How to Tie Picture Hanging Wire and Tips for Hanging Paintings

In Framing by Chris BreierLeave a Comment

Hanging a picture should be a simple task, but you soon realize there are a number of details that you have to work out along the way.

For example, you may are wondering what the best knot is for attaching wire to a picture. Or if you should use eye hooks or D-rings to attach the wire to the frame. Maybe you’re in a hurry and you’re wondering if you can just hang a picture on a bare nail that you pound into the drywall.

I answer all of these questions and more in this post and in the YouTube video below. I also have a PDF guide on how to tie picture hanging wire that you can download for free.

This post contains affiliate links that lead to Amazon and Blick Art Materials. This means that if you click on a link and make a purchase I earn a commission at no cost to you.

*Be sure to use safety glasses when using tools. You also want to make sure the picture hanging wire and picture hanger are secure before you hang the artwork.

How to Attach Picture Wire to a Frame

Before you can attach a wire to your painting or framed photo you need to attach hardware to the frame so that you have something to tie the wire to. There are two basic options: eye hooks or D-rings.

D-Ring Hangers vs Eye Hooks

What are D-rings? D-rings are made from metal and consist of two parts-a metal ring that’s shaped like the letter D which is where they get their name. The second part is a metal strap that has holes in it so that you can attach to a wood frame with screws.

D-rings are best for frames that are shallow, heavy, or have paper backings on the back to protect the contents from dust. Eye hooks are acceptable for hanging small paintings with deeper frames where you can skew them in to the inside edge of the frame.

Eye hooks also tend to make the frame hug the wall, whereas D-rings that are mounted on the back of the frame make the top of the painting lean forward off the wall.

D-rings are available in different sizes. There are D-rings that are bigger and have longer straps that have two holes in them, as in the picture below. If you need more strength then you’ll want to get the ones with two holes.

You can buy D-rings hangers at Blick, or at the local hardware store. If you need to buy a lot of them you can find packs of 100 D-rings at Amazon.


OOK D-Ring Hanger Pack – Small, 1 Hole, Pkg of 3

from: Blick Art Materials

If you plan an adding a paper backing to the frame to protect it from dust, you’ll want to use D-rings. That’s because eye hooks require you to screw them into inside edge of the frame.

The paper backing will block you from installing the eye hooks.

D-rings will work in this situation because they attach the back edge of the frame instead of the inside edge.

Where to Place D-Rings on Picture Frame

Where do you place D-ring hangers on a picture frame? The general consensus among picture framers is that you want to install the D-rings about one third of the way down from the top of the frame. For example, if the frame is 12″ tall, then you would place them 4″ down from the top.

You’ll notice in my video that I round the measurement up. The frame is 8″ tall so I divide 8 by 3 which is 2.66″. It’s difficult to measure decimals on a ruler so I just round it up to 2.75″.

That places the hanger slightly lower which doesn’t matter, but it’s much easier to measure.

How to Hang a Picture Without D-Rings

Eye hooks can be used to attach the wire to a frame but this only works if the frame is deep enough. The eye hook attaches to the inside edge of the frame so a shallow frame doesn’t have enough room.

Another thing to consider is eye hooks won’t work if you plan on gluing paper backing onto the back of the frame.

I only use eye hooks on smaller paintings. I think D-ring hangers offer more strength so I recommend those for heavier paintings.

It’s best to drill a pilot hole into the wood frame so that it doesn’t split when you screw the eye hook into it. Use a drill bit that’s a little thinner than the screw part of the frame.

Once the holes are drilled you can install the eye looks and attach the wire.

If you want to read about how to attach eye hooks to a wood frame, then you’ll want you read my post about How to Assemble a Wood Frame which includes a video.

The Best Knot for Tying Picture Hanging Wire?

What is the best knot for tying picture hanging wire? The improved clinch knot is a secure knot that will work well for attaching the wire to a picture frame. It tightens up on itself as you pull it tight so it should hold over time.

There are many different knots that you can use to tie picture hanging wire to a frame. Picture framers have their favorite knots, and some work better than others.

I learned how to frame paintings before the internet existed so I just followed the diagram that was on the back of the wire package. I’ve been using that for years, then I saw how others tied picture wire and I was wondering why they were using different knots.

In my opinion, some of those knots look somewhat less secure. However, I realize that I’m an artist and I have little experience with tying knots. I mean, most of my knot tying experience comes from tying my shoes!

I realized that I should consult with someone that knows about knots.

Des Pawson -The Knot Expert

Des Pawson is a well known knot tying expert. He writes books about knots. Footrope Knots is a business that he runs with his wife. You can watch the video about Des Pawson from the New York Times.

By the way, I recommend his book “Knots! The complete visual guide” which contains many useful knots. I bought the kindle version but it’s also available in paperback.

So, I figured that Des would be able to give me some feed back on which knot would be the most secure for hanging pictures.

I sent him an email asking him for his opinion about the different types of knots that I see people using to tie picture hang wire, and he was kind enough to reply.

In my email, I said that I’ve noticed that there are at least two knots that I see the most for tying knots in picture framing wire.

The first one that I think is most popular online looks like the knot that’s known as the cows hitch. It’s also known as the Larks head. I said that I this knot doesn’t seem like it’s the most secure option.

In Des’s book, he also recommends the round turn and two half hitches for hanging pictures. Although, in his email, he explained this is better for adjustment, especially when you’re using picture hanging cord instead of wire.

Since most artists use wire instead of cord we’ll focus on knots that work best with wire.

Des said in his email that the knot that I showed in the illustration would be satisfactory. This was the same one that I found on the back of a package of picture hanging wire years ago.

I wasn’t sure what it was called. From what I can tell it’s the improved clinch knot. Fisherman often use it tie hooks on a line.

I’m not sure why the cows hitch is so popular among picture framers. I think that it might be easier and a little faster to tie.

However, we’re talking about framing original artwork which is valuable. I feel you should use the most secure knot to attach the wire to the frame.

How to Tie an Improved Clinch Knot With Picture Hanging Wire

The improved clinch knot is easy to tie and should hold very well. It only takes a few minutes to get the hang of if you follow the diagrams below.

You can watch me tie the improved clinch knot in the video at the top of this post.

You’ll need a pair of wire cutters to cut the wire. Cut the wire so you have at least 3″ of wire to work with at each end. Leave more room if you’ve never tied this knot before!

I usually tie the first side while the wire is still attached to the spool. Then I leave at least 3 inches on the second side so that there’s enough wire to tie a knot without too much effort.

1.) Thread the working end of the wire through the eye hook and pull through enough wire for you to work with. Give yourself extra wire to work with if you’re a beginner.
2.) Wrap the wire around itself 4 to 6 times.
3.) There should now be a small hoop near the eye hook. Insert the end of the line through the loop.
4.) For added strength you want to thread the end of the wire through the loop that you just made.
5.)Tighten the knot by pulling on the end of the wire. This should make all of the wire bunch up near the eye hook.
6.) I don’t trim the leftover wire, I usually just wrap it around itself.

Tips for Hanging Paintings

Now that you’ve got the wire attached to the frame it’s time to hang it on the wall. It’s tempting to just pound a nail in the wall and hang it, but there are better options.

What are picture hangers? Picture hangers are basically metal hook that you secure to the wall with a nail. They’re available in different sizes, some of which can hold 100 pounds.

Picture hangers hold the nail at an upward angle and prevent it from slanting downwards. When a nail slips or starts to slant downwards, it increases the chance that the wire might slip off of the hook. This can damage the artwork or cause an injury.

The picture hanger has two holes for the nail to go through. These holes keep the nail tilting upward at the optimal angle.

Picture hangers are more secure than using a nail by itself.


OOK ReadyNail Picture Hook Pack – 30 lb Capacity, Tidy Tin, Pkg of 30

from: Blick Art Materials

How Much Does a Small Painting Weigh?

When selecting a picture hanger, you need to have an idea of how much your framed artwork weighs. The small 8×10 canvas panel weighs 13.2 ounces, so not even a pound. All of the picture hangers that I have can easily hold that.

The weight of the canvas is affected by how much paint you apply to it. If you paint with very thick layers then it will weigh more. Paintings on wood panels can be heavy too.

Here’s a link to the scale that I use to weigh my paintings (Amazon) when I ship them.

This framed painting doesn’t even weigh a pound! It’s an 8″x10″ painting on a canvas panel and it weight 13.2 ounces.

The type of frame that you use also has an impact an the weight. Thicker frames will weigh more, and some species of woods are heavier than others.

Installing a Picture Hanger on a Wall

I start by figuring out how high I want the painting to be on the wall. I mark where I want the top of the painting to be on the wall with a pencil.

I measure from the top of the frame to the wire. This is approximately how far down you want the picture hanger to be from the top of the frame.

Next, I measure how far the wire is from the top edge of the painting. Use your finger to make the wire taught, just like it will be when you hang it.

In my case, the wire was two inches from the top of the frame when the wire is taught. So I make a small mark on the wall two inches below the first mark I made on the wall. This is approximately where you want to attach the picture hanger. But there’s one important point to consider.

The nail goes through the two holes in the picture hanger.

The hook on the picture hanger is lower than where the nail goes into the wall. So if you pound the nail in the wall at that second mark the hook will be lower than that. Since the wire hangs off of this hook, that means your painting will be a little lower than what you expect.

With small picture hangers, this probably doesn’t matter much. But this effect is greater with the larger picture hangers.

So, you want to position the hanger so the lowest part of the hanger is on that second mark .

If these instructions don’t make sense then the YouTube video should make it more clear.

Hang the Painting on the Picture Hanger

First, make sure the picture hanger and the wire are secure.

I leave a little slack in the picture hanging wire so that it’s easier the get the wire onto the hook. If the frame is small enough I use my free hand to guide the wire onto the hook with my index finger.

You can also peak behind the frame to see if the wire is on the hanger, before you let go of the frame.

“Pepper Eggplant & Tomatoes” acrylic on canvas.

The D-hangers tend to make the top of the picture frame lean a little bit out from the wall. Tightening the wire will reduce this a small amount, but the effect will still be there.

If you don’t like how this looks, eye hooks seem to have this problem. However, you’ll need to use a frame that is deep enough so there’s room for you to install I eye hooks on the inside edge of the frame.

You’ll want you add bumpons to the back corners of the frame. Bumpons are rubber pads that have adhesive on the back.

They will protect the wall, but it will also create a gap between the frame and the wall.

The gap allows air to flow behind the frame and prevents mold from growing on the back of the canvas. It’s possible for mold to grow on the paper framing materials too.

Final Thoughts

With just a few tools you should be able to hang your artwork on the wall.

It can helpful to have someone assist you with hanging the painting. This is important if the painting is large or heavy. An extra set of hands comes in handy! They can also help you to decide where to hang the painting or judge if it’s level.

I don’t recommend hanging paintings in a bathroom because of all of the moisture can damage the artwork.

You may also want to try assembling a wood frame kit, or try your hand at framing a canvas panel.

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