Picture Framing Tips Basic Guidelines

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Basic guidelines for picture framing. Choosing mats, backing board and glass.

Choosing colors for mats and frame style is a personal preference and depends heavily on your décor and the colors in your room. Since framing is a very expensive project it is wise to choose something that will be timeless and not become quickly dated. Keep in mind when choosing your framing application that you want to enhance the picture and not compete with it.

Most frame shops now offer conservation framing or acid free framing. You should always choose that option if your picture is something you care about or has collector value. This means that the matboard, backing board and tape are ph neutral and will not discolor and degrade your picture. It also includes UV protective glass that will prevent harmful light from fading your picture. Many frame shops no longer carry the cheaper alternative of paper mats and cardboard backing because of the damage that it does to artwork.

Independently owned frame shops are often owned by individuals who have art backgrounds and have a great amount of knowledge of materials and applications. It is wise to patronize their stores and use them as a resource when framing your artwork.

Backing Board and Mounting Options

Your backing board should be acid free foam core. You will be offered different mounting options. For fine art, original work, signed prints and photographs the standard is a hinge mount with acid free or ph neutral tape or you may use mounting corners if they will not show. The hinge mount is attached at the top of the artwork only. Under no circumstances should your picture be taped on all four corners or around the edge. Taping pictures in this manner causes ripples and wrinkles and distortion to your artwork. The other most common mounting method is a dry mount. This is done in a press with a mounting tissue between the picture and the backing board. This method is used primarily for posters. You can dry mount any artwork as long as you are aware that this will diminish the value if it is a fine art work. Even fabric and canvas can be dry mounted. It is considered permanent.

Although some framers still use corrugated cardboard as a backer board, it is not recommended. The ridges in the cardboard will eventually make an impression on your print and the high acid content will discolor the art.

Matboard Color

More often than not a light or medium tone neutral will be the best choice for your top mat. There are warm neutrals that lean toward the oranges and yellow cream colors and yellow/greens. The cool neutrals lean toward blue, blue/grey, purple, some greens and blue/greens. Even when you choose a white mat you will notice that there are cool whites and warm whites. You must lay the samples on your picture to see which ones look best. What you would typically want to avoid is bright saturated color that will draw your eye away from the picture. If you choose a double mat you can choose a complimentary or contrasting color that will show 1/8 to ½ inch of color. Avoid choosing a color for your mat that matches a small amount of that color in the picture because you want to “pick up that color”. This will actually do the opposite - it will drown that little bit of color by drawing your eye to the mat. If you want to make that little bit of color pop then you should choose a contrasting color that is opposite on the color wheel.

There are of course exceptions to the rule of thumb. Many times bright saturated colors are appropriate on children’s subjects and artwork done by children. You might want a dark forest green on a very rich landscape picture or a deep velvet brown on a wildlife picture. Suit yourself by all means and let your style be a guide but also rely on the help of the experienced framer.

Matboard Size

Once you have chosen the colors for your mat you will choose the size of the mat. Two to three inches minimum mat is a good place to start for most pictures. The larger the picture the larger mat you should choose. Even small pictures benefit from larger mats. The idea is to have enough mat around the picture that the frame does not close in the image.


Always choose UV protective glass. There are options within this category from about 50% protection all the way up to museum glass which is around 97% protection. The price varies with the quality of glass and when choosing your glass you will want to consider the value of your artwork and where it will hang.

1 comment

Aunty Ann
Posted on Jun 10, 2011