How to Mat and Frame Photographs

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The right frame can significantly enhance the final look of an artwork that’s why an artist’s work does not end with just the completion of the work of art. The frame, too, is a very important aspect of the process of creation. Good framing should enhance your picture, drawing the eye to the image.

Unless you are advertising picture frames, framing should be complementary to the picture. With the increased popularity of photography, there is a higher demand for choosing the right frame. Whether you are an artist looking to show your work for an exhibition or a photographer who wants to add a drop of personality to a blank wall, our article will help you choose the ideal frame and showcase your art to its full potential.

Know when and how to use glass

Start by taking care of your images. if you are using glass. Then, make sure that there is a slight air gap – this is where the mat comes in. Inkjet prints outgas for some time after printing, and deposits might build up on the back of the glass if put behind glass too soon. Choose your glass with care. Anti-reflection or non-glare glass and UV filtering glass may be appropriate for some locations.

Add a mat border

Don’t be stingy with your mat border size – small borders rarely enhance the image. Also, how are you going to hang the pictures? If you are choosing a large picture for your home or are planning to exhibit very large prints, make sure the wall you are hanging the picture on can safely take the weight of the framed picture and the fittings needed to hang it. The black edged frames are a pretty safe option for most display locations and preferred in many shows and competitions; do make sure you read all the mounting/framing rules when showing works at such events.

Interior of Agora Gallery

How to measure correctly

Frames are always measured from the inside (rabbet) of the frame. That is the size of a piece of glass that will fit in the frame. The actual size of the frame is 1/8″ larger than indicated to allow room around the glass, mats, image, etc. The actual rabbet size of an 8″ x 10” frame is 8 1/8″ x 10 1/8″. Mats are measured at the outside. They are not measured by the size of the cutout (hole). When determining what size matte you need, remember that the mat must cover the artwork or photograph. If your artwork is 8 x 10 you need a mat with an opening of at least 1/8″ smaller.

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Matting / framing your prints for exhibition and archival purposes

First, if you are going to matt and frame, then don’t print right up to the edge of the paper. It’s best to leave at least an inch of paper round prints to give enough space for the print to be held in place, and a place to sign (and number if a limited edition). Colored matt board is a bit of a no-no at most exhibitions, but if you’re selling a print that relies on a color, then pick what works (just remember to get someone else, you trust, to look at it first – most photographers are better at taking the photos than deciding how best to show them). If you’re getting someone to make mats for you, consider thicker mats, which can set your prints off nicely. If you get the chance, buy a cutter bigger than you might first think of – it just makes things easier. Cutters appear on auction sites every so often but do try and see one in use if you are spending much.

A framed photo mounted to a wall in a house
With many commercial prints, it’s advisable to lose a fraction of an inch around the edge of the printed area, i.e. the hole in the mat is slightly smaller than the print area. With larger prints for shows, I prefer a ‘reveal mat’ that leaves half an inch or so of the plain paper visible – particularly where I have a paper like a lightly textured rag paper. If you are going to do this, make sure that the white of the matte doesn’t clash with the white of your paper. Prints like this are held in place by the pressure of the overlying mat. You can use mylar corner mounts, or even ‘stepped’ mylar mounts for larger prints.

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4 responses to “How to Mat and Frame Photographs”

  1. ellisonwilliams avatar

    Thanks for sharing this blog! I’ve never come across something like this before. It’s really informative and helpful for anyone looking to learn about matting and framing photographs

  2. James T Gunderson avatar

    This is a lot of help thanks

  3. Angela Waterford avatar

    I’m grateful for your advice on the proper matting and framing of photographs, and it was really helpful for me when you mentioned that frames are measured from the inside of the frame, instead of from the outside. My parents are planning on framing a family photo from my youngest brother’s graduation as the centerpiece for our dining area. These tips will be helpful once we start looking for frames to match the room’s motif.

  4. Levi Armstrong avatar

    I like your advice about double-checking the wall your planning to hang your large picture frame on to ensure it could take on the weight. My dad plans to have my sister’s art displayed in our living room. He’s looking for a custom picture framing service now, so I’ll share this advice with him later. Thanks.