Matting: A Frame Within A Frame

Matting adds a special touch to the overall look of the picture frame. It works like a frame (or several frames if you are using more than one) within the frame, drawing the eye to where it is supposed to look – the photograph or the artwork.

Matting has additional purposes. It ensures that the surface of the photograph or artwork does not touch the glass, where it can come into contact with moisture. In turn, the moisture can result in irreparable damage to the photograph. The moisture can cause the picture to stick to the glass or cause mold. Also, mats allow any-sized picture to fit in a standard picture frame. Matting can also enable you to add more pictures in a single frame, where the matting adds a number of frames.

Indeed, matting is an important element when deciding on your picture frame. Some considerations with matting:

  • Single or multiple layers? The usual choice will be a single layer, as this does not add a lot of weight (as well as length and width) to the frame. When using a single mount, it is best to use a neutral color so that it can be used with any picture. For double mounts, use a neutral color for the main mount. Meanwhile, the base (or the mount that is closest to the image) should feature the dominant color in the subject. Do not use double mounts that feature extreme color transitions, rather go with the same color in varying shades. Also, if you are using non-glare glass, it is best to go with single matting. Since this type of glass diffuses the image, multiple layers of matting can result in a fuzzy image.
  • Matting will add to the frame’s dimensions. For one, check that the thickness that the frame can accommodate allows for the matting board/s. This thickness is called the rabbet. If you add too much matting and have layers that are thicker than the rabbet, you will not be able to close and seal the frame. Also, the length and width of the frame will also need to be bigger since you are displaying the matting as well. You do not want to add too much layers of matting, which can result in a very heavy frame. The frame’s structure may not be able to support the weight.
  • Matting should complement the image being displayed. The choice of color and texture should highlight the image and not detract from it. Textures such as suede, fabric or linen can act as a foil to draw attention to the image. When choosing a color, you can opt for a neutral color (such as cream), the image’s dominant color or the color that complements the dominant color. It all depends on your sense of aesthetics. Of course, the matting should also complement the frame. That is why it is best to choose everything with your picture in mind.
  • Matting should also complement the picture frame. For instance, if you are using a gold picture frame, you can consider getting a double matting of cream and a thin gold lining as a second layer. This will provide an elegant, yet subtle accent to the frame. In general, the picture frame and the matting should be chosen with the image to be framed in mind.
  • Consider size and proportion. A modern trend related to matting is by using the matting’s proportion to the picture to add emphasis to the image. You can choose a weighted matting board, where one side of the matting is thicker than the rest. This gracefully creates visual interest. Of course, this type of design option can only work with certain frames. It may not work for a vintage picture frame with elaborate carvings but it can work on a contemporary picture frame.
  • Add decorative elements using matting. Matting can provide a space of embellishments (such as intricate laser cuttings) or a space where you can add a signature or a quote.
  • Choose archival matting material. Remember, the matting will come in contact with the photo. Over time, the acids in the matting material can cause discoloration or brittleness. It is important to get acid-free matting boards.
  • Look at outside and inside dimensions. Check if the matting board will fit your frame and the photograph. For instance, a standard 8 x 10 mat is for an 8 x 10 picture AND an 11x14 frame. 
29th Apr 2015 Eric Morgan

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