As a custom picture framer, I probably won't be too popular for offering alternatives to what my business offers. Let's face it, custom framing can get expensive. I've noticed a more concerted effort over the last few years to dissuade people from custom framing, from many directions. It seems to hurt the feelings of many in my industry, but I totally understand!
When you pay a custom picture framer to frame your art, photos, or other keepsakes, you are paying for the convenience of an expert to do a job you could do yourself. Just like when I take my car to the shop or call the plumber. I love working on cars and doing home improvement projects. I also have a family and own a business, so I have to decide if I'm better off paying an expert to do their job, or taking on the task myself. There are advantages and disadvantages to each side. There is also a value to my time. All of these factors need to be considered, along with the bonus of having that expert assume the liability should anything go wrong. Most frame shops charge between $50-80 an hour for labor. It's what we have to make to stay in business. We can do the job much faster and more efficient than you, probably completing most things in half the amount of time for a layperson to DIY. Think about how long it would take you to unpack your supplies, cut mats, backing material, glass, and cut a perfectly mitered picture frame, then join it, assemble the whole package, cleaning glass and getting every speck of dust out of the frame package, then sealing it all up nice and tight, putting a dust cover on the back and attaching the appropriate hanger on the back. I have an open shop, where customers can watch me frame, every one that watches comments on how much more there is to it than what they thought. A simple custom frame job takes me anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours to complete. This is the perspective you need to look through when deciding what you want to do yourself or when to have an expert framer tackle a project for you.
With all that being said, here's what I would do if I didn't want to pay to have a piece custom framed:
1) DIY. Just do it all yourself, pretty simple, eh? For one piece, it doesn't make much sense to acquire everything you need to do the job the right way. But for an artist or collector, it may be a great option. You'll need some basic tools, and ways to cut materials. There are basic mat and material cutters that can be purchased for somewhat inexpensively by companies like Logan and Dexter. I would invest in quality adhesives and tapes, focusing on things made for framers, there's a reason we use certain products, it's because they work best! Search Amazon or other sites for the most popular items in categories related to picture framing, or watch YouTube tutorials that explain how it all works. Some framers may even offer you some advice along the way, just be really efficient if you ask a framer about a technique or for advice. Finding ready made frames or old vintage frames that can be resized is a great way to save money as well. There's a ton of online resources for frames nowadays, take a look around.
2) Have a framer help! I'm happy to help a do-it-yourselfer finish a framing project. I will charge for my time and materials, but together, we can still figure out a way to save you a few headaches and bucks along the way. For paper art, it may be a simple as cutting a mat that allows the art to fit inside the frame. I can also cut glass and other materials much easier than the average person, and it may save you from having to really invest in specialty tools and equipment. You'll spend more than the total DIYer, but you will get better materials and save a few headaches and paper cuts along the way.
3) Big Box Stores like Hobby Lobby and Michael's. These guys custom frame pictures too! Sometimes their prices are not much less expensive than mine, on other things they may be. I always try to shop local and throw my business to a local business, but there are times that I pay too high of a premium to do so and will spend money at the big guys or online. It may be worth your while to talk to your local framer about your budget and what they can do before you go to the big box stores. To be honest, it's a roll of the dice if you take your valuables to stores like these. They may have an employee that has framed for 20 years and is really good. They may also have one employee who took a quick framing class and several others who are still learning. They may also price inferior materials to make your bottom line cost lower, but spending a few bucks more may create more value for you. I worked at Hobby Lobby and for another discount framer many years ago, and I can say that their standards wouldn't qualify as generally accepted standards in the industry(not even close really), but I have also taken apart work from other "custom frame" shops that I could say the same thing about. If my goal was to just get something on my wall, I may choose to take my piece there(after talking to my local framer about options). Most local custom picture frame shops have employees who have made picture framing a huge part of their life, and sometimes paying a slight premium for that is well worth it! These places can charge less because most of the "framing" is done in a factory offsite, using materials that come from places I don't want materials to come from.
4) Online framing. This is a new thing. I don't look at it as competition for my frame shop. It's more competition for the big box stores. If you are in the "just get it on the wall" camp, this may be an option, but you won't realistically want to send a family heirloom or one of kind piece of art across the country and back to save $20. Your choices in materials are more limited as well, you pretty much have to use acrylic for glazing, which is inferior to the look and feel of glass. I try to be open minded about everything, and I see a bunch of issues with framing this way(and not because I'm salty about online competition). I'm still not sure I'd go this route if I was comparing the big box stores to online framing. I guess it comes down to how comfortable you are sending your artwork or photos off. Framebridge is the most popular online custom framing operation. They have hired real framers who seem to enjoy what they do. I believe my prices are pretty comparable to what they offer, so you'll be the one to decide what advantages you would gain by sending your art to be framed by them.
I, along with many other small picture framing shops, have made picture framing my life. I care about doing things the right way and have the tools and ability to do things the right way as quickly as possible. I seek continuing education in the field and treat every piece that comes in my shop as a one of a kind. Even if you don't want to invest that much in a piece of art, come by and ask about your options, part of my job is to build trust and inform you of all of your options, even if it means going a different route this time. I custom make everything that leaves my shop, just for your piece of art. Whether that involves going with off the shelf parts to make it all work or custom painting a frame to match something else, your options are limitless.
You have to decide if it is worth a premium to get the best design, save you time and trouble, get a guarantee of workmanship, and have the peace of mind that it was done the right way.