Art Display #2: The Marriage Of Mat & Frame

No Art, No Mat, No Problem

Can’t decide which mat with what frame

for that picture?

Does every picture need a mat or even a frame?


This is not a question that comes up much with those spectacular/jumbo wall size installation. However, in most cases you should at least ponder benefit and suitability for your better pieces. The right frame and matting draws your attention to the artwork itself, rather than allowing it to fade into the background. In conjunction with a frame, a mat enhances the art with the end game being that all three components, art, mat and frame create a cohesive display and show off paintings, photographs, etc. to best advantage.

What color works best? Usual and customary are mats in neutral shades but there are other options.

  • In the same way one might pull a medium to dark shade from the artwork itself for the frame color, one could also do the same with mat color. A black mat (used with a black frame) would bring emphasis to any black figures within the picture.
  • Not all mats are made the same. Linen and silk mats add subtle texture and richness even in neutral colors.
  • While there are no rules, sepia toned photographs or those with an antique quality, usually look best in a vintage cream colored mat, while more contemporary works can stand up to bright white. In some cases photo gray is a good option too.

Work with what you have. The basic formula for standard matting dimensions is that the mat be about two and a half times the width of the frame. This is generally the best proportion to show off a larger photos.

A very small photo doesn’t automatically demand a very small mat and frame.

Use a vertical format and increase the standard dimensions to four inches on the top and sides with five inches on the bottom. Placing the photo high into the top third of the mat will also create a compelling effect.

Sometimes a round peg in a square hole actually works, visually that is.
  • A round opening for the photo in a square frame will draw you right into the picture. This is obviously an uncommon option and not all framers will have the equipment to cut a mat this way. You may have to research for the framers that do.
  • A horizontal work can become a panoramic view by making a horizontal presentation with a mat that is narrow top and bottom and wider on the sides.
  • What if your art is frayed on the edges, or is even an historical document, you can play up the “been around for years” look by floating it on top of the mat to show the imperfections. Here’s a case where double matting is be a good idea to allow breathing room between the art and the glass or acrylic surface.
  • You have a choice to reveal or conceal a photographer’s signature, unless the autograph is intended to be part of the art, in which case, make sure it shows.

Next time: Art Display #3: Sleeping Beauty/Art Conservation

Related Posts

(Art Display Three Part Series)

Art Display #1: Selecting The Perfect Frame

Art Display #3: Sleeping Beauty/Art Conservation



This is part of an article published on It’s represented here as a foundation for further topic discussion and updates