly sure, you can always check to make sure the frame you’re choosing is suitable by contacting us.
A quick note on smaller sizes. If you’re framing a standard photo print we have a range of photo frames which might be better suited.
Wood vs metal: Which is cheaper, and what are the costs?
Price is bound to be considered when comparing wood and metal options.
If you truly want the cheapest frame, go for wood every time. Budget wood frames are a lot cheaper than budget metal frames.
However, if you’re looking for a blend of price and quality, there isn’t too much between the two options. The average starting price is slightly higher for metal frames, but you can pay more for wood if you choose a premium finish.
Beyond the frame itself, there isn’t much else affecting the price as both require the same innards (MDF, Glazing etc.).
Below, we compare the cheapest, most expensive and middle-of-the-road options for an A4 gold frame.
Prices gathered from eFrame – 03/11/22
Our wooden frames come in various wood types, carefully chosen for strength and aesthetic qualities. Our barefaced frames are available in beautiful woods, like solid oak, ash, pine and beech. All our painted, foil and stain finish frames are made from solid wood to the same high standard as our barefaced collection.
Bear in mind that whilst all our wood frames are made from 100% real wood, hardwood frames will feel sturdier than frames made from softer woods.
On average, fine art framing experts suggest a quality frame with conservation-grade materials can last a lifetime. Although even cheaper frames can last a long time, given the right location and cleaning techniques.
Metal frames are made from extruded lengths of aluminium. These lengths of moulding are made by forcing aluminium through an opening that shapes the material, allowing the manufacturer to create mouldings in different sizes and designs.
These aluminium frames are exceptionally strong and can take heavier loads whilst remaining safe on your wall, assuming the face widths are equal.
Which will protect my artwork better in the long run?
Have you ever looked at a picture or a photo mount in a frame, and it’s either faded or yellowing? If you have, it’s been caused by a combination of two factors.
Factor one is that the materials used in that frame are not conservation grade. That is to say, they’re not designed to last a lifetime, nor are they meant to keep your artwork safe from the elements.
Factor two is the frame’s location (where it is hanging). If it’s in direct sunlight, then the damaging effects of the UV rays, over time, will discolour and damage the picture within.
Fortunately, we make it clear on eFrame which products are conservation grade. They’re a little more expensive, but they are designed to perform day-in-day-out for a lifetime.
The good news is that choosing a wood or metal frame won’t make a difference to the level of conservation. Both are designed to keep your picture protected from the elements.
Tips and tricks
If you’re struggling to find a frame that matches certain undertones, mounts can be a useful tool to make it work. Available in a range of different colours, they can help tie an artwork with a frame, and a frame with a space. They are also great for adjusting the proportions in a frame or positioning the artwork in a specific place for maximum impact.
Metallic and foil frames interact with light beautifully, particularly those with brushed and grain finishes. So, try placing them near artificial lights to accentuate and draw out their unique finishes.
Both wood and metal frames are popular, available in every size, will last a lifetime, and offer fantastic value for money.
In terms of a winner, it’s clear that wood has much more to offer in terms of available designs and affordability.
The range of wood frames comprehensively beats metal, offering almost unlimited options to suit your taste and budget, with both traditional and modern designs as well as a lower starting price.
Still, metal frames are a fantastic alternative (especially at bigger sizes) for those looking for a genuinely fuss-free and contemporary look.
Ultimately, if you’re looking to display your art or photos on the wall, either material is a winning choice.
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