White Mat Boards for Picture Frames: Understanding the Differences in Color

One of the most frequent questions we get is how to tell the difference between our white mat boards. In this post, I’ll explain the basic differences and provide some suggestions as to what types of art look best with each color of mat board.

Artists and DIY picture framers use white mat boards for many different reasons, such as gallery and museum requirements and the type of artwork being framed. This is also a common question because matching your art with a colored mat board can be a tricky process.

If, for whatever reason, you decide to go with a white mat board then the next question is, “What COLOR of white mat board?” In the framing world, white isn’t just white.

(Very) Basic Color Theory

“Color” is a broad concept that includes three components: Tonal value (degree of lightness or darkness), the hue (innate or actual color), and the saturation (intensity). Looking at a color wheel, you can see that HUES are the 12 purest and brightest colors and that the spectrum runs clockwise from warm to cool.

Frame Destination - Color Wheel

What Color is White?

Notice that white is not included on the color wheel; this is because white is achromatic, or a color without hue. As you can see from the collage of “white” objects below, few things are absolutely pure white. This is especially the case with white mat board, which tends to be either a cool or warm white.

Frame Destination - Collage of Shades of White

What Colors of White Mat Board Does Frame Destination Sell?

Frame Destination sells four brands of mat board – Papermat, Alphamat, Alpharag, and Crescent. Each brand offers several different whites. I have listed all of the whites that we carry for each brand below and provided a brief color description. Please note that it’s always best to get samples due to the color calibration differences in monitors. This list, however, should provide a basic idea of which ones might work best with your art so you can request the appropriate samples.

Papermat – WC 4Ply  

  • 222 (Smooth White) – bright, cool white
  • 097 (Polar White) - slightly warmer than the 222 – Smooth White
  • 251 (Antique White) - warmest of three whites, similar to cream

Bainbridge Alphamat 4Ply

  • 8463 (Spanish White) - bright, cool white
  • 8519 (Snowflake White) - bright, warm white
  • 8313 (Snowflake White, Black Core) – cool white, slight blue/gray cast due to the black core
  • 8464 (Matte White) – slightly warmer than the 8463 – Spanish White
  • 8559 (Photo White) - warm, slightly off-white

Bainbridge Alpharag 4Ply

  • 8655 (Pure White) - bright, cool white
  • 8634 (White) – bright, warm white
  • 8647 (Pearl White) – warm, off-white
  • 8656 (Natural White) – blue/green white (opinions differ as to whether it’s cool or warm)
  • 8640 (Antique White) – warm, yellow white

Bainbridge Alpharag 8Ply

  • 8653 (Pure White) - bright, cool white
  • 8660 (White) – bright, warm white
  • 8647 (Pearl White) – warm, off-white
  • 8640 (Antique White) – warm, yellow white

Crescent 8Ply Rag Mat Museum

  • 2238 (White) – bright, cool white
  • 21126 (Sand Dollar) – bright, warm white
  • 21112 (Soft White) - warm, light yellow white
  • 2239 (Antique White) - warm, yellow white

Which Color of White Mat Board is Right for My Art?

This is another frequent question from our customers. As a general rule, I tell customers that black and white images and those with heavy saturated colors tend to look best with bright white mat boards. Sepia-toned photos, beach and/or autumn scenes, or any image with a strong yellow undertone usually calls for a warm, off-white or yellowish mat board. Remember, the final choice is always up to you!

As a fun (and hopefully helpful) example, I consulted with our customer service department and we came up with a couple of white mat board pairing ideas for the images below. Keep in mind these are guidelines only. If you are in doubt about what color mat board you need, please order samples.

B&W Image

Frame Destination - Black and White Picture

Suggested White Mat Boards:

  • Papermat – WC 4Ply: Smooth White
  • Bainbridge Alphamat 4Ply: Spanish White and Snowflake White with Black Core
  • Bainbridge Alpharag 4Ply/8Ply: Pure White
  • Crescent 8Ply Rag Mat Museum: White

 

Saturated and/or Bright Colors

Bright Color Picture

Suggested White Mat Boards:

  • Papermat – WC 4Ply: Smooth White and Polar White
  • Bainbridge Alphamat 4Ply: Spanish White and Snowflake White
  • Bainbridge Alpharag 4Ply/ 8Ply: Pure White and White
  • Crescent 8Ply Rag Mat Museum: White and Sand Dollar

 

Sepia and Warm/Yellow-Toned Images

Yellow Tone Image

Suggested White Mat Boards:

  • Papermat – WC 4Ply: Antique White and Polar White
  • Bainbridge Alphamat 4Ply: Matte White and Photo White
  • Bainbridge Alpharag 4Ply/ 8Ply: Antique White and Pearl White
  • Crescent 8Ply Rag Mat Museum: Soft White and Antique White

 

Soft Muted Images

This one is included because I think it falls into a more “open” realm. You could complement, contrast, or remain neutral with your mat choices.

Neutral Colored Photo

Suggested White Mat Boards:

  • Papermat – WC 4Ply: Polar White and Antique White
  • Bainbridge Alphamat 4Ply: Matte White and Photo White
  • Bainbridge Alpharag 4Ply/ 8Ply: Antique White, Pearl White, and Natural White
  • Crescent 8Ply Rag Mat Museum: White, Soft White, and Antique White

About the author

author

Joely Rogers is the vice president of Frame Destination, Inc. She has been with the company since 2005. Joely has a graduate degree in English language education and storytelling from the University of Southern Mississippi. She is also a lifelong artist and paints, sculpts, and creates art journals and jewelry in her cozy home studio. Her personal website is www.cafejoely.com.

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