Using acrylic to frame picture

I have a very large watercolor painting (measures almost 4' x 12') which I want to hang on a wall. My choices are to put it in a 4 x 12 red oak frame that I already have, or the suggestion of a local frame shop, which is to sandwich it between two pieces of acrylic, without a separate frame.
I can get 2 pieces of 4 x 12 acrylic, 1/8" thick, but they are pricey so I don't want to make a mistake. Each piece is $165, and the shipping from the NYC warehouse is $100.
If I use the red oak frame, I will have to have just one piece of acrylic, but it will have to be cut to the right size, just under 4 x 12, to fit into the rabbet in the frame. The painting will have to be mounted to foamcore, and because of the size, I think I'll need two layers, staggered so the seams don't overlap. This additional thickness means I'll have to build up the back of the frame by about 1/4-1/2" to support the foamcore.
If I sandwich the painting between two pieces of acrylic, I'll have to drill through both pieces near the perimeter and add bolts, properly cushioned, to sandwich the two pieces together, and also devise some method of hanging it. Because I suspect the 1/8" acrylic in that size is very flexible, I may have to brace the acrylic with a wooden crosspiece, which probably can be hidden behind the painting. I don't think I can just hang it from two bolts through the top of the acrylic sandwich because of the size and weight of the assembly. I'll probably have to hang it from the bottom, with the top also tied to the hanging chain to keep it vertical.
I haven't worked with acrylic since high school shop class, a long time ago.
1. If I use the frame I assume the supplier will have to cut the acrylic to size, because I don't think it can be done with confidence in a home workshop.
2. If I try the sandwich, I will have to drill a number of holes through the acrylic. One mistake which cracks the acrylic will ruin the whole project. I will also have to polish the edges and protect the corners.
Does anyone reading this have experience with handling acrylic? How risky is drilling it and are there any secrets (e.g., clamping a piece of wood on either side before drilling?) How flexible is this 12' long piece (s) going to be?
This is turning out to be more of a project than I originally expected -- all for a painting picked up for $75 in a street market in Western China 25 years ago --
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http://www.plaskolite.com/downloads.htm#fabguide
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Drilling smallish holes is no problem at all. I've done it quite a few times. I suggest:
1. Place some masking tape over the position where you intend to drill. It's easier to mark your positions and helps prevent scids and nasty scratches.
2. Use a special drill bit designed for plastics -- they are sharper than a regular wood/metal bit. I got mine from a local TAP Plastics store:
http://www.tapplastics.com/shop/product.php?pid 1&
They also have more tips here:
http://www.tapplastics.com/uploads/pdf/Dilling%20Plastic.pdf
and here:
http://www.tapplastics.com/uploads/products/pdf/Working%20with%20Acrylic.pdf
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if you haven't done this before, you might want to experiment with smaller pieces. you can get scrap plastic at a tap distributer for really cheap.
1/8" is very bendy. you could probably bend 12' into a tube without cracking it. you're going to need a frame around it. however, that means you don't have to polish the edges.

they aren't sharper. they're ground at a different angle.

you can use normal woodworking tools, like a bandsaw and routers, with plastic. if you don't have the tools, you might wind up paying more to aquire them and the expertise than it would take to purchase a frame.
btdt: i purchased a $7 poster that was 3x10, spent $300 for a metal frame, drymounting, a sheet of acrylic to hang it, and that was 18 years ago.
regards, charlie cave creek, az
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You want to frame a 4 foot by 12 foot piece of art and you're whining over $100?
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JimR wrote:

You're way overmatched on this project. You're ideas are OK, but to be totally practical it would be best to pass off the fabrication risk to a pro shop. Just the physical handling of such a large thin acrylic sheet by less than two people is risky. A frame shop is not the best place to have the work done. Go to a plastics fab shop, and lay out what you'd like and have them do it. You'll get the completed assembly boxed and supported to get it home (or shipped) plus proper hangers, fasteners, whatever to get it on the wall looking great. Maybe even use the time you save to acquire another marvelous watercolor for the other wall <G>.
Joe
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JimR wrote:

Wouldn't acrylic be the opposite of what you're trying to display? Plastic and hand-painted art from rural china?
Is that like hand-carved aluminum? Irish lace stamped out of paper?
How about mounting the thing on a bit of backer-board and throwing up a bamboo frame. Forget the acrylic. The Mona Lisa is not under glass. The ceiling of the Sistene Chapel is not protected by Saran Wrap.
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The Mona Lisa and Sistine Chapel are not water soluble pigments on paper. Watercolors are much more delicate than oils or frescos.The pigment sort of "floats" on the surface. It does not cure within a film like oils, nor bond to the substrate like fresco.
Watercolor pigments and paper can be damaged by humidity, water, air pollution. The paper surface is porous. They are difficult to clean because the pigment can lift easily and the paper surface damaged from abrasion. So they need protection for long term display.
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clipped

Sounds like quite a project. With artwork of that size, I would consider a more permanent installation. You could begin with some sort of a "ledge", whether metal or wood, which would support most of the weight and become the bottom of a frame. Whatever you use, it should protect from UV, moisture and mites. By installing it, rather than hanging it, you can incorporate whatever backing is needed and not have to worry about taking it down to clean. Watercolor needs to be protected from condensation. A commercial window/door contractor could probably fashion the moldings you want to hold it and make it removable in case you move in the future. Let us know :o) 4' x 12'? Wow.
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On Thu, 29 Nov 2007 18:48:32 -0500, JimR wrote:

If you care about your watercolor, use UV protected glass and acid free backing. UV light, moisture and acid are sure to destroy whatever value or sentiment you have in this artwork. Acrylic most likely gives off fumes and in time will discolor or scratch.
Do it right the first time and you won't have to do it again and again.
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On Thu, 29 Nov 2007 18:48:32 -0500, JimR wrote:

Another suggestion:
Go to a reputable gallery or art museum and consult with those who conserve or restore artwork. Ask them for how they'd handle the piece.
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[snip]
Thanks for all of the replies and suggestions.
Comments: The Plaskolite URL from Rick was very helpful and a good resource for future projects;
I couldn't follow thru on some of the other suggestions, such as a local TAP plastics store or use a good plastics shop -- we're pretty remote, without a lot of local resources (we're 75 miles from an Interstate highway!) but do have an excellent frame shop that's about 35 miles away that is going to help. Part of the problem is in transporting a picture & frame that's 12' long.
Norminn's suggestion of using a commercial window/door contractor might have worked in a more populated area, but mostly we have shade-tree handymen that aren't very experienced or flexible..
I had already followed Franz's suggestion of consulting with a museum, and went to the Norton Art Museum in West Palm Beach, plus contacted a manufacturer of museum quality acrylic. The project would have cost $5000 + for museum quality work -- for that I'd rather go back to China and buy another painting.
Bub's suggestion of using different framing material wouldn't match my decor. All of my other Chinese artwork is framed in very simple rosewood frames. In my experience, Chinese design fits in very well with a very modern look that I expected from using only acrylic for the framing material. It also keeps the frame from being a distraction from the painting.
The advice on flexibility and handling of acrylic was a decision-maker. We've decided to abandon the acrylic sandwich idea, and working with the framer, we've decided to use an existing 4 x 12 red oak frame, stained a deep mahogany. The painting will be mounted on a double layer of foam-core, with acrylic protecting the front of the picture. The framer also has an acrylic spacer which keeps the picture from touching the acrylic sheet. We will use mirror brackets to hold the acrylic sheet in place, and seal the back with a protective cover.
It will be several weeks before this project is finished. When it's done I'll try to post a picture. -- Thanks to all for their ideas.
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