Saturday, May 30, 2009

Matting & Framing for Photographers

Hello, NLCC members!

JoAnn Martin writing here...I own Black Iris Gallery & Custom Framing in Spooner, WI.

At the May 2009 NLCC meeting, I was asked to present on matting, framing, and glazing (glass) options. Since not everyone could attend the presentation, it occured to me I could share my handout via the club's Blog--please see below (Blogger doesn't allow uploads of Word documents...sorry).

Please be aware that like your photographs, my written work is copyright protected. As a NLCC member, you are welcome to use this handout for yourself, but you may not copy, distribute, or share it without my permission. Thanks! :)

To learn more about conservation framing and its benefits to your photography, please visit my Blog at (Scroll down to find my older posts on framing.)

To learn more about putting your photography on consignment in an art gallery, please visit the FAQ page on my Web site at, which includes "Artist Dos and Don'ts."

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful June! I love summer....

Sincerely, JoAnn

Here's the handout--

Matting & Framing for Photographers
by JoAnn Martin, owner
Black Iris Gallery & Custom Framing
Spooner, WI 715-635-4548

There are several types of framing such as custom, corporate, competition, and museum framing. I’ll focus today on competition and custom framing.

Competition framing
Competition framing (or “show framing”) is what you’ll often see at art shows, photography competitions, fundraisers, and other group art events. This kind of framing usually calls for neutral mat colors (white/off-white/cream/beige) and narrow, black or brown frames (sometimes called “military frames”). The objective of show framing is consistency from piece to piece, which is achieved when the viewer’s eye begins immediately to “ignore” the repetition of the same matting and framing. When pieces are being compared to one another, as they usually are in art contests or shows, competition-style framing can be a very good option.

The main drawback of competition framing, however, is that the show’s organizer(s), not its participants, determine the matting and framing parameters. From mat color and frame size to the type of hanging hardwire on the back, participants must follow the requirements of the show in order to participate.

Custom framing
Custom framing is all about choices—and they are endless. Mat board comes in hundreds of colors, frames come in thousands of styles, colors, textures, and shapes, and then there are several glass options, too! (More on glass later.) Where competition framing removes the burden of choice from the participant, custom framing allows the customer to present his/her artwork in truly unique ways.

Why have mats?
There are several reasons to mat your work before framing it:

Priority #1 – You must keep the glass off the photograph; irreparable damage can be done if a photo touches glass for too long, especially in the Upper Midwest where humidity fluctuates drastically year-round

# 2 – Help the viewer’s eye focus on the best features of the piece; the colors you choose will draw the eye to what you want it to see

# 3 –Provide a visual transition from the wall and frame to the artwork itself—which is where the attention should be

How wide should the mat border be?

  • Personal preference should guide you on choosing the width of your mat borders (unless you’re framing for a show or competition—then follow the published guidelines)
  • Generally the mat border should be noticeably wider (or narrower) than the frame to avoid a stripy, “target” look
  • Borders are usually not less than 2” wide unless the piece is very small
  • A double mat adds depth, which helps draw the viewer’s eye to the piece
  • Matting should enhance your artwork and makes it look even better than it already does
  • Your mat choices should not be distracting; white mats are too bright for most artwork and are therefore distracting

Framing advice

  • Choose a frame that echoes the bottom mat in color or that repeats an important color from the artwork itself
  • Choose a frame that is noticeably wider (or narrower) than your mat borders, again to avoid a "target" look
  • Choose a moulding width that is visually balanced for the size of the artwork—a large piece needs a wider moulding, small artwork requires narrower moulding
  • Be sure the frame is strong enough to hold the weight of the glass (large artwork) or choose Acrylite™, which is lighter and nearly unbreakable (it’s best for shipping, too)

Glazing – Why is glazing important?
There are two glazing options—glass and acrylic (not Plexiglas since it yellows and offers no UV protection). Read my Blog post on UV protection in glass.

Glazing serves several functions:

  • Protects the artwork during transport and handling
  • Protects the piece from oily hands, bugs, dust, and dirt (you don’t want to know what I’ve found in the back of dirty frames!)
  • Prevents works on canvas (oil paintings) from needing to be cleaned or restored later—a very expensive process; even the Mona Lisa is framed behind glass (which happens to bullet proof, but still!) :)

General Advice on Glass

Glass costs less than acrylic and both come with several coating options:

  • Museum Glass™ and Optium Acrylite™ - My favorite glazing and the best option for viewing your artwork; there is no haze or glare so your artwork looks its best; offers 99% UV protection; quite pricy due to the new technology of the no-glare coating
  • Conservation Reflection Control™ and CRC Acrylite™ – Very close seconds to Museum™ and Optium™; slight haze; 99% UV protection; significantly lower priced (my favorite option when price is a concern)
  • Conservation Clear – A far third best; very glary; not much lower in price; I don’t recommend it unless the customer doesn’t like the little bit of haze on CRC
  • Regular non-glare – no UV protection; hazy; little glare; cheaper; not recommended but viewing is okay
  • Regular – glary; no UV protection; it’s cheap but of no value; poor viewing

That's all--please let me know if you have questions about matting and framing photography. I'm happy to help you.

JoAnn @ Black Iris Gallery