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What Is A Mat? (and why you should care…)

What Is A Mat?

A mat is the white space between your photograph and the frame. Most commonly you would think of a mat as the thick white paper between your photograph in the frame, but a little later I’m going to let you in on how I mat my photographs digitally.

Typically you would take your photographic print, attach it behind the opening in your mat with some framing tape and then place your matted print inside your frame.

So that’s what a mat is, but why should you care?

There’s a couple of reasons.

Esthetically, the mat gives your photograph some room to breathe.

If you place an 8”x10” photograph into an 8”x10” frame, there’s going to be something not quite right that you just can’t put your finger on. At the risk of sounding overly artsy… it’s the feeling that the people in your photograph are somehow trapped.

Try it, you’ll see what I mean.

But if you take the same photograph, mat it to 11”x14” and put it into an 11”x14” frame, your eye will be drawn to the subject of your photograph in a far more pleasing way.

This doesn’t just apply to professional photographs, any photograph you frame in your home will benefit from a mat. (Side note: the exception to this rule is if you have an ultra-modern home and you want to print your portraits big –  think 30”x40” – and frame them with a thin metal frame. If that’s you, call me.)

There’s a practical reason for matting your photographs as well.

If you frame a photograph with no mat, your photograph will be directly in contact with the glass of your frame. Any moisture or condensation that develops on the inside of the glass (yes, it does happen) will transfer directly to your photograph, causing it to degrade.

A mat physically separates your photograph from the glass; the mat is touching the glass, not your photograph.

One last thing about the mats that come with the frames you buy at your local home retailer or craft store.

The colour of those mats generally isn’t that great. I don’t why know all frames don’t come with a bright warm white mat, but they don’t. Generally they’re yellow and dingy, and a yellow and dingy mat won’t do anything to compliment your photograph.

And unless specifically indicated, the mat that comes with that frame you bought likely isn’t acid-free.

While the mat serves as a physical separation between your photograph and the glass to prevent damage to your photograph, if that mat isn’t made from acid-free paper, the mat itself is going to cause your photograph to deteriorate over time.

Think back to those magnetic photo albums from 20 years ago where you peeled back the clear cellophane layer and placed the photograph onto the corrugated, sticky, cardboard page. If you pull out one of those albums today, you’ll see your photographs are all yellow and faded. That’s thanks to the acid in those pages..

My Favourite Way To Mat Photographs

We’ve covered what a mat is and why you should care but I haven’t yet told you my favourite way to mat photographs… digitally.

A digital mat is when the actual photograph is printed with a white border the size of a traditional mat. So instead of printing my photograph as an 8”x10” print, in my editing program I add a 1-1/2” white border on the top and bottom and a 2” border on the left and right sides, print it at 11”x14” and have my professional lab mount it onto cardstock and coat it with a protective covering.

Why, you ask? Framing your photographs without glass is a contemporary way to display family portraits in your home and can elevate your portraits to true works of art.

[bctt tweet=”Framing without glass is a contemporary way to display family portraits in your home.”]

Normally you need the glass from your frame to protect your photograph from dust, fingerprints and exposure to sunlight. But the protective coating I have added to my prints eliminates the need for the glass in the frame.

Any questions about matting? Comment below, I’m happy to help.

At Jenn Di Spirito Photography we offer both the more traditional un-matted prints and, of course, the digitally matted prints I love so much, complete with mounting and protective coating.

To find out more about how to get one of our contemporary wall galleries for your home, read more about our family session experience and then request your copy of our Jenn Di Spirito Photography Product Guide.


    1. Hi Delores, thanks! I’m not sure I understand your question. I always use frames when I’m displaying photographs but there are options if you want to go frameless such as canvas or using Velcro tabs to hang mounted prints. If I misunderstood, let me know!

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