How To Hang A Picture Frame

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We've all been there. You nail a picture hook on the wall, only to find it needs to move up a couple inches, then more left, and then right. Now there are several holes in your wall. Well, with a little knowledge and the right tools, you can hang every picture exactly where you want it on the first try.

1. Gather your tools.

You should have a 12-foot tape measure, a roll of blue 3/4-inch painter's tape, a small bullet level, a hammer, a drill motor (if hanging on plaster or brick), a screwdriver, picture frame hardware, a stud finder and wire cutters.

2. Choose your location.

Step back and examine your room. Where will your art, photo or poster have the greatest impact? If it's on a blank wall, then the center of your frame should be at eye level. For most adults, that means 60 inches from the floor. Leave at least 6 inches between the bottom of a frame and the top of any sofa, and at least 8 inches above the top of a table.

3. Get a friend to help.

Have a friend hold the frame up to the wall while you view it from 6 or 8 feet away. Should the frame be centered over a piece of furniture? Does it need to move up, left or right? Once you're happy with the location, outline the top two corners by placing two 3- or 4-inch strips of blue tape on the wall. Check your eye level again. If your art is 48 inches tall, then the top of the frame needs to be 60 inches (eye level) plus half the 48 inches (84 inches total) high. Adjust your tape if necessary.

4. Buy the right hardware.

If your framed art came with hanging hardware, then you're ready to go. If you have to buy your own, then evaluate your needs. How heavy is the art? If it's less than 10 pounds, then almost any hanging hardware will work. For framed art over 20 pounds or more, you'll need hardware rated for that weight. Most hardware will clearly state its weight rating on the package.

Quick Hangers are the simplest hanging hardware and looks like nails with a small, half-inch disc on them. They are rated for frames from 10 to 40 pounds. The Quick Hanger's round disc sits at a 45-degree angle from the nail, holding the picture frame wire against the wall and preventing it from slipping off.

"J" hooks are the most common hardware item, also called Picture Hangers, available in most hardware and art supply stores. They're manufactured in sizes from 1 to 2 inches and are rated to handle anything from 10 to 100 pounds. When attached to the wall, the nail sits at a 45-degree angle.

Self-Leveling Picture Hangers are another option. These look like small metal brackets with saw-tooth bottom edges. They attach to the top center of the frame with two small nails, and are best for frames under 10 pounds.

D-Ring Hangers and Eyelets are ideal for attaching picture framing wire to the back of the frame. Like the other hardware mentioned, they are available in multiple sizes for frames from 10 to 50 pounds. Lastly, picture-hanging wire is typically braided, and will also be rated for the weight of your framed art. Don't skimp on cost or quality of the hardware and wire. These should be mounted a third of the way down from the frame's top. Cut your picture-hanging wire to 1.5 times your frame's width, pass the wire through each eyelet and securely wind each around itself six to eight times for stability. Try to leave 2 inches of slack in the wire so that it stretches halfway to the frame's top. To hide your nails and hooks, always keep the wire below the top of the frame.

5. Measure twice. Hammer once.

You already have your corners marked with blue tape, so you're ready for marking the location of your hook or nail. Try taping a piece of white scrap paper to the wall slightly below the top edge of the frame for your pencil marks and adjustments. Find the center of your frame on the wall and mark that point. With your bullet level, mark a vertical line several inches down. Then, on the back of your frame, measure the distance from the center of your picture wire to the top of the frame. Add this measurement to the vertical line on your wall. If you are using a "J" Hook, then notice that the bottom of the hook is where the wire hangs. That means you will need to place the bottom of the hook at your mark to hang the frame at the correct height.

Now you're ready to attach your hook to the wall. Nail, then check your frame against your taped corners. Level your frame with your bullet level. Everything should fit.  Try adding self-adhesive cork or felt circles to the bottom two back corners of your frames. This keeps them level and prevents them from scuffing the wall. Felt circles are cheap, and one package has enough for several frames.


Different surfaces: If your house or apartment has plaster walls instead of drywall, then you should pre-drill nail holes. Plaster is brittle and tends to crack or crater when nailed, so drilling first is best. Remember to drill at the same 45-degree angle as your "J" Hook.

Brick and masonry offer the same challenge as plaster. Try brick hangers, which fit between the bricks for hanging frames. Or, pre-drill a slightly larger nail hole in the grout between the bricks and epoxy the nail in place. Remember to drill down at the same 45-degree angle as your "J" Hook.

Overweight art: If your art is unusually heavy, then you should mount it into the wall studs. Priced from $5 to $25, stud finders are available at most hardware stores. If there are no studs in the right spot, then use a wall anchor, molly bolt or toggle bolt, all usable on drywall or plaster. Place anchors in a drilled hole, and they'll spread out behind the wall surface material, greatly raising their weight-handling capability. They are easy to install and durable for heavyweight solutions.

By carefully following these steps, you can hang all your art like the experts do.

Last Updated: July 23, 2012
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About Bill Washburn William "Bill" Washburn has a BA in advertising from the Art Center College of Design and has taught at the University of Southern California and Northrup University. Writing from a well-connected studio in the rural foothills of the west coast, he is a frequent speaker at local art associations and has published numerous articles discussing periods of art history and the fundamentals of drawing and painting. William is a master gardener who grows his own culinary herbs, organic heirloom vegetables and a variety of fruits. He writes frequently about his gardening experiences on his website Pioneer Dad. He is an accomplished advertising writer, fine art painter, and art director with more than 20 years' experience. 

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