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Sunday, May 8, 2011

How to Frame your Prints with Solder

What a crazy week its been around here!  I've been framing my prints with solder.  If you have ever had any experience with doing stained glass I am sure you would know all about this technique.  I have never done stained glass before I began framing my prints like this, so this was all new to me when I first started.   The following is a step by step instruction on how you can do it too.

Years ago I was asked by a wonderful lady and shop owner, Wendy Smith if I would be interested in displaying my prints in this way.  She helped me get started and have me a rundown on how to do it all.  Every spring, she places an order for them from me for her shop, Glass Artisans Studio and Gallery.  Her shop is completely hand crafted glass items made entirely in Atlantic Canada.  If you happen to be passing by on the Cabot Trail, it is an absolute must see gallery.

To get started, you would need the following:

  • a print of your artwork or something you wish to frame.
  • matboard
  • 2 pieces of glass, same size as the matboard
  • copper foil tape
  • flux
  • solder (I prefer lead-free for health reasons, though I hear it is trickier to work with)
  • soldering iron
  • wire
  • baking soda and dishwashing liquid
  • stained glass patina
  • wax for stained glass
The items in italics are stained glass products and can be found in a shop that sells stained glass supplies.

So, here is how I do it.  First of all I take my image, which is approximately 3 x 5 inches and glue it on a piece of 5 x 7 matboard.  I sign it and put the title on the bottom.  I also leave a white edge around the image.

I also glue my bio on the back.

I then sandwich the mat board/image between two pieces of 5 x 7 glass, one on the front, the other on the back.

Tape the whole thing together with copper foil tape.  I  use 1/2 inch wide tape. 

Solder will bind with the copper and not the glass, so where you put your tape is where the frame will be.  It is important that the tape is straight.  This will be your frame.

I start off by taping the sides.  I line the glass/image sandwich up right in the middle of the tape.  Go around all 4 sides.  It is important to burnish this edge by rubbing firmly to make sure it sticks firmly.

 Once the outer edge is stuck on good, gently push the sides down to the front and back of the picture.  When you get to the corner, fold it as if you are wrapping a present as shown below.

Once the picture is taped, it is really important to
burnish the tape.  I use the back of my thumbnail and go over the entire taped area.  This ensures the tape will not lift during heating with the soldering iron or allow any flux, cleaner, patina or wax that will be used later to get underneath the foil.

Almost time to add solder!
I pour some of the flux off and with a brush, I paint the entire copper foil area.  I find it works best if I give it a little scrub as I am painting it on. 

I use a gel flux that is smokeless and odorless, which really helps.  Sometimes the fumes can be strong when the heat hits it, so make sure you have good ventilation while you are doing the soldering.

I'd also like to note that the gel flux isn't as watery as most types of flux I've used in the past and doesn't seep under the tape and make a mess of my print!

Now the fun begins!
The soldering iron is VERY HOT, so be careful.  It just need to touch the solder and the solder will melt right on to your copper foil. 

Adding solder to the top of the frame.  I usually do all four of the side edges, then all four sides on the front.  I do the four sides on the back last, though it does not really matter what order you do them in.

I've used this same old can for my "support" since I started doing this 5 years ago.  I don't think I'll be eating what's inside that anytime soon!  It's pretty gross looking up close.
Here I just keep the iron on the solder the whole way across.  If there are any lumps or bumps, and usually for me there are, I just go over the area again at a smooth pace.  I don't need to add any more solder from the spool, and the solder is already quite hot so it is just a matter of moving the iron across that one line of the "frame".

Once all side are completed it is time to add the wire to the back.  Fold the wire about an inch or so from the end and add some flux.  Take a dab of solder and carefully solder the wire to the frame. 

Bring the other end of wire to the opposite side and bend it at 90o where you want it to end.  Then cut it with wirecutters approximately one inch from the bend.  Solder it on as you did the other side.

Okay, now that the soldering is all done, the flux needs to be washed off. You can buy commercial products that are designed for cleaning the flux or use a mixture of water, baking soda and dishwashing liquid.  This will neutralize the flux.  Wet a cloth with the mixture and wipe down your picture.  Just make sure your cloth isn't too wet, you don't want water seeping under your tape.  I have had way too many ruined prints because of this!

Once the flux is washed off, you can add a patina.  Brush it on and wipe off.  Simple as that. 

Follow up with wax.  Put the wax on the frame and glass.  Let it dry and buff it off.  Gives it a brilliant shine.

 And Voila! The final product!  Any questions or suggestions, please feel free to leave them here in the comment section.  I'd love to hear from you!  Oh, and let me know if you've tried it!


  1. Great tutorial Jo-Ann and I know from helping out at Wendy's that these prints are really popular! Beautiful paintings!

  2. Wow - great tutorial. Your end product looks fantastic! Makes me think I might have to give this a try someday.....

  3. That is a fabulous tutorial, Jo. Thanks so much! Hope you are enjoying Mother's Day today! Theresa

  4. So glad you all enjoyed this! If you ever give it a hook, be sure to send me a pic...I'd love to see your work :-)

  5. Wow, it never occurred to me to frame prints with solder! Such a cool idea! My husband started doing stained glass a couple of months ago and we just have to give this a try!

  6. Love the idea and appreciate the complete instructions! Thanks! - Rhonda

  7. That is awesome! I can't solder a straight line, but I would like to... lol
    Thanks for visiting my blog.

  8. This is a great tutorial--I HAVE all the stuff to solder, but have never DONE it, so I can appreciate your excellent directions. It looks wonderful surrounding your print.


  9. Very cool! Thanks for sharing this technique.

  10. Jo-Ann,
    Merci beaucoup for visiting my blog:)
    Your work is gorgeous! Good luck on the tree project. We humans can sure be destructive.....
    I have said for years that I want to learn how to solder. Especially with postcards, where the back side is often as interesting as the front, soldering two clear sheets of glass makes for the best frame. I figure I either need a good swift kick to get me motivated -- or maybe I could get my hubby intersted!

  11. Thanks so much, Trishia...I always enjoy reading your posts. Hey, I love everything French, too!

    Great idea to solder the postcards between the glass...great idea! Let me know how it goes!


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