What is Matting?

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  • Written By: Dana Hinders
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2019
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Matting provides a wonderful way to showcase a special photograph or painting. Even a simple snapshot or a humble child's drawing takes center stage when it is properly matted and framed. Additionally, the matting helps protect the image from being damaged by coming in too close of contact with glass.

There are a number of specialty framing shops that will professionally mat photos or artwork. However, it's not too difficult to do your own frame matting once you've had some time to practice. Mat board can be purchased at any large craft store. A sharp craft knife and a ruler are the only other tools necessary to complete the project, although investing in a specialized mat cutter may be a good idea if you plan to cut mats for photos and artwork on a regular basis. A mat cutter makes it easier to create beveled edges and perfectly straight lines.

The color of the mat is the first decision you must make when framing a picture or painting. Cream-colored mats are popular, because this color is versatile enough to complement almost any image. White mats work well for black and white photography because they amplify the monochromatic effect of the print. Mats in dark colors are sometimes used for a contemporary look, but this can make the image seem crowded if the matting is not skillfully done.


Choosing between a single or double mat depends upon the effect you want to achieve with the finished piece. Single matting is most common for contemporary or abstract art. Double matting gives a piece a more formal, traditional look. When the second color is a contrasting color, however, a double mat is a striking way to draw attention to the image.

Although it would seem natural that a mat should be perfectly square around the image, it's actually better to keep a slightly large bottom border. If you've left a two inch border for the top of the mat, for example, you'll want to leave an extra half inch on the bottom. This creates a sense of balance that is more visually appealing than a mat which is equal on all sides.

Keep in mind that not all items need to be matted. Pictures that contain border elements are often left unmatted because the border serves the same visual purpose as the mat. Very large images are often left unmatted because the mat would make the piece too difficult to frame. A canvas painting is never matted because texture of the canvas naturally complements the frame.


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