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Framing FAQs


Can you provide any tips for selecting the right mat color?

First off, I would recommend using at least two colors. This allows you to use an accent color without overpowering the piece. Three colors can be even more striking, although to really make a triple mat design work well it helps to have a basic understanding of color theory (or a naturally good "eye" for color).

Probably the easiest way to ensure that you select the right colors for a piece of artwork is to bring it in to one of our store locations so that one of our design specialists can work with you to select a color harmony that complements the artwork. That being said, I'll give you a kind of formula for creating a basic mat design. . . Keep in mind, though, that in aesthetic matters there are no unbreakable "rules". Still, while there are certainly other possible approaches, this one will tend to produce a pleasing combination:

For the top mat, select a fairly neutral color that has the same basic value (lightness or darkness) as the overall artwork, or the background of the composition. For a very dark work, use a fairly dark mat. For a light work, use a lighter mat. You can use a color that is prevalent in the artwork, but make sure that the color of the mat is not more intense or vibrant than the same color in the artwork. It is also common to simply use a white or off-white mat as the top mat, regardless of the value of the artwork. For a framed piece hung on a white or off-white wall, this is a viable approach, but I tend to think that the design works better if the value of the top mat is closer to the value of the art.

Then, select an accent color to use for the second mat. A good choice for the accent color would be the color of a focal point in the subject matter of the artwork, or the color of some item in the image that you would like the matting to draw attention to. Alternately, a good rule of thumb is that the third most predominant color in the artwork tends to make a good choice for an accent color. This second mat is there for impact and contrast, so it will generally be a more intense color than the top mat, and usually of contrasting value with the background of the artwork as a whole (a light color for a dark background, and a dark color for a light background.)

This approach is one of the most commonly used in creating a basic double mat design. If you would like to add still more interest, you can use a third mat in between these two layers in the same color family (or the complementary color family) of one of the other mats, in a midrange value, or tone. The exposure, or amount of this mat layer showing, should be somewhat larger or smaller than the bottom mat exposure to prevent a monotonous "stripe" effect.


What width of mat will look best with my art?

In framing design, there are very few "rules", although there are some guidelines. In general, the best mat border width is determined by a number of factors, including the overall size of the piece, the width of the moulding, and the particular hue and value of the mats and the art. In general, the goal is to attempt to give the art enough "space" inside the frame to allow the eye to rest upon the art without being distracted or crowded in by the framing.

That being said, mat borders nowadays tend to fall in the range of three to four inches. Although mat borders of two inches were common some years ago, the accepted width has been growing in recent years, in part due to the increasing width of mouldings. In most cases, you will want your mat to be appreciably wider than the moulding: A mat that is much narrower than the moulding ends up looking like an afterthought, or a way to force a picture into a frame of the incorrect size, while a mat that is the same width as the moulding can be visually unsettling; it is more attractive to have some variety in the design, and avoid the visual monotony of repetitive widths. As a rule of thumb, I like to shoot for a mat that is approximately 2/3 of the total width of the combination of mat and frame, (or about twice the width of the frame). For a two-inch frame, this would give you four inches of mat border as a basic starting point.

What kind of a mat should I use to collect signatures at a wedding?

With a signature mat, I recommended that you use a smooth-textured mat style (many mats are manufactured without the strong surface texture that could make writing awkward), and a ball-point pen such as the "gel" pens that are popular with scrap bookers. Sizing the mat appropriately is definitely an important concern. You will want to make the mat border much wider than you might normally for a photograph, especially if you have a large number of guests attending. I see these mats frequently cut with borders that are seven to nine inches in width, and even a photo as small as 8x10 may need a frame that is 20x24 or larger!

Another recommendation I have is to place the mat inside the frame, without the glass, when the guests are signing the mat. Since the lip of a frame will cover about 1/4" of the edge of its contents, if you place an unframed mat out to get signatures, some guests will invariably write to the edge of the mat, and this text is then covered when the item is framed! By having guests sign the mat within the frame, you prevent this from happening.