Tips & Tricks
For framing related questions and advice, explore our answers and suggestions to maximize your experience with us.
How to Get the Most from Your Mats
Think mats are only cosmetic? Let's take a closer look at why mats are an important part of your frame design.
- Mats enhance and have the ability to change the way people look at and respond to art.
A mat can make a small picture seem more impressive, a dark image look lighter, or even transform an everyday postcard into an attractive tour de force. It's possible! Use mats to bring out a particular color in the artwork, or match your personal décor.
- Not all mats are created equal. Choose an acid-free mat.
There is acid present in cardboard and other papers used for matting that cause "leeching" – this means that your valuable artwork will draw the acid out, causing it to turn yellow. The best choice is a high quality acid-free mat, and it just so happens that pictureframes.com only carries exceptional custom-cut and pre-cut acid-free mat board, as well as conservation quality rag mats that are 100% cotton.
- Mats separate artwork from the glazing (the glass or acrylic).
The surface of your artwork can be compromised if it is pressed directly on the glazing, which is there to protect your art. Ever tried to peel a cherished photograph away from the glazing after it got stuck? It almost always ends up in heartache. And, over time, static electricity from glazing that comes too close to a pastel can actually pull the pigment right out!
Mat width could quite possibly be the most important element in your frame design, as well as one of the most misunderstood. Choosing the best width for your mats depends on two things: the size of your image and the size of the focal point within the image.
- Wider mats make any work of art look even more impressive.
This is because wide mats emphasize the art in a dramatic way, creating a highly professional presentation like those you'd see in any gallery. On small pieces of art, wide mats lend the perception of value and importance. On large pieces of art, wide mats maintain balance with the size of your chosen frame, as well as keep everything proportional. Professionals today suggest mats be twice as wide as the width of your frame (e.g. if you're working with a frame that's 3 ½" wide, a mat with 7" borders will look spectacular).
- If you're double matting, the "twice as wide" rule from above only applies to the top mat.
Avoid "striping," an eyesore caused when double mats are the same width (or worse, the same width as the frame!). Just make the "reveal," or the part of the inner mat nearest to the artwork, smaller. Another tip when layering mats – don't overdo it. Too many mats and a busy image could make your piece an overachiever. That's why pictureframes.com only offers single or double matting at this time in its interactive shops – Personal Frame Shop and Print & Frame.
- Consider "weighting" your mat by distributing the mat size.
Professional framers understand that sometimes, artwork needs a lift. If you are framing an extra large or very long piece, or if the focal point of the piece happens to be near the bottom, consider "weighting" your mat by opting for a wider border across the bottom. In other words, select a mat that's a little wider on the bottom than on the top and sides. This gives a feeling of support for the heavy piece, makes it more balanced and easier on the eyes. Another way that you can apply this technique is when you are hanging two pieces of the same size next to each other on the wall. Simply have the mats cut smaller on the inner sides, so the pieces feel connected when hung together. The wider you weight your mats, the more dramatic – and the narrower, the more subtle.
- Light, Dark & Neutral:
Different colors alter the look of your image in different ways. For example, dark mats pop on light walls, and light mats pop on dark walls – dark mats will control your piece, while light mats will amplify it. When putting your frame design together in Print & Frame or Personal Frame Shop, use the "Wall Color" tool to help you see the difference.
According to pictureframes.com customer and tip-submitter, Howard, "Light colored mats seem to open up the picture and make it seem larger and your perception more "open" or outward. Dark colored mats seem to turn you eye inward, making the picture seem smaller and you perceive a more "tunneling" effect."
Black and white images look fabulous with an off-white outer mat and black inner mat or our Arctic White w/Black Core built in. Neutral colors, like whites and blacks, are always great choices. Not only do they step back and allow the colors in the art to remain the star of the show, but they fit right into any room, whether your taste in decorating leans toward French Colonial or 70's Glam.
- Color Matching:
You want your art to fit with your decor, but should your mat complement the wall color or the artwork? Both are important, but if you have to make this decision, don't flip a coin – match the mat to the artwork first. And when choosing mat colors, go no lighter than the lightest color within your art, no darker than the darkest and no brighter than the brightest. After all, you don't want your mats to outshine your art.
- One Mat:
If you choose to use one mat, we suggest using a neutral color. This can stretch from Off White to Olde Gray. Any neutral tone will enhance your art, but some will stand out and scream, "Pick me! Pick me!" so play with a few before simply going with White.
- Double Mat:
If you plan on double matting, one way to go is to use a neutral color on top. And, for the "reveal," (the inner mat closest to your artwork) punch up the color by matching the mat to a dominant color in the artwork. This high-contrast treatment will add new dimension to your presentation.
You can also try something monochromatic. Keeping all your mats the same color, will softens the eye's transition across the layers incredibly well. Steer clear of color transitions that are too extreme. For example, choosing an inner layer of red with a face mat of marine blue surrounding a mostly purple work of art? wow! Of course, that might be your thing, so don't let us stop you, just don't claim that we didn't warn you.
The key to all of this is really just to have fun. Our "rules" can be great guidelines, but no rule is ever going to make you happier than what your own imagination can come up with. Spend some time getting to know your art, its color range and intensity – after all, you're about to make it an invited guest in your space. There are endless ways to mat your piece, so play with colors, widths, and layers to add warmth and interest. In the end, your piece will be a more personal reflection of you, sure to bring a smile to your face every time you see it.