[...Continued from the previous post]
Q: How do I choose the right colour of matting to complement the image and draw the viewer's eye into the image?
A: For traditional museum-style framing, colored mats of any sort just aren't used. They're considered decorative and distracting and distinctly downmarket, suited to that sort of rural Victorian demotic decor that you might see in Country Cutesy magazine or Tchochkes and Trinkets Quarterly. I'm not saying you shouldn't do it if you want to. But many "frames" are really confections for the wall in which the "art" in the middle is really just one more element, and sometimes not even the most important element*; the modernist idea of framing (and granted, 20th-century modernism as an aesthetic movement is getting long in the tooth these days) is to dress up the photograph but not compete with it...to let it have all the attention. I've never once matted a photograph in anything but a white mat.
Of course, there are many shades of "white," from harsh, brightened, almost bluish stark white to "cream" color on the frontier of tan. I used to be, um, a wee bit fanatical about matching the mat white to the paper white. At one point, with considerable effort, I found the absolute perfect match—and within six months both the mat board and the photo paper that matched each other so perfectly were discontinued! So don't obsess. Just try a few of the available colors and see what looks best.
One warning there: be careful about the light under which you evaluate the whiteness of various whites. Frame shops might have become enlightened about archival paractices, but they're still mired in the stone age of fluorescent tubes for illumination, as much a torture of modern life as leaf-blowers. Most homes feature a mix of winter daylight, summer daylight, and incandescent light, and even the compact fluorescents infiltrating living rooms lately are color-corrected to yellow the light. Even that's changing now: the last two light bulbs I bought were LEDs. In any event, just be aware that the mat needs to look good where it's going to be hung, not just under the sickly greenish Martian glow of an office-type fluorescent.
You might also consider that matting as a standard evolved simply because traditional silver-gelatin prints can't come into contact with glass—over time, they'll stick. The purpose of the overmat is to hold the print suface away from the glass and keep the two from touching. I have an ancient family picture, oval in shape, that is stuck fast to a piece of curved glass that is, in shape, a section of an ovoid sphere. Never knew what I was supposed to do with it; the frame this weird piece of glass originally fit is long gone. But the photo is stuck fast to the glass. All I can do is keep it in a box cushioned on cotton batting.
Modern prints can be all over the place in terms of their materials, surfaces, and physical properties. I have some pigment inkjet prints on Epson Archival Matte (I don't know what they call this paper now; Epson kept changing its name for a while there) that aren't even matted. The matte surface of the inkjet paper doesn't stick to glass, so I just figured I'll risk putting it in contact with the glass. It's been a few years and it seems fine so far.
Q: Custom framing can be very expensive—should I try to do this myself? Are there kits available? Or, is it worth it to have lots of colour/matting options available and let the pros do it?
A: Absolutely try it yourself if you want to. Many readers in the previous post gave sources for framing "kits." Metal frames are very easy to assemble yourself, requiring basically a screwdriver and little in the way of craft skills, and many suppliers offer framing sections cut to order. I'd say the last thing to do yourself is matting, because cutting mats requires skill and good cutters are expensive, but some people do this too and you shouldn't be averse to trying it if you want to. There are sources for good quality pre-cut mats, although I'm not going to put in the labor to do a survey.
Plain-jane, bog-standard 20th-century modernist museum-style framed photographs chez TOP. Left over from an exhibition. These prints are actually dry-mounted, leaving a very narrow border, to rag watercolor paper, then inserted into a hinged window-mat (also called a passe-partout). Although you can't see it easily, the top one is signed in the lower right in pencil. Also, this print is very slightly bottom-weighted to create the visual impression of a mat that is exactly equal on all four sides. I should really get this picture and mat put into a better frame with better glass.
I've known do-it-yourself framers across a very broad spectrum. Some do it to pinch pennies and/or to minimize inconvenience, but some go the other way entirely—they do it themselves because they're fanatical about quality. I've even known a photographer who milled his own moldings himself, from exotic and beautiful solid woods, and assembled his wood frames prior to staining and varnishing them. They were gorgeous. We even have a regular reader here, Bron Janulis, who is a professional framewright who makes hand-carved, hand-gilded frames for oil paintings and other fine art. As you might imagine, million-dollar oil paintings don't go into "custom frames" made from stock moldings from the local frame shop. There's custom, and then there's custom.
And didn't Thomas Eakins, the 19th-century American painter, make his own frames? (Eakins was a photographer, too.)
One of the biggest reasons for not doing your own framing is, simply, volume. Or the lack thereof. I have only a handful of pictures framed in a good year; if I got all set up to frame my own, after I made my five frames for this year, what then? All dressed up and nowhere to go. One guy I know of got set up to do his own framing, then had to justify the expense of the equipment and materials by taking in work from other people. Because he wasn't great at marketing, he ended up working for very cheap. So, more or less inadvertently, he went from being an artist who wanted to frame his own work to being a cut-rate framewright toiling for low margins. No thanks. I tried to make my own sushi, too, and it was a transformative experience: I completely stopped resenting the high price of sushi and started really appreciating the artistry, skill, and knowledge of trained sushi chefs. Same with framing, for me—I know enough about framing to know I don't want to do it myself, and to appreciate the people who do it professionally.
Q: What glass options work best? I went with an anti-reflection coating option so I could see the print better. Waste of money, or the norm for prints you're proud of?
A: There are a zillion options for glazing. For standard-rate framing, many shops still use window glass, which is relatively low quality and has a distinctly green cast. Many reputable shops will have several glazing options with examples on display at various price points. At the other end of the spectrum you can buy optical glass that's multicoated like a camera lens to reduce reflections—Google "museum glass" to explore.
Note that light transmission varies with glass type. Behind poor-quality window glass, a picture will actually look darker. That's because window glass transmits less than 100% of the light passing through it. I don't know the number—it probably varies widely—but it's well under 90%. Museum glass transmits about 91–93%.
Museum glass is also very expensive. The only examples I have in my home are Denglas, framing two postcards, one from Ansel Adams and one from Helen Levitt. The only reason the postcards are framed with museum glass is that, years ago, when I framed them, they were the only things I wanted to frame that were small enough that I could afford the pricey glass!
These days, I'm starting to get my head turned by acrylics. ("Plexiglas" is a trade name for a particular brand of polymethylmethacrylate resin sheeting, not a generic material type. There are actually many different types of Plexiglas, and many other makers and suppliers of acrylic glazing.) The reason is that my real interest is not framing—my real interest is in print preservation. I'm very interested in how photographs survive through time. And for most, display conditions and inherent archival stability, while important, take a back seat to physical protection: can the photograph get dirty? Crushed? Wet? Cut? Burned up? Most photographs don't decay or fade despite loving care—they get destroyed, either deliberately or accidentally.
It's this last—accident—where acrylic really has it all over glass. Framing is thought to be a way to lovingly preserve a photograph, but actually it puts a photograph in a fair amount of peril, because frames fall, glass breaks, and broken glass damages the art. Plexi used to be a poor option, because it scratched easily and clouded quickly. But it was light, and it didn't shatter. However, acrylic glazing seems to have improved in quality quite dramatically since I was an impoverished student working part-time at a framing shop. I looked at a product called Tru-Vue Optium Museum Acrylic, which claims 99% UV protection and 97% transmission. Both numbers exceed glass. It claims to be scratch-resistant, but that I can't evaluate.
Acrylic is also a lot lighter than glass, which is why it's long been preferred for very large pieces.
• • •
I know these answers probably raise a whole lot more questions, but I'll venture to hope you got something, at least, out of the discussion. The final thing to bear in mind is that they're only my answers. And when I say "my answers," I mean they're my answers—not necessarily the best answers, and certainly not the only answers. And possibly not even entirely true and accurate answers, although I hope they are that last. As with any element of photography, it's a complex subject, assuming you are willing to get into it in depth.
*During my brief career as a framer, c. 1981 or so, it used to bug me that people would routinely spend $100 to $200 to frame a $29 poster, but would balk strenuously at paying $100 to $200 for a fine original print of a photograph. I am older now, and more resigned to human nature.
Original contents copyright 2013 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Arne Croell: "With respect to glazing, don't mix up the 'non-glare' glass with the true AR-coated glass Mike mentions. Non-glare glass has a lightly etched surface which will produce light scattering instead of a directional reflection. Non-glare glass is inert, but reduces the contrast and sharpness of the viewed print considerably, so it is not a good choice.
"In addition to 'Museum Glass' by Tru-Vue, there are similar products by Schott (Mirogard), Pilkington (Opti-View), and one or two other companies, e.g. Luxar by Hy-Tech-Glass in Switzerland or Artglass by GroGlass (I think Denglas disappeared from the market). Both Mirogard and Optiview also come in versions where two glass layers are laminated with a thin plastic layer like in a car windshield, taking care of the breakage problem. These are expensive, of course. Speaking of expensive—if you think Tru-Vue 'Museum' glass is expensive, price the 'Optium' acrylic version by the same manufacturer mentioned by Mike...."