Choosing a mat color - George Purvis Photography

Choosing a mat color

Photographic art framed with a cover of glass or acrylic requires a mat to separate the photograph from the cover because art work that touches the cover will eventually stick to it and be damaged. In addition to protecting art, a mat of the right color and texture can enhance its beauty. 

To see how mats affect a photograph, click on the images on the right and enter a gallery where a photograph of a full moon setting at sunrise is displayed matted in different colors and textures. Click through the images to see the changes.

Which do you prefer?

Mats are available in hundreds of colors and textures like the mats from this link at  Crescent.

Even with hundreds of mat colors, it is rare to find a mat that ideally matches key colors in the art, because those key colors can be any of the 24 million different possible colors.Thus, in spite of the  hundreds of mat choices, it's difficult to choose the mat color.

One choice is based on the often quoted phrase "white is safe". That's especially true with black and white pictures.  But notice just how many different white mats there are! With over 30 different white mats, we're still left with hard choices.

So how do you choose the right mat for an image?

Here's a list of guidelines to help you choose the right mat:

    1. When displaying many photos together, consider using the same mat color for all of the photographs so that the photos are only competing with other photos for attention instead of both other photos and other mats.

    2. To increase the color depth and pop of a photograph, choose a mat that is somewhat lighter than the darkest color or somewhat darker than the lightest color. The dark mat will have the effect of making the darks in the image seem even darker while the light might will make the highlights appear even lighter and whiter.

    3. Mats that match the color of the wall on which the wall art is hung de-emphasize the mat and encourage  focus on the art.

    4. Color images work well on very dark neutral mats. No mat is perfectly black. In addition, textured surfaces on dark mats tend to scatter light making the mat appear lighter.

    5. Dark mats are subject to fading over time when exposed to light. The fading is not as obvious in a light mat, although light mats may tend to yellow over many years.

    6. Some say that "White is safest" when choosing a mat. With over 30 different shades of white mats available, choose the mat that reflects the dominant color. For example, if the dominant color is blue, choose a grayish white. If the image is soft pastels, choose a soft white, not a brilliant white mat.

    7. Consider the psychological effects of colors when choosing a mat. Green and blue are peaceful; red, orange and yellow are warning. If the art intends to alarm the viewer, use an alarming color or tint in the mat choice.

    8. When evaluating mats on a computer or phone screen, be aware that nearly black mats often appear lighter on the screen than when framed under glass. Also, if you see a black or grey mat that appears to have a tint, be cautious. Your screen may have a color cast and that may affect the appearance of all the art that you see on screen. In other words, what you see on the screen is different in tint from what you see when holding the mat or the art. 

    9. When choosing a white mat, look at the color of the paper or canvas the image is printed on. The paper or canvas color is the brightest white that could appear in the image. If your white mat is brighter, then the picture will look more subdued when matted. Usually, pictures look best when the brightest white in the image is brighter than a surrounding white mat.

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