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How To Pick Colored Matboard For Photos

Updated on August 11, 2012
Choosing the right mat for photos or artwork is almost as important as the piece itself.
Choosing the right mat for photos or artwork is almost as important as the piece itself. | Source

Pick the Right Mat for Your Artwork

I do a lot of photo matting because my husband and I own our own photography business.

Matting photos (or artwork of any kind) can start to cost a lot of money and if you're in the business of trying to sell your matted photos and actually make a profit on them, you'll want to keep your costs down as much as possible.

However, photography is a form of art. The last thing you want to do with a picture is detract from the beauty of your photo by picking the wrong mat.

This applies whether it's for your own home, you're selling it to someone or giving it as a gift.

The photo or the picture "says" something but the right mat can make a photo, picture or other artwork come alive.

You can link to our website if you'd like to see more Central Oregon Photos. We're also on Facebook.

How to Pick the Right Colored Mat for your Photos

When I talk about picking the right colored matboard for your photography pieces, I'm speaking from my own experience with matted photos.

However, the suggestions that I make extend to any other forms of artwork. The ideas will be the same, whether it's a painting, a photograph or another form of artwork that needs framing.

-Important things to remember when selecting a mat:

  • Make sure the mat is the proper size for a standard frame (see table below)
  • Custom frames almost always require custom mats which need to be cut by someone
  • Think about whether you want a single mat or a double mat (doubles will always cost more money but usually have two mat colors rather than one
  • Textured mats such as suede or plaster effects for example are available but generally run about twice the price of standard matboard
  • Study your photograph, picture or artwork and decide on the primary colors within the piece--then think about colors that would enhance the piece when framed
  • Go to a framing shop or store such as Michaels where there is a large array of colored matboard and compare what each color "does" to your photograph--pick the one that appeals the most and go with that

How Do You Pick the Right Colored Mat for the Photo?

Some of the skill of selecting a mat color for a photo is just inherent. If you have a good eye for color and what goes with what, you'll have an easier time of it.

Personally, I have a rather outrageous sense of color because I don't shy away from colors that are a departure from the norm.

For instance, I have a photograph of a bee (black and yellow) on a very purple daisy with green leaves in the background. I've matted this now and sold it several different ways:

  • Hunter green mat
  • Purple mat
  • Mauve mat
  • Yellow mat
  • Golden colored mat
  • White or beige mat
  • Black mat

As you can see, all of these are completely different but people have bought the matted photo for whatever reason--they seemed to like the colored mat that I selected and thought it enhanced the photo.

Incidentally, I tried selling my photos unmatted and did not sell one photo! Even though the photos were standard sized, people want the additional color and they also want to know that they can take the matted photo home and pop it into a standard sized frame.

As another example, I have a photo of the Painted Hills of Central Oregon. The hills are a prehistoric-looking formation that reminds you of Jello molds. The colors range from deep red or burnt oranges to pale greens to deep rich greens. The effects of oxidation create black in between some of the "layers" of the hills and there's always plant life around the hills in various tones of browns, golds and yellows.

I use mainly deep green mats for these photos though I also have some in varying shades of brown, a golden butter color, an off red and rust. The rust color actually brings out the color the best. However, some people buy the green matted photos because they blend better with their decor--again, it's all a matter of color. But do all the above colors enhance the photo? Most definitely!

As I demonstrate on the video, I converted one of my favorite Smith Rock photos to a pencil sketch. I did this by running it through several programs, PhotoShop and Fotosketcher. Because of the extreme sharpness of the Smith Rock cliffs, you can get some incredibly different kinds of photo creations.

In some respects, it took out the familiar orange or red of the cliffs but it also put back some amazing lighter colors. People really like this different "sketch" of Smith Rock. I show on the video how I took the exact same 5 x 7 photo and turned it into an 8 x 10--with three completely different mats.

I used a deep green which was a double mat, then a single mat less deep green, and even a double mat of purple and white. The purple actually pulls the color in the pencil sketch really well and makes the photograph "sizzle."

Standard Sizes for Matted Photos

Photo Size
Final Size Ready for Framing
4 x 6
5 x 7
5 x 7
5 x 7
8 x 10
8 x 10
8 x 10
11 x 14
11 x 14
11 x 14
16 x 20
16 x 20
16 x 20
20 x 24
20 x 24

Black and White Mats for Photos

I do a lot of black and white photography also. I don't shoot in black and white but oftentimes I take a well shot photo and put it through Photoshop or Fotosketcher to get just the right effect.

Sometimes it's a newspaper effect, sometimes it's just a subtle addition of more blue or green to the black and white that changes it to my liking.

-How Do You Mat a Black & White Photo?

Here again, I kind of go with my eye and what my eye tells me. Sometimes people really like a white mat on a black and white photo because they feel it draws more attention to the photo.

Personally, I prefer a black mat on a black and white photo--perhaps with an inset of white if it's a double mat. I think a black mat makes the photo look elegant--and stark. That's the effect I usually am going for so it works.

That said, I also frame my black and white photos in some other kind of outrageous colors because they look really neat. I try to stay with "muted" shades so they are not too striking because I still want the focus to be on the black and white photo.

Some of my popular matboard choices for black and white photos:

  • Sage green
  • Burnt orange (very subtle)
  • Pale blue
  • Pale yellow
  • Red

I've been surprised that people do like the contrast between colored mats and the black and white photos. It could be that they are matching mats to their d├ęcor, or they simply like the effect.

Myself, I prefer a very basic, very black mat for a black and white photograph--it can have the tiniest of bevels around it but I like my black and whites to be pretty spartan.

How to Save Money Matting Your Own Photos

When you start selling photos for business, you start to think about ways to increase your profit margin.

However, even the person who's just interested in matting their own photos and hanging them at home can benefit from some of these money saving tips.

  • Check out framing stores frequently for mats on sale--I recently stocked up on 11 x 14, 8 x 10 and 5 x 7 mats that were rock bottom priced--and they came with the foamboard already cut which was another huge savings in terms of money and time
  • Purchase a mat cutter such as a Logan and cut the mats yourself--the mat cutter doesn't have to be the most expensive to do a great job
  • Buy matboard from local shops such as Michaels or frame stores or purchase on-line--you can estimate that the markup on mats is around 400%! That's quite a chunk of change
  • Browse stores frequently for readycut mats--stores like Michaels or Fred Meyer sell single and double mats and frequently have them on sale or offer substantial savings with coupons
  • If you see mats on sale and you think you can use them down the road, stock up--the money you save today will be worth it next time you need to mat a photo
  • Be liberal about color matches--pick colors that enhance your work but also keep in mind some of the basic colors that people have in their homes--for instance, I don't have any blue in my house and probably would never mat Crater Lake in blue to hang in my own home. However, it's the logical color since it's so blue so I stock up on all different shades of blue mats and do the photos for other people's tastes rather than my own
  • If you're having trouble deciding on mat colors and you do a lot of matting, the best way to learn which colors work with which mats is to invest in a sampler from one of the matboard companies--they run about $5 each and will allow you to pick your mat colors before investing in the real deal--it's also a great way to decide on colors for a double mat but in that case, by two samplers rather than one

The Right Mat for the Right Photo

In all truth, there are many possibilities when it comes to matting a photograph. I don't personally think there is only one color mat that works in all situations.

Color should be used to enhance the photo though, not be the focal point of the framing because that is really what it's all about--you're matting a photo that will be framed. Even if it's just sitting in a clear sleeve waiting to be purchased, the focal point still has to be the photograph though the use of the right colored mat will draw someone to the picture.

The nice thing about matting a photo is that if you mat it properly, you can do it over if you find the color of the matboard isn't right. Just always carefully remove the matboard and chances are, you can use it again.

Experiment with colors and photos--that is the best way to know what works with a photograph and what doesn't. If you have the pocketbook for it, try some of the textured mats.

They are simply incredible and add depth and personality to any photograph.

Most of all, just learn from your photos what makes them come alive and go with that feeling!


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    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      7 years ago from Washington

      Oh no - I'd die if I lost my work!!! I usually save it as a Word file although that gives me fits because of the formatting - but at least if the program tanks...which it's still somewhere.

      I'm doing the apprenticeship - can you tell? OMG - my head might explode from doing 24 hubs a month---if I last that long--we shall see I guess but learning a lot of stuff. Just don't want to crash and burn again so trying to keep it all in least there are no contests!

    • Crewman6 profile image


      7 years ago

      You must be right. Guys tend to be a bit foolish when we're trying to make a romantic statement. :^)

      I can't believe how fast you write- I'm gone for a few days, and come back to see you've literally exploded back onto hubpages! Great work... wish I could write that fast. I just spent 4 hours researching and writing an article, only to somehow destroy the file when I tried to post...

      Also, I checked out your site, Central Oregon Photos- Very nice work!

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      7 years ago from Washington

      Ha ha - Crewman - hilarious story and what a romantic fellow you are!!! That sounds like something Bob would do though - he actually did buy a print that we absolutely loved from a vacation we took years ago...but thinking to save money decided not to have it framed there - they would rip us off. So he took it home, took it to a frame shop and ended up paying $100 more than the place that did the print would have charged must be a guy thing~~~~ ha ha

      Glad you liked - I try to cut corners wherever I can as it costs a lot to feed my babies ya know~~~ If I don't feed them, they tend to get mad and eat my mats--and my curtains....currently working on my youngest's penchant for hillbilly decorating my house for me~

    • Crewman6 profile image


      7 years ago

      Great hub- this is a really fantastic money-saving guide. Monique once sent me to Michaels to buy a stock frame. It was a picture of her that I'd taken, and she photoshopped into a faery forest. I had them custom frame it. $500, 1/2 off sale... $250 later I came home with it framed and matted beautifully. Personally, I love the picture, and the frame. I'll not settle for second when it comes to my wife. (On the other hand, she never sent me back to Michaels for a frame.)

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      7 years ago from Washington

      Thanks for stopping in Virginia - I know - it seemed to me that people would buy the photos themselves and them mat them according to their own tastes...and save money. But not so~ Apparently they like them matted so they do not have to think about it!~ It really does make a difference too - they look much more polished and like the finished product when matted. All they have to do then is take them home and pop them into a frame...the trick there though is finding mats that you can actually afford~~~

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 

      7 years ago from United States

      Terrific information about matting. I tend to work with black and white mats for my own photos, but that is probably because I have a lot of color on my walls at home. I think your point that the mat needs to match a person's home is important. Photos really do look very different with different mat colors. I've been trying to sell some of my flower photos without mats--your comment that yours didn't sell w/o a mat is important!

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      7 years ago from Washington

      ha BJ - will have to include one~

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      7 years ago from south Florida

      I enjoyed the people-less video, Audrey, and the matboard suggestions but was looking for a photo of that purple background bee.

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      7 years ago from Washington

      Dolores - What a great story! It is funny how our kids with "handicaps" get another sense, huh? My son Pat has some great compensations for his legal blindness...I'm not sure he could help me with the matting though~~~

      Truly - it is such a ripoff - even if we hadn't decided to pursue this as a "somewhat career" I couldn't afford the professional jobs~ Bob has learned a lot about framing though too so we're pretty much set - I hope...thanks for stopping in - so good to see you!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Audrey - it's been awhile since I've stopped by to read one of your hubs. I love the video! (Voted up and tweeted) The last time I went to get a picture framed and matted, I took my daughter along and asked her to help me out. Oddly enough, she has Down Syndrome and used to have the most awful taste, but somehow has developed quite a sense of style. Well she picked out a frame and mat that were just whoah fabulous. But the old print I wanted framed cost me about $10.00 and the combination she chose would have cost over $100.00. But the difference between what she liked and what I could afford was amazing. The right mat and frame can really make a huge difference.

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      7 years ago from Washington

      JJ - thanks for stopping by~

      RT - thanks for stopping in as well~

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thanks so much for really good information and tips on picking colored mat boards for photos.

    • jjhouse profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice hub! Lots of good information that I'm sure I will refer back to often.


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