fine prints in your digital darkroom
updated Feb. 18, 2004
can't blame anyone for sending out prints for matting and framing. It's
tedious and time-consuming. But I'm a fanatic; I've gotten good at it and
I like saving money, so I do it myself. The more you do the easier it gets.
Prints mounted for display should be overmatted, particularly if they
are to be framed behind glass. An overmat prevents the print from pressing
against the glass-- very important for longevity. I like simple mat design--
a legacy from a Minor White show I saw at least thirty years ago. I'm not
fond of elaborate mats, particularly when they disguise mediocre prints.
Besides, they require extra work. I purchase most of my supplies from Presto
Hendersonville, North Carolina. Here are some of the supplies I get from
Other supplies include a mat cutter, extra blades and a diamond sharpener
from a local hardware store; a cleaning brush (8 inches of soft 2 inch
bristles) and custom cut glass from a local art supply shop. A T-square
with a true 90 degree angle is indispensable. If you're comfortable cutting
glass yourself, you can save a lot of money purchasing old frames at garage
sales. I won't go into details of how I measure and cut mats because it's
too tedious and individual. You have to find your own way through experiment
and practice. Here are some matting tips:
Mat Cutting System. Includes a 10"x36" base, a 36" cutting guide, and a
45 degree bevel cutter. Cuts up to 8" borders, and does lots of fancy things
I don't need. A great choice for a nonprofessional framer. (Professional
machines are designed for high speed and volume; they don't really make
better mats.) I recommend purchasing extra blades: sharp blades are very
important for making clean cuts. The instruction manual is confusing. It
was easier to figure out the 4505 myself. Border widths are set in steps
of 1/8 inch. I use thin strips of matboard between the cutting guide and
cutter for fine adjustments.
Aluminum frames. I like the 12 Frosted silver finish because it's simple
and unobtrusive. Sold in pairs 8" to 40" in length. Very nice looking and
Mat board (for overmats). CR-1153
white 4 Ply (.060) 32"x 40" Rag Mat 100. 100% cotton. Meets archival standards.
Boards from Superior Archival
Materials meet even more stringent standards: they actively absorb
pollutants from the air.
Foam board (backing; goes behind the prints). 1/8
inch acid free 32"x40". Mat board is an OK backing for portfolios,
where it takes up less space, but it doesn't work as well for framed prints.
linen tape for mounting prints by taping the top of the back of the
print to the overmat. Prints are taped only on top; they hang free.
I may check out
Photo Mount adhesive spray, which is supposed to be safe for photographs
and repositionable for five minutes. Dry mounting is a more permanent,
archival solution for pigment-based prints. The heat apparently discolors
If you print on Resin Coated (RC) paper-- most any paper with a glossy
or semigloss surface and a "plastic" feel-- you must make sure the print
thoroughly dry before mounting it behind glass. It it is not
dry, the glass may become fogged due to outgassing of solvents in the inks.
This is rarely a problem here in dry Colorado, where 24 hours drying should
be sufficient, but can be a significant problem in humid climates, where
accelerated drying (with a hair dryer, very carefully) may be necessary.
To learn more, check out Inkjetart.com.
Mat size: Prints should have adequate breathing room. For letter size (8
1/2x11 inch) prints I like 14x17 inch mats. For A3 (11.7x16.5 inch) prints
I'm settling on 18x22. 20x24 seems a little large. For Super B (also called
Super A3; 13x19 inches; the largest the Epson 1270 and 200P can print),
20x24 is a good size. For vertically (portrait) oriented prints, slightly
longer formats (14x18, 18x23, 20x26, etc.) may work better. Mat and foam
board come in 32x40 inch sheets, which makes some waste inevitable. Lately
I've been doing letter and A3 prints. By cutting the 40 inch side at 18
inches, I can get two 18x22's and one 14x17 with minimal waste.
The bottom border should be larger than the top by 1/4 to 1/2 inch; sometimes
more (another aesthetic decision).
Make sure your mat knife is very sharp. Replace blades frequently. I purchased
a small diamond sharpener from a local hardware store, and I sharpen the
blade before each cut. Nice ritual; makes me feel good.
Use a piece of sacrificial scrap mat board under the board you're cutting.
This helps keep the blade sharp. You'll have scrap; it's unavoidable.
Keep the work area clean-- use the cleaning brush frequently. It's particularly
important during framing.
Dale Cotton has written a very nice page, Matting
and Framing Crash Course for the Amateur Photographer, that differs
in equipment and details.
Superior Archival Materials
sells mat board, foam board and storage cases that provide better protection
than standard acid-free materials.
Impressions sells custom
cut mats. The savings in time may well justify the modest added cost.
Paper Mart is an excellent source
of boxes for mailing prints. I use their Five Panel Folders as tubes for
maling large prints (rolled up). Their 0.080 inch thick tubes look excellent.
Uline has some particularly nice
for shipping matted prints from 20x24 inches to 26x38 inches. Also
Stayflats®mailers look very nice for unmounted prints (much cheaper
than Office Depot mailers). Thanks, Don
and text copyright (C) 2000-2013 by Norman Koren. Norman Koren lives
in Boulder, Colorado, where he worked in developing magnetic recording
technology for high capacity data storage systems until 2001. Since 2003 most of his time has been devoted to the development of Imatest. He has been involved with photography since 1964.