Home Project Tip 7: Hanging Pictures


How do I hang my pictures?
There are two basic concerns with hanging pictures.  One is mechanical—which kind of hook to use.  The other is artistic—where do I hang my pictures to get the most enjoyment from them.




These hangers have a pin that nails into the wall.

This type of hook is my favorite, but pick the right size. These require a hammer.

I like to use picture hangers designed like the one in the photo to the right.  They are easy to mount, easy to move if you don’t get it right the first time, and since they use a small pin or nail they don’t leave much of a hole—unlike a molly, for example, which leaves a big hole if you have to remove it.  However, it’s important to pick the right type and size of hanger for the job.  You’ll want to pay close attention to the packaging and see how many pounds the hangers can handle.


One or Two?


Two hooks are safer than one.

The picture on the left is heavy. I only have one hook installed so I’m going to add another.

I used to believe one hanger per picture was sufficient in just about any case, but it really depends on the size and weight of the object you plan to hang.  This is especially true of any painting or picture you value.  In other words, use two hangers if you’re at all concerned whether one is sufficient for the task.


One of the less obvious advantages of using two hangers shows up if a picture is bumped, or if it is shaken during an earthquake.  If you use one hanger, you may suddenly see the picture tilt sharply to the side and then slide down.  In the worst case, it might even fall from the wall.  However, when you use two hangers, even if the picture tilts the overall movement should be less severe.  (Are you ready for an earthquake?  For more information take our Earthquake Quiz).



Hanging a picture using the picture hangers we showed you above is easy enough providing the picture already has a wire or hook mounted on its back.  If it doesn’t, find a picture that is similar in size and copy the mounting method used.




This kit also includes hanger wire.

This kit sold for less than $20 and includes all the supplies I need to hang pictures.

On my last trip to the hardware store, I found a small “kit” of picture hanging materials.  There were various types of hooks, nails and wire.  If you have several pictures to hang a kit like this one gives you more options.


This is a skookum set up.

This heavier frame requires a bigger hook. This one uses a screw.

In some cases, it will be necessary to install tiny eye hooks into the frame and weave some picture wire through them.  For smaller lightweight frames, a hanger that tacks on the top of the frame may be sufficient to hold its weight.


Don't drill into the glass.

Eye hooks like this one are a common method for attaching wire to a frame.

If you’re using an eye hook (like the one to the right), it may be hard to screw it into the frame without drilling a hole.  You may also split the frame without drilling so take a bit of care.  You’ll need a very small drill bit (one slightly smaller than the diameter of the screw threads) and will want to drill into the beefiest part of the frame.  Important tip: Don’t drill through the glass in the picture frame as it is easy to crack or chip.


Here’s another tip: Some hangers come with self-adhesive tabs. It’s best to avoid using them unless the picture is lightweight and you aren’t concerned if it falls off the wall.  The same holds true if you try to jury-rig your own hanger with tape and string—stick to the tried and true, instead.


Where Should I Hang This?


There are a variety of hook types on the market.

This style of hook attaches to the top of the frame. Use it on small, lightweight pictures only.

The first step for hanging a picture is to determine the best spot to display it.  I’ve found some people have a real knack for this sort of thing.  They can hang items randomly and it becomes its own art in the making.  Others used a more scientific approach and measure to the precise midpoint of a wall or try to center over a piece of furniture.  Either way can work, but I’ve listed several other considerations below.


A Word On Height


The eye height rule doesn't work in all cases.

This painting is almost four feet tall. I’m setting it so my eyes are even with the area shown.

At six feet, I’m a relatively tall man.  At five-two, my wife is nearly ten inches shorter.  As a result, you’ve probably guessed that eye level is a pretty inexact way to describe height.  However, I think if you view eye level as a range, it is a good starting point for hanging a picture.  Just to be clear, I’m talking eye level as I’m standing.


In most cases, I try to hang my pictures so anyone viewing them will be lined up at eye height with the middle to top third of the picture.  See the photo to the left.  Now, as I’m tall, I adjust my pictures down a good six inches to factor in my wife’s height (and anyone else who is shorter than I am).  This is never going to be exact or right for every picture, but it’s a good rule of thumb.  Of course, some rooms have higher ceilings and others may do better with a more artistic grouping of pictures so they’ll be times this general rule won’t apply.


A Stepped Approach


Once you’ve established the desired height for hanging a picture you want to determine how much slack is in the string or wire on the back of the frame to figure out where to locate the wall hanger.  The following steps should help:


♦ First, measure the distance between the string at full tension and the top of the picture frame.  This will be different if using one or two hangers—there should more slack if using only one hanger and less slack if using two.

♦ Second, measure the frame’s height and divide by two.

♦ Third, make a light pencil mark on the wall at “eye height” (approximately 5½ feet).

♦ Fourth, using the result you got from our second step above, measure up from the eye height mark and make another light pencil mark.  This is a rough estimate where the top of the picture frame will rest on the wall.

♦ Fifth, now measure down the distance arrived at from our first step and make another mark.  This height is where the picture hanger goes (or hangers go if using two). Don’t worry if it’s not exactly right the first time.  You can always adjust as needed.

♦ Sixth, if hanging two hooks on the wall, use a level and measure over an equal distance from the center point to mark where the wall hangers go.  Remember, because of the slack in the string, the distance these are separated will affect the height of the picture on the wall.  This just means you may have to adjust if you don’t get it right the first time.


The Artist In You


Not every picture will look its best at eye height.  Plus, how you intend to use the picture in your room decoration can impact placement.  There are other factors to consider.  These include:


♦ The lighting in the room—sometimes glare from the sun or from a lamp will impact viewing it.  You may need to change its position to minimize the effect.


♦ The lighting on the wall—good light makes viewing more enjoyable.  Poor light may make eyes wander so people won’t really notice a picture.


A level is a handy home tool.

Don’t forget to check the level of your pictures.

♦ How or whether you want to use a picture as a focal point.  Ask yourself this:  What do you want people to see as they come into a room?


♦ Whether people are more likely to be sitting or standing when viewing a picture.  You’ll want to adjust up or down depending on the answer.


♦ Whether you are hanging your picture individually or as a group also impacts placement.  Groups can be effective at almost any height—it’s more a matter of finding a balance that works among several pieces.  Another tip:  use an odd number in a group—it requires less symmetry.


♦ The colors in the picture.  You may need to repaint a wall if the colors clash.  Alternatively, you may want to find another picture.


♦ The colors in the room.  Look at your pictures with a critical eye.  Are you hanging them in a room because you have them or because they help make the room?


♦ The arrangement of furniture in a room.  Centering or grouping over a couch or other furniture might make more sense than centering on a particular wall.


♦ The number of pictures being hung on a wall.  If you have a large wall space, it may be appropriate to hang several pictures.  Sometimes, it works well to hang similar pictures.  Other times it works best to mix it up.  It really depends on what you have available to work with.  If you’re not sure, get a friend to hold pictures in various spots until you like what you see.


Give Yourself A Break


Cover those mistakes with lightweight spackle.

Lightweight “spackle” and a finger is perfect for filling in any holes you make moving pictures around.

When it comes to hanging pictures, I think some people worry they won’t get it right, no matter what they do.  However, the great part of decorating is the ability to change things around if they don’t work out.  I’ve hung pictures in one room and later decided they’d work better in another spot or even another room.  I’ve also been pleasantly surprised when a friend suggested I group a series of pictures.  The bottom line:  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Just give yourself permission to try things.  If it doesn’t work out the first time, then feel free to change it up.



If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read:
Home Project Tip 6 – Hanging Blinds
Or check out our Home Projects Tips page.

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