Custom Framing with Mat Board: Designing with Size

Inventive use of proportion is one of the most reliable ways to create distinctive, unexpected custom framing treatments. While the frame itself is one material to consider when manipulating size and scale, the most versatile and often dramatic impact can be achieved with mats.

As many of you know, mat boards serve two distinct purposes: protective and aesthetic. Mats protect artwork by creating a gap between the art and the glazing. This allows air to circulate and ensures the art won’t adhere to the acrylic. If the mat is conservation-quality, it will also absorb acids emitted from the artwork’s substrate (e.g., paper), and thereby slow down or prevent breakdown.

The aesthetic role a mat plays has two elements: color and proportion. Even with a single mat board in a neutral color, the use of unusual proportions can significantly change the way artwork is perceived. For that reason, working with mats is the most exciting part of the design process for me.

To achieve striking results on your next project, keep these size guidelines in mind:

• Make sure the width of the mat border and the width of the frame are different by at least ½˝. This holds true no matter how wide your mat border is. When a mat border and frame are too similarly proportioned, it creates a visual redundancy that undermines the treatment’s overall grace.

• Extra wide mat borders lend art visual "breathing room ." The art is separated more from its frame and adjacent objects, which allows it to be the central focus of the viewer’s attention. Such borders are especially attractive with minimalist, contemporary art and frame profiles.

Contemporary Entry by London Interior Designers & Decorators Boscolo Interior Design

• Wide mat borders paired with a simple metal frame can make a big statement on a small budget.

• Drop the bottom border. A “ drop bottom" is a mat border which is wider than its complementary top border. In traditional framing, making the bottom border ½˝ wider than the top border visually centers the art on the wall. In contemporary framing, dropped bottoms can be as large as double or triple the side and top borders. This is a particularly useful, chic approach if you’re signing the mat, as many artists do.


• Transform images of different sizes into a set. This picture speaks for itself, as seen at Art Basel Miami , 2013.


• Make small images appear larger. Take a 4˝x4˝ and make it a 16˝x16˝ or a 20˝x20˝.

• Play with variations in length and width. Sometimes it is interesting to make a panoramic into a square format, or vice versa.


• Vary the top, side and bottom dimensions dramatically. How about 2˝ wide side borders, a 4˝ top and a 6˝ bottom? Sound strange? It might be, but occasionally the strange solution is the right choice. See how this design works, even in traditional decor.

As you can see, there are many ways to approach mat proportion design. Personally, I believe it’s a critical element in any treatment. Even the finest materials and the most striking color combinations will fail if the mat’s proportions aren’t pleasing. The good news is your instincts, combined with the tips above, make a great guide for your next design adventure. Show us what you come up with in the comments here. We’d love to see it.

Interested in learning more? Take a look at our other posts:

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
How to Select the Right Mat Board for your Art
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 | 3/10/2014 3:10:28 PM | 0 comments
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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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