Choosing Mat Board: The Definitive Guide

 Choosing Mat Board_ The Definitive Guide

Matboard is an integral part of framing. For appropriate framing, it is better to add a mat board. Most standard frames you will find in stores do not include a mat board in their packaging. This gives room for the framed artwork to lay on the glazing, which results in permanent damage. However, there is more to matboard than just separating the art from the glazing.

What is a Matboard?

Matboard is the board sitting in between your art and the glass frame. It is on top of the art and under the glazing. It serves two purposes. For one, they help enhance the presentation of the art. The other purpose they serve is to offer protection to your artwork.
In enhancing the presentation, mat boards offer a compelling vision that draws the eyes to the art. This effect is achieved because of the strong border that they provide around the artwork. They come in a variety of colors, but you will mostly see them as cream or white. With the color options available to you, you can use any colored mat board of choice to complement your artwork.

The protection that the mat board provides is in more than a single way. Its most important function is the separation between the artwork and the art that it offers. Although the mat board helps in securing the artwork, it can also pose problems of its own. If certain materials come in contact with the paper and photographic chemicals, it results in brittleness, fading, and yellowing of the artwork. Ensure that you have the right quality material when framing for the long term.

There are numerous options to choose from when choosing a mat board. They come in different quality, colors, and styles. Selecting the right mat board for your artwork can get overwhelming because of its availability in numerous options.

How is Mat Board Made?

How is Mat Board Made_

Matboard often comprises two sheets of paper: a face paper and a core. The face paper is located on the face of the mat board. They can be pigmented or dyed. The core, on the other hand, is the main material used in making the mat board. The core is often beveled, making the core visible when the mat board is cut. It is for his reason that some matboards are available with a core and a colored core.

Types of Mat Board Materials

Matboard materials are of three types; they are cotton rag, alpha-cellulose, and wood pulp. The highest quality material format board is the cotton rag. Crescent RagMat is a cotton mat board that still contains face paper. Other matboards that are completely cotton rag include RagMat Museum and Nielsen Alpharag.

An alpha-cellulose mat board is made with paper pulp that has already been processed. This matboard is considered suitable if you are framing for the long term. However, its standard does not often meet what is required at the museum.

Wood pulp is also called paper mat board. It has the widest variety of colors, and it is the least expensive of all. The wood pulp mat board is often used in projects where you do not need to preserve the art or when it is for temporary framing.

When You Should Mat Your Picture

When You Should Mat Your Picture

Matting your picture should be done at the time you are framing it. You can damage your artwork if you frame it without matting. However, you do not need matting all the time. You may enjoy the aesthetics of an unmatted picture, or the picture does not allow matting. To ensure that the original picture does not get damaged in these cases, get a print of the picture you are framing.

How to Choose Mat Board Colors

The most popular colors of mat board you will see are cream and white. This is because they offer a more refined and simpler style. White matboards are often paired with black metal frames in gallery exhibits. This helps to enhance the consistency of the theme without taking anything away from the art.

You will often find the widest variety of color options with paper-based mat boards. This is simply due to the reason that they are not meant for long-term use. Alpha-cellulose is suited for long-term framing and is easily available in nearly 30 colors.

A Note on Mat Board Terminology

Some terminologies used in matboards are assumed to identify quality. However, there is no agreement on what these terms mean. But it is recommended by the Library of Congress that for your mat board to meet the “preservation matting and framing” standard, it must attain the following:

  • Be at least 4-ply
  • If to be used for framing photographs, it must pass the “Pass the Photographic Activity Test (PAT)”
  • Should be slightly alkaline or pH neutral
  • Must be a type which is lignin-free wood pulp stock or made of 100% cotton rag

Mat Board Thickness

When selecting a mat board, its thickness should be considered. The impact of a thicker mat board will be more visible because it also serves to border your artwork. Using a thicker mat board will offer more support to your artwork. Also, the field of depth that it gives your artwork will be greater.

Matboard is usually measured in ply. Here is how thick various matboards are.

  • 2-Ply Mat Board: This is a half-sheet mat board with a thickness that is about 0.020 – 0.035 inches.
  • 4-Ply Mat Board: This is a standard sheet having a thickness of about 0.040 – 0.07 inches.
  • 8-Ply Mat Board: This is a two-sheet mat board with a thickness that is approximately 0.080 – 0.14 inches.
  • 16-Ply Mat Board: This is a four-sheet mat board with a thickness that is about 0.160 – 0.28 inches.

Which Mat Board Should You Choose?

The most economical choice to choose is the paper mat board. The variety of colors available for the paper matboards is the widest. Alpha-cellulose mat board also comes in wide color options but is more suited for combining archival materials. A matboard of museum quality such as Crescent RagMat is suitable if you want to secure your artwork.


Mat boards are required for proper framing. Before choosing one to use, know that the thicker that matboard, the better. You must also be sure if it is acid-free or not and also be conscious of its core (white, cream, or colored). You will get a high-quality mat board if you keep these things in mind.

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