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Saturday, 02 February 2013


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I saw the Mario Testino "In Your Face" exhibition at the Boston MFA last weekend. Framed large, it made fantastic use of anti-reflective coatings on 5' x 10' sheets of acrylic. (Which I think is as big as coated acrylic gets.) I couldn't tell what the mattes were made of, but they looked to be one piece and half an inch thick. The lighting was pairs of accurately shuttered halogen profile spotlights on each print, with careful attention paid to even residual reflections. At first my wife thought the prints were backlit transparencies. A lovely job, regardless of what you might think of celebrity photography, and much better than recent exhibitions at the International Center of Photography and MOMA in NYC.

Excellent information! The hanging photos shown are beautiful examples of exactly how it should be done.

You might want to consider an exception to classic white as the only acceptable mat color. Sometimes the field of white surrounding a picture tends to overpower its content.

The result is an apparent reduction in contrast. The image suffers.

In this instance a nonreflective black mat with a white bevel can help rather than detract.

[Well, I wouldn't do that, myself, but I should mention that Ansel Adams strongly preferred to see prints matted in white against a middle-gray wall. At least the viewing area of his home had middle gray walls, and maybe other parts of the home too, I don't know. --Mike]

I've been running primarily compact fluorescent bulbs since the early 1990s -- 20 years. And they were easily obtained in mainstream stores when I started. So it looks very bizarre to me to say they've started infiltrating living rooms "lately". But yeah, judging color under random lighting for use under different random lighting is a fool's game.

Lately, all the interest is in LED bulbs. I've got 5 or so in my house, and the last two also came from mainstream sources, not mailorder or specialty companies.

I'll encourage people to try framing themselves, if what they want is museum-type stuff. The hard part is cutting the mat, and that's not so hard (with proper tools) if you want a simple overmat that doesn't have to be accurate to better than a 32nd of an inch. Fancy multiple overmats that have to be perfect are beyond my equipment and I've never tried them.

The choice of glazing is the big issue, and I can make arguments for and against decent glass, coated optical glass, and acrylic. The one thing I will say about coated optical glass is that it's as fragile as the front element of your lenses, and I've seen a huge number of damaged samples being used to promote it at framing stores. But when it's perfect, it just disappears, it's the most remarkable effect.

"I'd say the last thing to do yourself is matting, because cutting mat board is a 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."

Very true and nothing can top a good mat cutter but a proper one will cost a ton of money. I hit on a cheap DIY alternative that has served me well for over 20 years.

It consists of a hand held Logan Mat cutter, a cheap drywall T square, a 2x4 foot piece of plywood on some rubber feet, two C clamps and a utility knife. It can handle material up to about 48" long and the whole thing comes in at under a $100.

I probably cut 20 or 30 mats a year. If I had a frame shop I would spring for a professional rig but this one cuts mats and can also cut mat board to size and I can justify the expense.



I find it interesting you use only white for matting. With darker images I prefer a black matte which makes the scene appear brighter and easier to see. A white matte around a dark subject will create a high contrast difference much like the sun behind an object. The sunlight halo surrounding the subject makes the object in the picture look darker than it should be. But it is not always the case. I am looking at a portrait of my mom I shot outside with good evening summer daylight. She is well lit but the background is darker. So a white matte was the right choice for it.

The last print I did have professionally framed ran me $600. It is a color print that is 36" square. The matte is a dark grey with a lighter gray wood frame. And it has the UV protective plexiglass. Once they were done I discovered it came out too large for the one wall spot I could put it, so the ceiling is the only other option. Sadly I have never seen the picture on display.

One question comes to mind: Do you know of anyone who mounts the framed prints up on the ceiling? Kind of Sistine Chapel thing.

[I've never seen that. In college we had a John Belushi poster on the ceiling in the legendary 401 Fayerwether at Dartmouth College, a dorm room suite with a fathomless and notorious history. My brother lives in a custom, architect-designed 1950s split-level house, and in their lower level there's a clock mounted in the ceiling. It's quite annoying to look at it--or would be, if it worked--since you need the up-down orientation to easily read a clock with hands. I'm not adventurous enough to put a framed picture on the ceiling, but I guess I wouldn't judge it until I'd seen it. --Mike]

For anyone in (or visiting) the Chicago area and interested in seeing the state-of-the-art in anti-reflective glass visit the newly-opened Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. The glass enclosures on many of the vitrines and relief cases simply vanishes.

I typically use Tru-Vue Conservation Clear glass, 14x18, which comes in a box of 29 lites (their term for sheets of glass). This typically runs about $3 per lite. I pick it up from a local glass distributor to avoid shipping costs.

It's of course important to consider glass and display lighting in one's workflow leading to the final print. I incorporate Lightroom edit and print settings that result in prints that look appropriate when framed and displayed. (When I displayed work for an exhibit last year, these settings required minor adjustment to accommodate that new environment.)

My fears about mat cutting were quickly abated after buying a Logan 650 Framers Edge cutter (deeply discounted), which came with a video that was simple to follow. After practicing on some cheap boards, it's now just part of the rather quick routine. I agree that volume should be the consideration, not the degree of difficulty.

I have access to an exceptionally good framer through my wife, who is an interior designer. When I want to have non-photographic art works framed, I use the framer. She has an impeccable "eye" and has done some exceptional work for me/us. However, when I need to frame photographic prints, I buy my materials from Frame Destination, a resource mentioned by several others. I can buy first class materials, with great service, at a price that the framer can't come close to. I have had discussions with the framer, as I would pay a bit more and give her the business, but we couldn't make it work. Also, I prefer to use 8 ply mats, which (in my experience) can't be cut properly by hand; my framer does not have a computerized mat cutter and can't work the mats.

Framing I think should match the artwork. For your standard silver-gelatin or inkjet print, metal framing seems appropriate. For alternative process prints, at least some form of wood seems to be a better match. For my Palladium prints I use a warm-tone mat overlay in a black wooden frame. Since the prints are hand-crafted, my next step is making my own frames. The journey is worth the time.

I could've sworn that was an iPad in professor Rowland 's hand.

[I hope not, because that would mean this picture's been Photoshopped and I didn't notice. You can't trust anything on the Internet! --Mike]

Consider this fair warning. In my city, there are a LOT of framing options, from mass marketers to small shops. The two big ones are the ubiquitous chains Michaels and Hobby Lobby, now joined by (oh please) Joanne Fabrics. These places have ads in the newspaper virtually every week, where the offer 50% off custom framing. I also know and have used a custom framer with but one shop in one city that frequently frames for a museum owned by the local state university and our municipal museum. Judging from his location, clientel and shop interior, you might be surprised to know that his work is generally at least hals fo the price of the chains. He tells me that the chain prices are the HIGHEST in the city, and he keeps track of things like this. There is another framer in the local arts district that is know for making good deals to artists. Shopping around is a good idea. You might just find the B&H of framers.

Oh, and thanks, Mike for noting to sign on the print, not the matte. Whoever came up with that idea was an idiot. I showed at a local gallery once where the owner said one customer wanted to know if it was OK to have my print re-framed, covering my signature, and then add her signature to the matte. I suggested that as long as I got the money, she could shove it up her you know what for all I cared.

Have you considered mounting your curved glass/photo hybrid in a box, Joseph Cornell style, or at any rate on a suitably heavy backing material with a.. forget what the call it.. a mat with standoffs to make essentially a Cornell box.

It might be quite a nice piece!

I've found that color photographs look best with a cream white mat, and black and white with a pure white mat.

Good mat cutters aren't really that expensive. The low-end models from Logan and Alto are under $100, and the old standby handheld Dexter you use with a straightedge is about $30. The more expensive units really only help you make more mats more quickly. They're pretty foolproof to use too. Where a mat cutter more than pays for itself is how it lets you make your own mats in whatever aspect ratio and size you need. Most pre-cut mats or frames kits will have an 8x10 opening, or maybe 11x14, and cropping your photo isn't always what you want to do. Pre-cut mats in 3:2 or 4:3 or 1:1 squares are rare. Custom-cut mats get expensive quickly. Full sheets of board, in whatever color of white you prefer, and whatever level of archival-ness you can afford, can be had for the price of a couple of custom-cut mats.

Inkjet prints will bond quite thoroughly to glass in humid environments.

[Can't generalize, as there are so many different papers and surfaces for "inkjet prints." Some might, some don't. That's why I specified ink type and paper brand when I mentioned it. Experiment! --Mike]

Mike have you ever tried a black mat? I agree about colored mats, but with the right print (and with the right wall shade/color) I find black mats can be very effective.

Quite popular over here, putting matte inkjet prints with a wide border straight into the frame without a mat.

I really hate the idea of glazing over photographs. Makes it really hard to actually view and appreciate the hard work invested in getting a print to look just right on a specific paper.

I would love to find some better alternative - eg. some kind of over-coat or lamination -- whether hot press/cold press/spray/coat/etc.etc. Something that truly yields a more protected and long lived print, and would also actually add to the overall esthetic of the print without detracting from its view-ability.

Would very much appreciate hearing what others have settled on for their own work. Also any discussion on pros/cons of current alternatives to glazing.

I mostly want to add to print longevity/protection while introducing my own unique "look" for a specific image.

Seems like an obvious next step for the printer manufacturers -- offering some type of built-in over-coat feature. Is this too much to ask?

I have a number of classic black-and-white prints, and they are in black frames with white (-ish) mats. However, I also have a large color print by Ctein, which is about three feet from my left ear as I type this, and that is in a black frame with a raw-linen mat, which is distinctly not white. I don't have any, but I've seen in museums color photos with white mats, and the mats seemed to make the colors pop. The problem is, you don't always want the colors to pop. If you're doing subtle, English-style landscapes largely in tones of green and gray, then I think most white mats would not be doing you any favors, and a colored mat might be much more appropriate.

There's custom, and then there's bespoke. A word seen more often in the UK than in the US but it seems apropos in this case.

The frame of Henry Augustus Rowland painting is excellent. The geeky physisict in me is thinking "Rowland Circle" and "Rowland Sphere" (and trying to remember what exactly they are from a crystallography lecture years ago) but I suspect that he's holding a diffraction grating in his hand (not a pigment print of a spectrum as it may initially appear).

As previous commenter Dennis stated- most major photo exhibits today are not mounted and framed in the floating, white matted, "classic," Nielsen frame style pictured above. When I was participating in a group show some six years ago, I was taken aback when my wife said, "You're not using those (Nielsen) frames from the seventies, are you?"

This is a style of framing most frequently associated with photographs usually not much bigger than 16x20 (and usually B&W). I think the last major exhibit I saw framed like this (matted up to the picture itself) was the retrospective on Henry Wessel at SFMOMA a couple of years back. But many photographers now choose a minimalist black, wooden frame.

Most major exhibits today feature monster sized color prints framed in floating (different from what we've been describing here) or box frames. Their gargantuan size leave little room for mats. But what's truly maddening is that the overhead gallery lighting hits the upper lip of these box frames and cast a dark, well defined shadow across the upper part of the print! Here we have major artists who no doubt obsess about and incorporate the very finest and costliest printing and presentation techniques imaginable- yet have no qualms whatsoever about having a harsh artificial black band obscure the tops of their images. Unfathomable!

Mike, Michael and Paula actually sell archival mat board, and offer a service cutting windows to order.

I have not used them, because I cut my own, but for those who don't their service could be very helpful. Clearly their attention to detail would show through here.

[Well, I'll be. I had clean forgotten that, if I ever knew it.

Here's the link. --Mike]


I must object to the use of "colour" throughout this series. I know you are close to Canada, but we do have exceptionalism standards to maintain!

[The questions are quotes, and site style is to preserve regional spelling when quoting. You didn't see a "colour" in one of my answers, did you? --Mike the Ed.]

Another excellent and useful post. Thanks, Mike.

I do my framing at home. It took me years to get it right but I am proud of it.
I use black frames and white mats for all my work except one color print of a grafiti, which I mat in black with a silver frame.

What a fantastic article/summary-- Thanks Mike, I never knew there was so much to it. Too complicated for a DIY effort, -I'll cultivate my local framing shop with much more knowledge and appreciation of their abilities. I've started getting some of my forty years of pix together to show our grandchildren. They'll grace the walls of our much emptier home and create some wonderful conversations as they grow older. I'm now ready in my life to show off a bit. I don't have many pictorial pix of mine up on the walls- lots of family snapshots in collages on corkboards, but not much personal favourite stuff. "It's time." To coin a very famous Australian phrase.That'll go over the heads of all but older Australian readers, of whom I know you have many!!!!

I have the good fortune to be married to an exceedingly skillful mat-cutter. When I first started making large inkjet prints, the cost of having them matted & framed quickly reared its ugly head, as did the fact that many of my prints are non-standard sizes. My choices were to spend a great deal on custom framing, or make do with a standard size that *almost* worked. My wife quickly taught herself mat-cutting and framing, solving my dilemma.

If you're willing to devote the time and effort to learning how to use it, one of the better Logan mat-cutting gadgets is perfectly adequate. The main thing is to always use a very sharp blade; they're much cheaper than a new mat-board. The 'carpenter's rule'—measure twice, cut once—very much applies.

At least for us, the biggest benefit of cutting our own mats is the freedom to properly frame non-standard print sizes. The panoramics I like to print don't really match anything off the shelf. And each one seems to need a slightly different margin and bottom-weighting to look right.

I have defaulted to regular window glass for most of my framing. Every acrylic/plexi I have tried has been a ferocious dust magnet, and it seems almost impossible to get the darn thing framed up without several obvious dust specks over important dark areas on the print. Drove me crazy. Printing a bit 'warm' seems to compensate fairly well for the green bias of window glass, and adequate lighting from above seems to address the mediocre light transmission.

Very large prints, like 24" x 72" panos, I have mounted onto boards. They're just too heavy when framed behind glass.

Epson Archival Matte is still called that in Europe - but apparently they couldn't prove it was archival well enough to use that name in the USA.

Epson Enhanced Matte from Japan appears to be identical.

Thanks for the blurb, Mike!

As Ken says, the newer A-R glazing is amazing stuff; enough that I'm saving my nickels and dimes for museum glass for my own work.

For those not wanting an over mat, there are archival products, "spacers", that separate the glazing from the art work, hidden by the lip of the frame rabbett.

The mat material used by Micheal Smith at Lodima Archival, from Nielson-Bainbridge is well liked by framers at The Picture Framers Grumble: http://thegrumble.com
Waiting to hear what Hugh Phibbs, a Grumbler, and preservation expert at the National Gallery, D.C. has to say.



American frame does it all,great site.They carry very modern wood and metal molding,cheap to 8 ply mat board,and cut to size plexiglas.They will put together great packages all cut to size.
Also try Westfall Framing on line great wood to finish DIY.
Been framing my own for 40 years these folks are great.

This series on framing and matting is very useful indeed for both DIYers and "outsourcers". Thanks, Mike!

There's just one thing which isn't clear as a bell: hinge. A google search of "passe-partout" didn't help much.

I take this to mean that only one long(?) side of the windowed overmat is attached to the "undermat" with a folded tape or "hinge" (sticky side out). The hinged side correspond to the spine of a book and the print and its backing is then inserted in between (the windowed overmat and the undermat).

There is no corresponding tape or adhesive ("bolt" or "catch") on the opposite site of the hinged tapes. Only the pressure of the backing board and the glazing keeps the picture centered on its window (like a flower pressed between pages of a book†).

Is this correct?

†I know this is anathema to bibliophiles. Sorry for the unfortunate example, Mike.

I've played around with making my own frames, but since framing is a natural adjunct to my woodworking, and I have a nice woodshop out back, it's little trouble.

It's common to use a linen tape hinge to attach the back of the print to the backing board. It's a compromise between keeping things in place, and "perfect" archival technique.

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