About this class

This is an online course suitable for beginner level framers, but may benefit everyone in the framing business, regardless of the level of experience. The course will focus on creating a successful framing business based on tips and tricks from the globally renowned framing expert James Miller.

Video transcript

There are several ways to start a framing practice and, once established, the nature of the practice can change to serve additional purposes.

In this video, we will discuss several different types of framing businesses that may be started. We'll talk about the advantages and disadvantages of each type of business. And finally, we'll describe the initial investment and other resources needed to start each type of framing business, including tools, equipment, and provisions in the production shop, and also in the office, for sales, accounting, and administration of the business.


The simplest of framing practices may be started at home, perhaps by those who need custom framing for their own work, such as an artist or photographer. This type of framing practice could start casually, even as a hobby, and then grow into a business. It may not have a lot of customers and the quantities may be relatively small, as would be the revenue and the profit. But even the smallest retail framing practice, once it becomes a business, requires marketing and advertising, it needs to be licensed as a business, and its revenue probably would be taxed.  Such a very small framing business probably would not provide a family’s whole income, but a welcome supplement to it. Start-up cost would be minimal, and it could lay the groundwork for future growth.

Such a small, home-based framing business may need only a few hundred square meters of floor space. Sophisticated tools and equipment may not be needed, nor employees. This framing business could have a customer showroom or gallery in what might otherwise be a living room or dining room, for example, with minimal provisions; a design table, samples of the framing materials, and some finished framing examples. The actual framing work could be done in other rooms of the home, or in an outbuilding, such as a garage or a barn.

A home-based framing business also could start out large enough to compete with other framers in retail storefront locations, providing similar revenue and profit.  But in that case, more square meters of space would be required; perhaps a 1000 square meters or more, which could amount to most of a typical home’s interior area.

If the purpose of starting a framing business is to provide a full family income, then perhaps starting in a retail storefront would be better. The advantages of improved street visibility, parking, and convenient access for customers would be hard to match in a home-based retail framing business. Unlike the spaces used for a typical home-based framing business, a retail storefront unit usually starts as one large space, divided to make a customer showroom or gallery in the front, and the framing work would be done in the back room, away from customers.

Another type of framing business could be for wholesale or commercial framing sold to others in business, such as artists, photographers, interior designers, or property-management companies. These business-to-business customers often need to buy framing in larger quantities. Commercial framing could be done in a larger-than usual home-based framing business, or in a retail storefront location, but a warehouse or other out-of-the-way commercial or industrial space may be better-suited for the higher-production framing work, and less costly than a high-traffic retail storefront.


Home-based framing businesses generally cost less to operate, regardless of their size, since rent payments are not involved. However, some residential neighborhoods impose restrictions on business operations in the home, because the work could cause noise and dust, and the traffic of customers and delivery vehicles could disrupt neighborhood tranquility.  The rent savings may be offset by the expenses of additional advertising, often necessary to attract customers to a home-based framing business, since foot-traffic and drive-by exposure would be quite limited. Also, customers may hesitate to visit a residence to purchase framing. Professionalism is important in any business, and some customers could be skeptical about the professionalism of a home-based business.

A framing business in a store-front location would attract more customers, because of convenience, higher traffic, and visual curb-appeal. The store-front business naturally seems more professional to most customers, too. So, this type of framing business is likely to produce more business and future growth, bringing greater revenue and profit to the owner over time.  

A larger framing business may require employees, greater expertise in management, and more-complex accounting of the money.  The better retail locations command higher rent payments, so rent may become a major expense, but the added cost might be justified by the larger revenue that comes with it.

A commercial framing business serving other businesses may be as large, or larger, than most framing businesses serving only retail customers, since the projects often involve multiple frames – perhaps dozens or even hundreds of them per order. This type of framing business might not benefit from a high-traffic retail location, so a less-costly, out-of-the-way, industrial location may be perfectly suitable. 

The volume of framing production and revenue may equal or exceed that of a retail framing business, but the lower-rent commercial framing business usually involves similar costs of doing business, other than rent, and might earn a lower percentage of gross profit. Typical commercial customers buying multiple frames ask for specific design features. They may consider various proposals, but they shop around for the best prices before placing their orders, and they expect discounts.  Often, the lowest bidder gets the job. Even so, the credibility and reputation of the framing business are important considerations.

Regardless of its size or location, a successful framing business involves careful planning and organization, so a business plan is an essential element in every successful start-up.  Please refer to our video on this topic and develop the best plan possible.  


Every business requires proper licensing and accounting for revenue, costs, profit, and taxes. For a small, home-based framing business, these needs may be less, but all of the needs still exist.

In terms of start-up money, plan to spend at least €5,000 to €10,000 for the most fundamental tools, equipment, and fixtures to outfit a small shop at the start.  A moderately-well-equipped shop, with tools and equipment suitable for growth in the business, probably would cost €20,000 to €30,000. A shop full of professional-grade, high-production tools and equipment, including a vacuum press, a precision saw or guillotine cutter, and a pneumatic underpinner or high-quality dovetail routing system, might cost around €40,000 to €60,000. Add another €15,000 to €30,000 for a computerized mat cutter and accessories. 

A small, home-based framing business can function fully with fundamental tools, such as a simple miter-box with a good saw, a couple of miter-vices, a manual mat cutting machine, a number of hand tools for various framing tasks, and a sturdy work table. You’ll also need provisions for storage of shop supplies, hand tools, hardware parts, and inventory in the back room.  

For a larger shop set up for more framing production, a precision miter-saw or a framing-guillotine would cut miters faster and more accurately, and you might also want a miter sander. A manual or pneumatic underpinning machine would provide better corner joints, as would a professional-grade dovetail routing system with special inserts. A larger, more precise, straight-line manual mat cutter may be a wise investment, and a dry mounting press would help, too.

At the top of the framing equipment scale, you’ll find a double-miter saw, either foot-pedal operated or pneumatic; a high-quality pneumatic underpinner or dovetail routing system, or both; a large hot and cold vacuum press for mounting, or a roller press, or both; and a computerized mat cutter with several cutting heads and accessories, including stylus tools for drawing on mats with pens and pencils.

Some framers are tempted to buy inexpensive, light-duty, or hobby-grade tools at the start.  But this is generally a false economy, because lower-quality tools generally do not function as precisely as professional-grade tools.  They require more set-up, maintenance, and repairs, and may fail more quickly. It would be better to buy professional-grade tools at the start, which would be productive from the start and remain useful in the long term.

Purchasing professional grade, used framing equipment could cut the cost in half, but shop carefully and be prepared to spend some extra money to repair or refurbish the used equipment.  If you are not familiar with a particular type of equipment, purchase from a reputable seller and do your best to assess the condition before buying.

For the administrative end of the business, start out with a good computer having plenty of performance capability and an up-to-date operating system. A professional accounting program would be a worthwhile expense; much faster, easier, and more accurate than any manual accounting system. Several good accounting programs for small businesses are available; select one, set it up properly, and use it well.

In the customer showroom where the framing is designed and orders are written, a professional point-of-sale program would provide the most convenient and accurate maintenance of up-to-date pricing, as well as complete customer data and order histories. Some framers may consider this level of sophistication to be unnecessary for starting the framing business, and decide to put it off. However, a professionally developed POS system usually pays for itself in a short time, and provides useful benefits every day to improve efficiency and profitability. For example, there is no better way to keep your costs and prices up-to-date. My advice is, don’t wait, but start out your business with this affordable advantage.

Starting the business will involve expenses for administrative set-up, too. Will your business be operated as a proprietorship, or a partnership, or some form of corporation? In any case, some legal paperwork would be involved. The bookkeeping accounting system needs to be set up properly, so consultation with an accountant may be recommended.  Establishing accounts for utilities and services, such as electricity, water, telephone, internet, and refuse collection, among others, may involve security deposits. Expenses such as these could quickly add up to a few thousand euros.

Starting any business involves a lot of work and planning, not to mention the expenses, but all of this is essential in order to start a successful framing business. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of creating a good business plan, because it is the foundation on which your new business will be built. Our next video, “How to create a business plan”, describes this process and our recommendations. Spend whatever time and energy is necessary to plan your new business carefully, down to the last detail. 

If starting a business were an easy task, everyone would be doing it. No matter how carefully you plan and prepare your business start-up, there will be some surprises, so expect the unexpected and carry on.

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James Miller

ArtGlass Framer

James Miller is not only framer but educator on a global scale. Miller specialise in preservation framing, which means that both technique and materials are in huge importance. 
Also being an author of two successful books on professional framing, Miller is one of the most acknowledged framing specialist around the world. Now he has teamed up with GroGlass to provide an online course to invite framers aim for excellence. 

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