how to add art to vintage frames

How to Add Art To a Vintage Frame Using Free Vintage Art

How to add art to a vintage frame to create a one-of-a-kind, custom piece for your home. Breathe new life into old picture frames with this easy tutorial.

If you love perusing antique stores, you know there is no shortage of stunning vintage frames out there. 

With their ornate designs and weathered look, incorporating vintage frames is a great way to give your home a collected feel.

I often struggle to find affordable framed art that fits my style, but I can usually find a vintage frame to bring home. 

My favorite way to give a vintage frame a second life is to recreate the look of vintage paintings using digital art downloads. 

In this blog post, I’m sharing how to repurpose vintage frames for custom, one-of-a-kind art. Let’s get started!

This post contains affiliate links.

vintage frames stacked up

Where to find Your perfect Vintage Frame

The first step, of course, is finding a perfect frame. 

I always have luck at antique shops, thrift stores, and Facebook Marketplace. Some other places to look are estate sales, garage sales, and flea markets.

Some frames will come with the original oil painting or a print intact. If it does not appear original or valuable, I will remove it, but often, I can find an empty frame to use instead. 

The cost of antique frames varies depending on the condition, size, and location. For reference, the large frame pictured above was around $90, and the simple wood frames cost $3-22. 

Consider factors like size, shape, and style, ensuring it complements the artwork you have in mind. I love pairing ornate frames with slightly modern/abstract prints, or you can keep it traditional with a classic gold frame and vintage portrait. 

Most of the frames I find are not in mint condition, but I think it adds to the character of the finished product.

vintage frames with free art download

Where to Find Vintage Art Old & New

Public Domain

Did you know that many classic art pieces are available for free download

You heard me right! Websites like the Smithsonian and Artvee have public open access to hundreds of historic drawings and paintings. The great thing about living in the 21st century is that you don’t have to be in the upper class to have beautiful art in your home.

Now, the catch is that you have to weed through hundreds of pieces of art to find what you want…and that takes a lot of time! 

Another issue with original vintage art is it does not conform to our modern frame sizing. For this reason, resizing or croping before printing is usually required. I typically just try to match the photo size with a similar frame, and don’t worry too much about perfection.

Etsy art shops have become the middleman for these little inconveniences. Shop owners also downland and use free prints from the public domain, so when you purchase “their” art, you are essentially paying for their time to curate and resize that free download. 

If you really want free art but don’t have time, I’ve got you covered! I have curated some vintage art collections here to peruse and download. These downloads have not been resized, so be sure to check out the sizing before making prints.

Original Art

Ideally, it looks best to incorporate some original pieces into your home. 

An original painting will often cost more because it takes time and creativity to produce. 

Again, thrifting and secondhand shopping are the best ways to get a deal on original pieces. You can also try creating your own art!

Where to Print Art Downloads

There are many printing options depending on how realistic and high-end you want your final product to appear.

When I started printing art for our home, I literally went to CVS and purchased glossy prints of my digital downloads. (I didn’t know a lot then!) I also printed at home on a slightly nicer quality paper. 

This was okay for an affordable option, but glossy prints look good only behind glass. If you want an authentic look, the texture of the art is really important to have visible.

The key to getting prints to look as authentic as possible is to print on the same material the original art was created on. For example, oil and acrylic paintings are typically on canvas, while watercolor and sketches are typically on watercolor paper.

FedEx, Staples, and Office Depot are great ideas for affordable prints, and they offer many same-day print options. They do not offer specialty paper, but they offer matte textures, which are better than glossy pictures. My faux oil painting above our sofa is a Staples poster print in a matte texture. 

I recently discovered that there are online print shops that specialize in fine art printsPicture Salon is the first online print shop I have ordered from, and I am obsessed! Investing in quality prints makes all the difference!

I printed all my digital downloads on Somerset Velvet, a watercolor textured paper. I wish I had tried ordering the oil painting digital downloads on Canvas, but paper prints are more affordable!

Picture Salon is reasonably priced, but definitely more than office stores.

In my opinion, an inexpensive vintage frame plus a free art download gives me the margin to invest a little more money in the print quality.

vintage frames with free art download

How to Add Art to Vintage Frames



  • Flat-head screwdriver or tool to pry up old frame nails.
  • Hardware for hanging (command strips, nails, etc.)

Step 1 Disassemble and Clean Vintage Frame

Place the frame face down on a protected surface. Empty thrifted frames often have a canvas frame still intact on the back, usually attached with nails or staples. Gently pry this up using a flat-head screw diver or something that will give you leverage.

If the frame has the art intact, the backing usually has a layer of brown kraft paper or wood that needs to be removed first. Behind that first layer, it usually looks like a regular picture frame.

Next, pry up the picture fasteners and remove art and protective glass if present.

Gently clean with a soft cloth to remove accumulated dust or dirt. A mix of water and a gentle soap or white vinegar can also be used. If the frame has intricate detailing or carvings, a soft bristle toothbrush can help reach those nooks and crannies.

Step 2 Measure Frame & Order Art 

Before ordering prints, carefully measure the inside dimensions of the frame. 

There is usually a lip where the art or photo sits inside the frame; this is where you will measure the length and width. If you are investing money in quality art prints, it’s probably a good idea to ensure these measurements are accurate!

Finally, select your art pieces and order! 

Step 3 Cut Mat Board to the Frame Dimensions

Most vintage frames do not have a mat board to hold the new art inside the frame, but they are really easy to make.

Using cardboard (an excellent way to reuse those Amazon boxes!), foam board, or something more solid like MDF or wood, cut your mat to the dimensions of the art print.

I like using foam board and cardboard for most prints because it is flexible and very lightweight.  If you plan to do a DIY faux oil painting, I recommend using MDF or something that will not warp.

Step 4 Attach Art Print to Mat Board

Using double-sided tape, tape the perimeter of the mat board. Center the art on the mat board and smooth from the center to the edges to attach.

Here, I found the piece of cardboard I had was not big enough, so I cut an extra piece a little large, and it fit snuggly in place.

Step 5 Attach Art to Vintage Frame

Place the frame facedown on a flat, secure surface. Flip the new piece of art face down and center in the frame.

Attach the mat board using small finish nails or a staple gun. If you are using foam board or cardboard, it may fit snuggly, which is ideal!

Finally, add brown craft paper to the back of the frame as an optional step. Often brown tape is used for this step, but I used some double-sided tape.

Hang your beautiful new art however you prefer–nail, command strip, or picture rail! 

Adding art to a vintage frame gives it a second life and adds a timeless piece to your home. This vintage frame tutorial helps transform a simple frame into a work of art that tells a story and adds character to your home. Be sure to check out my other DIY’s below!


How do you put a picture in a vintage frame?

Place the vintage frame facedown on a flat, secure surface. Slide in protective glass and clean to ensure it is free of wood, dust, or smudges. If using a mat, slide it face down over the glass. Finally, center the picture in the opening of the mat and tape it in place. If your vintage frame has no protective glass and no mat, instead attach the picture to a piece of foam board or cardboard using double-sided tape. Center the picture face down inside the frame and close the frame fasteners around it. 

Are vintage picture frames valuable?

Yes, vintage frames can be very valuable depending on the overall condition and age of the frame.

How do you display vintage prints?

Here are the best ways to display your vintage prints:

  1. Hang on the Wall
  2. Lean against the wall
  3. Hang on a picture rail
  4. Display on a frame stand 
how to update a vintage frame

How do you update a vintage frame?

The easiest way to update a frame is with a coat of paint or Rub’N’Buff. I had two beautiful vintage wood frames that had a weird orange accent on the part of the frame. Adding a thin layer of Rub’n’Buff covered this unsightly orange tone and blended it with the other colors. While it is ideal to let the aged beauty of the frame remain intact, sometimes this does not fit into the decor aesthetic and needs to be changed!

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