A mat plays an essential role in framing and designing a picture. Here is why it is of such fundamental importance.

A mat can turn an ordinary piece of paper into an attractive decorative element, far more impressive with it than without it. The mat enhances and even radically changes the impression of a picture. Dark images do not seem gloomy, and matting can be used to add a particular colour to the image. Because of its importance, there are many things that have to be considered when deciding on a matting.

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“Width” is the key word

The width of the mat is perhaps one of the most important, not mention one of the most controversial elements in picture framing. Selecting the right width depends on two things: the size of the work, and the size of the focal point within the image.

For instance, a wide mat makes every piece of art more impressive and meaningful, dramatically enhancing the work and giving it more sophisticated appearance. Take a look at how pictures are displayed in any modern art gallery to see this effect in action.

While a wide mat gives a greater sense of value and significance to small pictures, with large paintings, a wide mat lets the balance between the piece of art and the selected frame to be maintained according to the rules of proportionality. That is why modern professional framers recommend choosing a mat width twice the size of a frame.

Where a double matting is used, the “double width” rule applies only to the upper mat. It is important to avoid having two mats of the same width, or even worse, of matching the width of the mat to the width of the frame, because you end up with a «striping» effect. This is extremely irritating to the eye, but this can be avoided by making the inner mat – the one next to the image – narrower. A key piece of advice to follow is: Do not overload! Complicated picture inside a variety of mats can easily become too complex and overwhelm the viewer.

One more thing your professional framer will tell you is that some pieces of art «need» help. If a picture is a non-standard size, either too large or too long, or the focal point of the picture is very close to the lower edge of the image, then the mat can be “pulled down”. This means that the lower edge of the mat is wider compared to the upper and side edges, creating a feeling of proportionality. This same technique can be applied in cases where two pictures of different sizes are shown together. If the inner edges of both mats are made slightly narrower, the two pictures will look more balanced.

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Colour – all or nothing

Bright, dark or neutral – why is colour so important? The answer is because the hue of the mat can dramatically change the perception of a picture. In general, a dark mat “restrains” a picture, directing the gaze inward to the image in a kind of tunnel effect. On the other hand, a light mat “opens” a picture, enhancing the viewer’s perception of size and space. Black-and-white images are different, and can look stunning with a narrow black internal mat combined with a wide white outer mat. In general, neutral colours, such as shades of white or black are always a safe choice. Playing a background role, they help a picture to dominate the space around it.

When using a single mat, it is highly recommended to choose a neutral color – anything from off white to mouse grey. Neutral colours enhance the picture, but remember that only one shade fits perfectly, so do not be afraid to experiment with samples.

With using double mats you have several options. The first is to use a neutral colour for the outer mat, then a shade that matches the dominant colour of the painting for the internal one. This “high-contrast” approach gives additional volume to the image. Another option is “monochromatic” approach, using several mats of the same colour to give the effect of more depth to the picture.

Last word

The pleasure you get from looking at your piece of art is the ultimate reason for all the recommendations above. Remember that using your own imagination can bring more joy than any universal rules of thumb. To achieve success in framing your artwork, get more familiar with all the details of the picture, especially its energy and colour range. There are many ways to frame a picture, so experiment with colours, with widths and with layers of matting. The effort you put in will make your artwork a reflection of your personality, and make you smile every time you look at your perfectly framed pictures.

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ImageFramer is a Mac application to add custom frames to your art

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