How to Hang Pictures - A Guide to Hanging a Picture

Summary: What you need to know to be able to hang a picture including the equipment and tools needed. This is a step by step guide to hanging pictures of all sizes safely to ensure that the picture or the wall is not damaged.

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A common principle which must be applied when hanging all types of picture is to provide sufficient support to avoid potential damage to the picture AND the wall! A timber framed picture could be hung suspended by a string or wire at the back, supported by a picture hook. These are mass manufactured items which come in various sizes designed to be used with a hardened nail. Some designs are larger, to be used with 2 nails, to support a heavier picture. Mirrors and large heavy pictures often need to be hung in a specific way and you can read about this on our project about how to hang a mirror.


Picture hanging kits are widely available through DIY stores and other outlets, which include a large array of hooks, some wire and often some screw eyes which will cope with the majority of pictures of this type. Minimal tools are required, namely a hammer, a tape measure, pencil, eraser and bradawl or an awl, which is best described as a metal pointed hole maker, in some form of handle.


The first stage is to work out where the picture is to go on the wall. If at eye level or above, it normally looks best if the bottom edge is touching the wall and the hook and line assembly is approximately 13 to 20 per cent down from the top, secured at the back, so that the picture appears to be tilted slightly outwards at the top. For example, taking a picture with a timber frame and no existing fittings, with a size of approx 500mm high (20 inches) by 400mm wide (16 inches): working at the back of the picture, from the top down, measure 100 mm on each side and mark with the pencil. At that 100mm point and from each side, measure in sufficient distance, considering the cross section of the frame, which may have a point at which it is far deeper than another and therefore more suitable to house a screw. This should now give you two points of reference where using the pointed device, awl or bradawl, you can make a small hole, sufficient for a screw eye to be inserted.

The screw eyes supplied in picture hanging kits are typically coarse single threads and you will probably find that by inserting and screwing in a clockwise direction, the screw will start to bite and further screwing will allow you to get a firm fixing. These screw eyes can take a little punishment and if your grip is not strong enough, an aid such as a pair of pliers can be used, providing you are not too forceful or you might split the frame or snap the screw off the eye.

Also, if desired, it may be possible after securing the screw eye to bend the eye slightly inwards to allow the picture to fit closer to the wall. One needs then to decide whether to use good quality twine, polypropylene string or wire, to fix between the two eyes. Whichever medium is used, the line should be fitted between the two eyes with a double loop to secure with a medium amount of tension, it does not have to be tight, in fact it is better to have a little give. If there is any concern about this one line being strong enough to support the picture, the line can be doubled up. If using wire, which is typically multi-strand, use pliers to help with forming a knot around the eyes, as there may be a likelihood of it coming undone. If using twine or string, secure with a double knot. Test the fixing by lifting the picture by the string approximately in the middle imitating the hook.

Using the measuring tape and pencil, measure across the width of the complete picture and frame. In this example we have used a picture measuring 400mm, mark a line mid-point at the back, near the top, then also do the same exercise as near to the string or wire line to mark a second point. You should now have two points in the middle.

Using the tape measure's return lip, place the lip at the centre point of the line and move the line towards the top again at the centre point, to tension the line, as if imitating the hook and make a note of the measurement between this point and the top of the frame.

To hang the picture, again depending on the weight, offer the picture up on the wall and decide exactly where it is to be placed. Mark with a pencil at the top, discreetly, so that it will not show when the picture is in place. It can also be erased when you have hung the picture, depending on the surface it is mounted on. Measure down from this point the noted measurement taken earlier, when tensioning the line at the back of the picture. Mark the wall at this point with the pencil. This should be the position where the bottom on the picture hook should be fixed. Examine the hooks themselves, they will be a light metal electro-brassed, with 2 holes where the corresponding nails will go through into the wall, at an acute angle, affording maximum support.

Wall surface and construction

You may be faced with plasterboard, cement render, brick or block faced with hard wall plaster and a test in an inconspicuous area may be required. Try banging the nail into the wall, with short taps of the hammer, as the nail may bend if hit with too much force. If you have plasterboard, the nail will penetrate easily and may not fit securely enough. You may then have to use a larger hook with 2 holes either side of the hook, designed for heavy weight pictures, then initially using some contact adhesive apply a little to the back of the hook and the area on the wall where it is to be fixed. After 10 minutes, fix the hook to the wall so that it sticks, then tap the nails lightly in.

Alternatively, take a look at our Plasterboard Fixings project for further instruction on fixings available for this task.

In a rock hard wall situation, if the nails supplied simply will not do the job, a drill needs to be used with a small 4/5mm wall plug. Using the holes where you have tried to drive in the hardened nails, expand these slightly with the awl and using the power drill with masonry bit initially drill horizontally and then drill at an acute angle to provide a hole for the wall plug. Lightly tap in the plug and then try a nail through the picture hook to secure.

It is important to note that when drilling with this incline, that you don't force the wall to break out. So when you have drilled sufficiently in, stop and withdraw the drill very gently.

Other types of frame

If the picture is a canvas stretched over a frame, then use the same principals, but place the screw eyes on the inside of the frame, pointing towards the centre. If the frame is made of plastic, there is usually a cut out in the backing or other provision for hanging supplied with it.

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