How to Choose the Best Matting for Your Framed Photo

When deciding how to best showcase a beautiful photograph, the frame you use is certainly important, but it shouldn’t be the only consideration. You should also give some thought to the matting that surrounds the image inside the frame. The perfect mat does not draw the eye to itself, but rather accentuates the photography you are displaying.

Matting gives a framed image a finished feel. Selecting the right matting can elevate a simple framed photo into a work of visual art.

Choose the Right Kind of Matting

You’ll find three distinct kinds of matting used for framing photographs. The key difference among the three is the composition of the matting. Paper mats are the most common. These are often the type you find tucked inside bargain frames. Unfortunately, because they are made from wood pulp, these mats tend to age quickly and may stain the photograph in the process.

The second kind of mat is made from alpha cellulose, which is chemically treated to ensure a neutral pH. This step reduces the risk of staining, which is why alpha cellulose mats are considered preservation-quality mats. Finally, rag mats are the gold standard for matting. These mats are made from cotton, making them museum-quality and ideal for fine art and rare print collections.

Consider Color, Shape, and Layering Options

Regardless of what kind of matting you choose, you will have the ability to select the color you want. Colors can range from black or white to neutral tones, soft tints to bold, fully saturated colors. As a general rule, let the image you are matting and framing dictate the color selection, rather than selecting a mat color based on the space you will hang the photograph. Picking a mat in a color from the background or focal point of the image can create a polished and seamless final appearance.

While the most standard shape for matting is rectangular with a rectangular opening, this isn't your only option. Matting can allow you to display a cropped image without actually cutting or resizing it. For some images, square, round, oval or even irregular shapes could help highlight the photograph’s composition.

Finally, if you have a large area of exposed matting between the image and the frame, you may want to consider adding a contrast layer of matting. A second mat in a different but complementary color can break up the monotony of the large matted area and give the final framed image a professional, polished look. Black and white is a popular color combination for layered contrast mats, although you can always opt for something bolder and more colorful. Many artists also enjoy white mats with a black core, which allows for a subtle framing contrast without a second mat.

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