Picture Frame Matting: Understanding The Basics

To matt or not to matt?

Matting is another design element of picture frames. A mat is a textured and colored paperboard that is laid on the picture frame prior to laying out the picture. It works as a frame within a frame, adding an additional layer of color. It also works to separate the photograph from the glass to prevent it from sticking due to the presence of moisture.

Matting is a good design strategy whether you will be using rectangular, round or oval picture frames. The matting highlights your photograph and draws the eyes to it. Matting works for both modern and vintage picture frames.

You have the option of adding one or more matting boards, depending on your taste and sense of style. However, it is also important to remember that adding the matting will also affect the overall size of the picture frame, as well as the rabbet depth that the frame should be able to accommodate.

Preservation grades

Ideally, matting should be acid free and lignin free so that it will not cause the picture to fade or be discolored over the years. There are mainly three grades of archival material depending on the level of preservation you would want:

  • Untreated acid core (Grade 1). This pertains to matting where its interior core is untreated and will have a certain level of acid remaining. The surface or covering of the mat board will use acid-free paper. This means that there will still be a level of acid leak when the matting board is cut and the core is exposed to the picture.
  • Treated core (Grade 2). With this material, both the surface and the core of the matt boards are treated to become acid free. The core itself is also made from processed wood pulp fiber.
  • Cotton based (Grade 3). This matting’s materials are made from cotton and are naturally acid free. This is quite expensive when compared to the other grades but comes with a lifetime guarantee that it is safe to have contact with the surface of your precious photo.

The more precious and irreplaceable the photo, the higher the preservation grade. If you have digital photos with the file stored in your computer, you can choose the untreated acid core option. However, for valuable but still replaceable prints and documents, the treated core option looks like the best choice. For photos or documents that are considered heirlooms and are absolutely irreplaceable, it is best to invest in cotton based matting. Of course, higher preservation grades will also mean higher cost of matting materials.

Matting Layers

The matting board can come in different plys. This refers to the number of layers used. A 3-ply matt board will have a top layer, a core layer and a backing. Meanwhile, a 4-ply matt board will have a top, two core layers and backing. This is important to note since the matting board will be cut and will expose each of the layers, which also contributes to the aesthetics of the photo being framed.

Choosing the matt border sizes

Remember that there are actually no hard-and-fast rules regarding matting. However, you should generally try to achieve a sense of balance with your choice of matt widths. Also, try to remember that the matting should showcase the photograph and not the other way around. If the width is too thin, the picture will look to close to the frame molding and will make the matting look unnecessary. If the width is too thick, it may overwhelm and detract from the picture being displayed. As a general rule, take the measurement of the smallest dimension of the photo (either its length or width) and use 15 to 20% of this as the width of the matt border.

For instance, for a 9” x 12” photo, the maximum width of your matting will be 1.8” all around. However, you can also choose weighted matting where the bottom of the picture has a wider matting width.

Choosing the color of the matt

It depends on the number of matting boards you plan to use, as well as the colors featured in the photo. Choose matting colors that complement the colors in your photo. Avoid using the photo’s dominant colors, but go with colors that still harmonize with the photo’s overall color scheme. Remember, the matting should attract (and not detract) the viewer from the photo.

30th Aug 2014 Eric Morgan

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