How to Select the Right Mat Board for your Art

Have you ever sat down to select a mat board and felt completely overwhelmed? Been confused by the many special terms and avalanche of colors? If so, you are not alone, and this article was written for you. Armed with basic information and a common sense approach, choosing the ‘right’ mat won’t be intimidating. In fact, it might even be fun.

mat board tab in framing engine

I’d like to go back to the strategy I describe in our book DIY Framing Fundamentals. When framing and matting any kind of art or photography, always start with the purpose, style and budget for your treatment.  This immediately narrows your choices to a manageable number.

Purpose is all about conservation vs. economy.  Is this treatment intended for long-term preservation of your art?  If so, choose from any of our AlphaMat collections with ArtCare technology.  If not, and what you need is an economical, polished look (e.g. for a piece you expect to sell or reframe at some point) then choose from our collection of General Purpose mat boards.

Design considerations are the next step.  Color and thickness are the two main elements here. 

Mats come in different colors, of course, but they also have different “cores,” which is the color underneath the top layer that is exposed in a thin, beveled line at the edge of the mat window after one is cut.  Some mats have the same core color as their top color (i.e. “continuous core”), while some have a white core.  This is a detail many people never notice, but it can make quite a difference in a finished treatment.

The other main mat attribute, thickness, is expressed in terms of a mat’s “ply.”

If you are going to stack up three mats, you’ll likely want the thinnest choice: 4-ply mat boards, which are 1/16” thick.  They are offered in our General Purpose, Acid Free, AlphaMat cotton rag museum board, and AlphaEssentials lines.  Some 4-ply mats have continuous core color and some have a white core.  Read the description online and choose the one that appeals to you.  White cores work well for artwork with a strong presence and for treatments with wide mat borders where the contrasting bevel functions as an important design element.  In acid-free mat collections, the bevel will remain bright white.  (White cores in the General Purpose line will yellow over time).

If you’re going for a luxurious look with a single mat, consider a 6-ply or 8-ply board.  Our 6 ply collection, AlphaMat ‘Top Mat,’ consists of six neutral-colored, conservation-quality boards measuring 3/32” thick.  Each one features a bright white core which will stay white since these mats have no acids or other impurities.

The 8-ply AlphaRags mats are extra thick, 1/8”, which is ideal for framing larger works because the stiffer board will give more structure to the treatment.

Once you’ve narrowed your sites to a single mat collection, it’s time to select a color and finish.  Start by browsing online and using our virtual framing engine to pare down your choices.  Then, to be absolutely confident, I highly recommend ordering samples before placing you order.  We will ship up to 5 2” x 4” samples for free.  We also sell complete sample sets for those who’d like to have our full collection at hand.  This is the most efficient solution for artists and other frequent framers.

mat board sample sets

Now that you know all the “insider” secrets, you’re ready to have fun selecting a mat.  Still have questions?  Either post your inquiries here or call our customer service team. We all love to help.

Like what you've learned? Here's more:
How to Create a Mat Board with Multiple Openings
A Reverse Bevel Mat Board Cut: What It Is and Why Framers Use It
Designing Single, Double, and Triple Mat Boards
Custom Framing with Mat Board: Designing with Size
White Core, Cream Core and Continuous Core Mat Board
Mat Board Terms: Reveal, Offset, Overlap, and How to Order
How Do I Order Mat Board Samples?
Did you Know: Oversize Mat Board is Now Online

AubreyK | 3/5/2014 2:52:36 PM | 6 comments
American Frame
Hi Alison,

Glad you've found them useful!
4/2/2014 10:24:43 AM

These are great tips, thank you! I have some photos I am wanting to frame and this will make it so much easier to do now
4/2/2014 10:18:17 AM

American Frame
Rotating displays are always fun- it keeps things fresh! Changing up the sizes is also a good idea.
3/10/2014 8:21:33 AM

Thanks for these tips! I have a lot of 8x10 photos of my daughters on a rotating display but I need to add some 5x7 photos that we purchased at Disneyland and had no idea how to do the mat.
3/9/2014 2:26:19 PM

American Frame

So glad you found this! If you have any questions let us know!
3/6/2014 3:36:45 PM

Janice Crespo
We are getting ready to move and we were just talking about framing some more photos for the walls and this will help us so much with planning for the frames/mats. Thank you!
3/6/2014 3:00:00 PM

About this blog

Laura Jajko

Join in and let’s bond over our love of art and framing. Here, I’ll be sharing design inspiration and decisions, twitter chat summaries, and happenings with the company, among other things. With more than 40 years of practical experience, I bring a unique perspective in a straight-forward style that I hope will spark lots of interesting and relevant dialog in our online community.

For more tutorials and articles, take a look at our other blogs -  Ask Mike or At Your Service

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