How Large Should a Frame Mat Be?

Choosing the right frame mat is just as important to the complete framed look as choosing the frame itself. Choosing the material of your mat is important to art preservation, but things like mat color, how many mats, and how large the mat is have a major impact on the aesthetic of your framed art.

One of the most common questions from DIY framers is how large should the mat border be? While we can make suggestions, the answer is – however big you want. Adjusting the size of the visible mat will dramatically change the appearance of your art, so it’s important to have an understanding what you want the final appearance to be.

Best Practice for Frame Mat Size

Many professional framers, including Frame Destination, recommend a mat border of two to four inches (unless you have a specific look in mind that calls for a wider or narrower mat). This provides the “traditional” framed look with a mat border that is equal on all sides and doesn’t overwhelm the art.

If your art is smaller, you may want to opt for a border that is closer to two inches to avoid overwhelming the artwork. Larger framed pieces can support wider mat borders while still retaining that classic framed look.

It’s also important to consider the color of the mat you’ve chosen. You can display a large amount of a neutral color mat board without it overwhelming and distracting from the art, but if you’ve opted for a bright, rich, or bold colored mat you may want to consider a narrower border.

More Mat for More Impact

When putting together a framed photo or piece of art, there are three major components that will affect the look and feel of the final piece:

  • The art
  • The frame
  • The mat

While in traditional framing practices the mat plays a supporting role, in some applications it can become a much larger part of your framed art. Large mat borders can give your art a “gallery” look and can help draw attention to your art if it’s displayed on a large wall.

Opting for a weighted mat (where one or more sides has a wider mat) is another popular option. Taking weighting to an extreme is a popular modern look that pairs well with black and white photography. There are many mat board styles to give your art the perfect look.

Using bright or bold colored mats is another way to add impact to your art – particularly for black and white photos. Mat board is available in just about every color under the sun, including green, blue, purple, orange, red, and yellow, so you’re not limited to earth tones or neutrals when framing.

Adding Depth Without Size

If you want to add depth, character, or color to your mat without overwhelming the art or opting for a large mat border, consider layered mats. In a layered mat situation, two or three mats (often of different colors) are framed. You see the most of the top layer and smaller amounts of each of the lower layers.

This technique allows you to add some depth to your framing, or introduce a pop of color. For just a little color touch, opt for a neutral or subtle top mat, then select a bold or bright color for the second layer. This technique is ideal when you want to call out a color featured prominently in the art, but don’t want a colorful full border. To highlight more than one color, opt for a triple mat with a neutral top and colorful second and third mats. Or you can achieve a modern look by layering white-black-white mats.

For depth without color, opt for mat layers that are the same color or have slight shade variations within the same color palette. This will give you the tiered look without adding more color.

Layered mats can be as large as you’d like, so you can use this technique with large borders or with the traditional 2- to 4-inch mat border.

At the end of the day, how big your frame border is depends on personal preference and your desired look. When you order a mat board from Frame Destination, you can play with the sizes to see how your art will look with its new mat.

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