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How to Choose Mat Colours

How to Choose Mat Colors How to Choose Mat Colors for your Pictures - Part 1

There are several simple techniques that professionals in the art and framing industry use to be able to shorten the time it takes to choose the exact right mat color or mat combinations for matting and framing pictures.

One very important rule to remember is – Mat (and frame) your picture to suit the picture – not the wall, the furnishings or décor. That is not to say that taking those things into consideration is not important – particularly if you are working on complimenting a room or design – but that the first consideration is that your choice will enhance the image. This of course also allows you to easily move a picture from one room or design environment to another – knowing that your framing will always enhance the image.

A second but key rule is that all framing and matting should have one goal – to draw the viewer’s eye to the focus of the image being presented. To that end – choices of mats and frames are made that build on this principle.

The techniques for matting are not difficult to learn and I will provide some of the basics in the following parts.

How to Choose Mat Colors for your Pictures - Part 2

1. Single Mat Choices

When choosing a single mat to go around your images you need to realize that people looking at the picture will have their eyes drawn to the most visually stimulating area – usually the area of the picture with the greatest color, contrast or dominant focal point. If you choose a mat that overshadows this area, then you will hurt the presentation of the picture – no matter how well the mat color matches your wall or furnishings.

Therefore – if choosing a single mat – use a color that compliments the image, does not fight with the colors in the image – or overshadow them, and allows you to step back from the picture and still see your eye drawn in to the focal point.

Great choices for single mats are often simple clean colors such as whites, creams, very light greens, blues and grays.

How to Choose Mat Colors for your Pictures - Part 3

2. Double Mat Choices

With double mats – you have many more options available to you for your second or inner mat. While the outside mat should adhere to the rules for single mat choices – because you are adding an accent color beneath – you can often allow the outer mat to be a bit stronger since the eye will naturally be drawn to the inner accent color.

The most important thing of course is that the inner accent color should now help continue your eye’s travel on to the focal point of the picture. That is why choosing the inner mat color is most critical with double mats.

One rule of thumb is to step back from the picture and decide on color order. For example: What is the dominant color, what is second, third and fourth. Often a dominant color is not obvious until you notice the overall affect. Ideally you do NOT want to use this dominant color as your accent. Instead now look at the secondary or tertiary colors and see how they relate to the focus of the image. Choose one of those colors as your accent or second mat color. That way your eye will be drawn from the outer mat to the accent to the focal point of the picture.

How to Choose Mat Colors for your Pictures - Part 4

3. Mat Border Sizes

A last but key element in choosing mats is to determine how wide the mat borders should be around your image. Once again the rule of matting to draw your eye to the focus of the picture can be your guide. Too wide and all you see is mat. Too narrow and the mat will seem cheap or unnecessary. Some professionals have a comfort level with a simple percentage – i.e. 15 - 20% of the smallest dimension of the image should be the mat border. Using this rule an image that is 24” x 30” would have a minimum mat border of 3.6” and a maximum of 4.8” – probably rounded off to 5”. This would provide enough weight around the image without taking away from the picture.

Others are less exacting and often through experience have found certain border sizes to work well with certain image sizes. For example – they always like a 2.5” border on images that are between 8” x 10” and 9’ x 12” and a 3.5” border on images that are larger than 9” x 12” - say up to around 16” x 20”.

There is no set rule here. In fact some photographers with strikingly dramatic photos often will mat their gallery images with huge borders that serve to isolate the image from the entire wall and region around it and allow the viewer to focus more clearly. Experiment with what works best for you – but keep in mind that your goal is to get the viewer to look at the image – not the mat.

Want to practice matting for free? Try the MatoMatic framing tool at You can upload your own picture or choose from one of their gallery images and try different mats and mat combinations, frames and even background wall colors while you design your own projects.

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