Matting Art – What Matters and Why

By | 11:30 AM
Matting is more than just reduction of white space around a painting giving the artwork appropriate presentation. It is also key in preservation.

see more at www.tanyadavisart.com
Matting example, artwork by permission of T. Davis


A mat is a border used to enhance and protect artwork.  If you are framing a work on paper (watercolor, pastel, drawing, etc.) you need to protect the front of the artwork with a piece of glass. Oil and acrylic paintings do not need glass in front of them.  It is these framed works that should also be matted so as to not end up sticking to the glass.

Humidity always has an effect on paper, causing it to expand and contract. If paper comes in contact with too much moisture, tide lines or even mold can develop.  On the other hand, if paper becomes too dry, the fibers become brittle and could crack and tear. Matboard separates the artwork from the glass and protects it from direct contact with moisture. When matting, it is important to use acid-free matboard to prevent acid-burn which can cause yellowing in artwork.  You should only use a mat window and back board made of 100% rag board or the lignin-free, alkaline-buffered mat board especially for art preservation.

Over time due to UV light and pollutants in the air, both standard and neutralized matboard will return to its acidic state, turning yellow to brown. It should not be used with any work of monetary or sentimental value.  Museum quality matboards are:

  • 100% rag board is made from cotton and therefore contains no acidic wood lignin. Use for fine art, signed prints and needle art.
  • 100% Alpha Cellulose is matboard made from wood fibers that have been pulped extensively and chemically purified to remove lignins and other acid-causing materials to make it acid-free, then buffered for an alkaline reserve to protect against airborne contaminants.  Safe for fine art and signed prints.
  • NONBUFFERED 100% RAG BOARD is a special rag board made without buffering agents. Use it for certain types of photographs (albumen, dye transfer and chromogenic prints) and textiles (silk and wool) because buffering in regular rag board could react to the acidic dyes used in these textiles and processes, altering coloration.
see more at www.tanyadavisart.com
Art Print, matted and framed.
Deco Steam Horse Copyright Tanya Davis 2012

The mounting mat acts as an anchor for precise positioning of the picture.  Use an archival masking tape, or better yet, an acid-free linen tape. Homemade starch paste is the choice of conservators; it is even better than the commercial tapes marketed as archival. Attach artwork to the back mat with high-quality hinges made of Japanese paper.  These hinges are adhered to the back of the artwork and to the mount board with either rice or wheat starch paste. Some preservationists like to use methyl cellulose paste also. All of these pastes are reversible, meaning they can be removed without damaging the art. 

A primary characteristic of hinge paper is that is must be weaker than the paper support that is to be hinged. This means that under stress, the hinge should tear before the artwork would. As a final step an additional layer of sturdy, lignin-free cardboard should be placed on the back of the frame. The back board is typically held in place by glazier points or brads. Foamcore may be used for a lighter frame package.

Some alternative mounting methods are covered in Mounting Paper Artwork - No Hinges Required





© Rebecca H Knight
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