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Thoughts On Choosing Mat Boards


how to frame pictures

custome framed picture using two mats and a v-grooveThis is an article to help you make the right choices on matting and having your photos or art framed. Whether you do it yourself or go to a professional picture frame shop, this article can give you a heads up on the multiple choices you will have to make.

When you take a picture or piece of art to a custom framer to get it custom framed you are right off faced with hundreds of choices of mat colors to choose from. Of course this is true only if the framer shows all these colors to you.

Many times the choices can over whelm the customer to the point they cannot decide what in the world to use and feel frustrated by the whole affair. We at Grignon’s Art and Frame have overcome this by the techniques we use, and still allowing the customer to see as many colors, as they want. People get frustrated usually because there aren't just one or two pretty mat colors that work with your art. There are lots of combinations that would work with your art and your home interior. There is an art to choosing colors that will compliment the art and the frame that goes around it.

There are hundreds of colors of mats available to choose matting combinations that go great with your art and decor. But there is more to framing a picture than just the colors. When you hang your works of art on your wall, you want a custom picture that doesn't look like it just came from a department store. To do that you want a picture that has been properly framed and matted. You want your pictures to present the most processional appearance possible.

What is proper matting?

birds framed with mats and a v-grooveProper matting for one thing usually means a picture that has at least two mats. After all, if you are spending the money on custom framing, what’s a few more dollars for another mat? And you also want mats that are wide enough to accent the art, yet not being overdone to the point of being too wide. Then, why stop there when for just a little more a nice V-Groove can be put around the art. This automatically denotes your picture as one that has been custom framed when looked upon by the casual observer. I would say that ninety percent of the art we frame uses two mats and a V-Groove. This presents the most professional appearance possible as long as the mats are wide enough. Many pictures framed this way today have mat borders that are too narrow. The picture shown here has two mats and a v-groove which makes the art work pop!  The v- groove adds to the picture and makes it look like a third mat.

Are wider mats better?

Many people do not choose a mat wide enough. Usually because of lack of experience or they think it costs lots more. Which it really doesn’t. You can prove this to yourself. The next time you have a picture custom framed, ask your framer to quote you the price of the whole job using only a 2-inch mat border around your picture. Write this price down on a piece of paper right there on the frame shop desk. Now ask your custom framer to change the border to 3 or 4 inches wide. A good shop can do this instantly. Write this price above the former price. Subtract the difference and you will find the difference in most cases to be very little compared to what you receive. Just a couple of inches and a small change in price could take your framed art from being ho hum, to OH Wow!

It is like the mechanic that has all his tools out to change the spark plugs in your car. There is going to be a certain charge you are going to have to pay to have those plugs changed. After he has put in the five plugs you really needed into your car he tells you he can put in the sixth and last one in for you while he is at it for just a few dollars more. It is the same in framing, a picture that is 13½ inches by 19 inches is going to be cut out of the same piece of glass as a 16 by 20 inch picture.

How wide a mat border do you need?

picture framed with one mat and a v-grooveWithout seeing your artwork it is difficult to say. But I will say this. A picture up to 11 by 14 inches needs a minimum of two to three inches of border. From there up to 16 by 20 you should have a minimum of three inches. Anything over 16 by 20 should have at least 3 or 4 inches of border. This is a fairly good guide for most people. Remember these are minimums. Have you ever seen a postage stamp framed using six inches of border all around it. Have you ever seen how many people draw up to that framed piece to find out what has been framed in that little hole! See, a lot depends on what you are framing.

The picture shown here was framed with just one mat and a v-groove.  A v-groove is really nice and is a nice way to make a single mat look like a double mat. This was a shadow box and a narrower mat was chosen by the customer to make it fit in her space.  The mat should have been wider.  At least a little! Why? Because the width of the mat should never equal the width of the frame.  It would have been much nicer to have the mat wider than the frame, not the same size.

shadow box with no matsSome times a smaller picture using a wide frame doesn’t need as much mat border as the same picture with a narrow frame. But again it all depends on the picture. It is always best to never have the width of the picture frame be the same size as the width of the mat.

In the picture here you are seeing a shadow box with and I had no mats at all.  The items were mounted on a mat board and the side walls are covered with the same mat board. In this example, even a little mat showing would have been a distraction.

Quite often, the minimum mat borders given above will look fine on your picture. If you are really in doubt I suggest leaving the decision to a good custom framer. Again, I will suggest you think real hard before using a narrow border. If you are having your pictures framed by a custom framer, you want your pictures to LOOK Custom Framed.

Narrow borders almost always look unprofessional. Let’s face it, they look cheap. You can find pictures framed using narrow borders all over the place including the web. They are usually framed this way to keep the price as low as possible. Your choice should be to frame pictures with borders wide enough to compliment the art. What you want is for your pictures to make people really sit up and take notice!

Any picture you are having custom framed will look like the borders are too wide while it is laying there on the bench.  Keep in mind, those borders shrink when the picture is hung on the wall! A professional knows this very well and you should listen to his thoughts and experience before making a judgement call on the size of the borders.

Not everyone can always tell if a picture has been professionally custom framed. But, many can always tell when one hasn’t been professionally custom framed.

I should put emphasize around "professional" because, well there are some so called custom framers and frame it quick shops around that aren’t doing what I would call professional work. There are crumbs in every cake! One things for certain. If you pay $150.00 to have a picture custom framed it should not look like you just picked it up at a department store. If it does, you need to either find a better custom framer, or spend a little more money with the one you now have, or do it yourself! I have seen some pictures framed by home owners that were wicked good. Some people have great ideas and the time to fool around with a picture long enough to come up with wonderful pieces of framed art!

Can you go overboard with matting?

shadow box with a matSometimes I think you can. Although we will gladly use any number of mats and fancy cuts that you want on a picture, ninety percent of the custom framing that we do for people usually ends up being done using two or three mats and a V-groove because it looks so good. Lots of times I have seen fancy scroll work done to extremes on a mat.

This is a glass mounted shadow box.  The needle work is mounted on glass so that it floats in the box.  I used wide mats to give a big shadow under the  mats and it really made the needle work pop!  This is a truly delightful piece of art mounted in really great way.

I’ve seen mats cut into fancy designs overlaid with more fancy mats. I have seen fishing and hunting scenes cut into the mat borders. I have watched people walk all the way across the room to look at a picture, and exclaim, "Wow, look at the really neat designs cut into this mat." Well, what ever happened to the work of art that had been custom framed? Mats should compliment the art, not distract from it!

Sometimes I think people can get too fancy. I strive to use the best materials in the best way that I know, to bring out the best in the art. I think you should do the same thing!

Others may not agree with this point of view, and that is great! It really is, because this world needs as many different people in it as it can get. There is a place for really fancy mats. There is a place for simplicity. The choice is ultimately up to you!

Thank You for visiting
Sincerely, Reimond Grignon