The ‘mat’ and ‘frame’ serve an important purpose. In the past, they were used to make a picture look more attractive, but nowadays they fill an entirely different function. The mat acts as a protective coating for the picture it contains, while the frame protects onlookers from injury by virtue of its size and strength.
What is a Picture Mat?
A picture mat, also called a mat board, is a decorative framing element used to enhance the appearance of your artwork or photograph and to add depth. A mat board is made from paper and is usually not acid-free. It can be cut with a beveled edge, which creates an angled surface that reflects light in an interesting way, or it can have a straight edge.
The most common mat colors are white, because it provides the best contrast for your artwork, but you can choose any color you wish.
The opening in the center of the mat board is called the window. The window is cut larger than the size of your print so your print doesn’t touch the sides of the window when framed. The size of the window depends on how much space you want between your image and the edge of your mat board. This space is called the border – it’s measured in inches on all sides of your image.
Why You Should Use a Mat
The purpose of using a mat is to provide an acidic-free barrier between your artwork and your frame. The mat also provides additional visual interest to the art or photograph by adding dimension as well as color. A mat also adds protection from dust and dirt around the image area, serving as a buffer between the work and glass or acrylic glazing material.
The most common print size for photography is 8 x 10, and the mat opening for that print is 5 x 7. This makes it easy to find an 8 x 10 frame with a mat that works.
But what if you want to put your print in a different size frame? Here’s a chart of all the sizes you’re likely to need, along with the mat opening size:
8 x 10 frame: 5 x 7 image (mat opening)
11 x 14 frame: 8 x 10 image (mat opening)
16 x 20 frame: 11 x 14 image (mat opening)
20 x 24 frame: 16 x 20 image (mat opening)
Once you’ve selected the right mat for your art, the next step is to determine what size frame you need to cover the edges of the mat and your artwork. To do this, select a frame that has an outside dimension (width + height) that is at least 2 inches larger than your artwork and mat combination.
For example, if your artwork and mat measure 8 x 10 inches together, then add 2 inches to each dimension to get 10 x 12 inches. This means you will need a frame that measures at least 10 x 12 inches on the outside.
When deciding on the best combination of frame matting, frames, and prints, you should keep in mind not just your preferences, but also the intended use for your piece. If you want to show it off on your gallery walls, then a lighter frame and mat will suffice, although larger corners are still recommended for safety purposes.
If you’re putting it up in your living room or bedroom, however, you may want to go for something more decorative with a lower hanging weight. Be sure to take all these factors into account when shopping—and have fun!