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Learn Photography

Photo Tips > Matting & Framing

Get your photographs out of the computer!

There are many ways you can display your photographs.

Display Possibilities for Work-in-progress

My students are encouraged to get their recent photographs into their lines of vision.

That is, placed on a picture rail, bulletin or magnetic board, or an unused easy chair, across from their desk.

When we live with a small collection of our photographs—we can more easily figure out what to do next—and what not to do next

Display Possibilities for Finished Work

• Plasma and LCD televisions

• Digital frames

• Framed - see below

• Picture rail


• Website - your own or use a Flickr-type service

• Portfolio box

• Photo album

• Make a book:

Book Arts Web

Bookbinding: A Tutorial

Center for Book Arts Classes

Hand Bookbindings Examples

Let's look at matting and framing in detail.

Matting & Framing

Wear White Gloves

When you purchase supplies, get a pack of white gloves to keep your photographs and mats free of fingerprints.



Measure twice—cut once.

Use Archival Materials

Use archival materials for two reasons:

1) Archival materials will not degrade your photographs.

For example, cardboards may contain acid, plastics may outgas chlorine and other damaging chemicals, and tapes and glues may migrate and discolor photographs.

2) Archival materials are reversible.

They can be removed at a later time without damaging the photographs.


Glass can be purchased in quantity.

Boxes of lites, sheets of glass, contain fifty square feet.

For example, a box of single-strength 16" x 20" glass will have 23 sheets, and a box of 11" x 14" will have 47 pieces.

Consider purchasing pre-washed glass that has sheets of paper between the lites, rather than glass that's packed with powder between the lites.

Use leather work gloves to protect your hands from cuts.

Use UV-screening glass, such as TruVue Museum Glass, or UV-screening acrylic plastic, to reduce fading.

Brillianize cleans plastic.



A window mat consists of:

1) A piece of cardboard with an opening cut into it, the window.

2) A backboard, on which a photograph is attached using photo corners or hinges.

A window mat looks good, and serves to keep the photograph away from the glass or acrylic glazing.

You have two options with window mats:

1) The window mat can overlap the photograph slightly.

2) The window mat can end before meeting the photograph, creating a border between the edge of the window and the edge of the photograph.

If you float a photograph on cardboard using hinges, without a window mat, use a shadow box frame to keep the photograph away from the glazing.

Pre-cut and custom mats are available from the suppliers listed below.

You can also cut your own mats.

Cutting Mats

Consider purchasing a table-top mat cutter, such as those made by Logan and C&H.


You can cut perfect mats with them.


Use hand mat cutters only if you're prepared to cut several mats in order to get one perfect mat.

Avoid using the various Dexter mat cutters.


Use the Logan 4000 or a similar model.


When using a hand mat cutter, use a straight-edge that's easy to hold down firmly, such as those made by Light Impressions.


A sturdy table, covered with low-pile carpet, that's the right height for bearing down on the straight edge, is optimum.

With any mat cutter, be sure to:

1) Change the blade on your mat cutter often.

2) Place scrap board under the board you're cutting to guide the blade more accurately.

An Optical Illusion

If the photograph is centered in the frame, the space under the work will appear to be too narrow, especially if the borders are under about three inches.

The bottom border should be slightly wider than the side and top borders.

The ratio of the top border to the bottom border is often around 45:55 to 40:60.

Mat Border Size Calculator

You can use the Mat Border Size Calculator to figure the border sizes.

It's an Excel spreadsheet.

Excel is part of Microsoft Office (Windows), iWork (Mac), and can also be opened with OpenOffice.




Presentation Is Important

Sloppily cut mats detract from your work.

Purchase pre-cut or custom cut mats, or if you're cutting mats yourself, throw away even the almost-perfect mats.


Use rag or 100% cotton board, which doesn't have a buffering agent, acid, or lignin (wood pulp).

Buffered board is made from lignin, which is acidic.

Calcium carbonate, an alkaline, is added to buffer or mitigate the acid.

Photo Corners

Use photo corners made from archival paper or plastic to attach your photograph to the backboard.

If the corners don't have their own adhesive, use Filmoplast SH or Tyvek tape.



Use removable archival tapes if you're going to apply the tape to a photograph, such as when hinging the photograph to a backboard without a window mat.

You can make a hinge by simply folding a piece of tape in half, adhesive side out.

Apply one half to the photograph, and the other half to the backboard.

Attaching the Window Mat to the Backboard

If the photograph is not going to framed, apply Filmoplast SH or Tyvek tape along the inside top edges of the two pieces of cardboard to make a hinge.

Barrier Board

Use Coroplast board, or the equivalent, to partially seal the photograph from the environment.

This product will also keep the backboard flatter, especially if you use 2-ply backboard, 16" x 20" or larger, rather than 4-ply.


If you're going to hang non-valuable photographs in a bathroom, use glass as the backboard.

Be sure the hooks can support the added weight.


There are many frame suppliers below.

Keep It Simple

This writer's bias is to forgo colorful mats, v-grooves cut in the mat, drawn lines, and ornate frames.


Use two hooks to reduce the need to straighten the frame periodically, and to distribute the weight.

Place bumpons, or stick-on plastic bumpers, on the bottom inside corners of the frame to protect walls, and to keep the frames hanging straight.


Using a picture rail was suggested above.

The phrase can also refer to molding or pipe mounted near the ceiling for hanging photographs using fish line and S-hooks.

Pre-painted moldings are available from home stores.

Curtain hardware can be adapted for use as a picture rail if the pipe can support the weight.

Steinway Gallery sells the materials, as well, with installation instructions.

Rejuvenation sells many styles of hooks.


American Frame

Archival Methods

Dixie Matting

Frame Destination

Graphik Dimensions

Light Impressions

M&M Distributors

NY Central Art Supply NYC

Pearl Paint NYC

Talas NYC


University Products