What’s the Difference Between Mat Board, Mount Board and Foam Core?

Most people are familiar with the basic components of a framing package, including the frame itself and the glazing. But there’s more to it than that: namely the mat board and mount board, sometimes referred to as foam core. While they both have the appearance of sheets of paper, they serve different purposes.

What Is Mat Board?

  • Purpose of Mat Board
  • Not only does mat board separate the artwork from the glass or acrylic glazing by providing a barrier to protect and preserve it, it also provides an aesthetically pleasing border. Mat boards are most commonly in shades of white or cream, but they are available in a variety of colors such as rich hues and pastels to complement a variety of art.

  • Where It Belongs
  • Mat board sits just below the glazing in the framing package and on top of the artwork or photograph itself. It features a cutout, often rectangular but sometimes circular or other shapes, to display the artwork underneath it.

  • Mat Board Materials
  • Mat board is made with a number of different materials, all affecting its archival abilities. Some archival mat board is made of cotton rag, but have wood-based face papers; other cotton rag mat board features no face papers, providing museum-quality protection. Materials also include alpha-cellulose, a processed paper-based material that is considered archival but not museum quality, and wood pulp, which is suited for temporary framing.

    Dyed mat boards (i.e. mat boards that are not cream or white) are often not museum-quality, as the dye used can sometimes negatively affect the artwork.

  • Other Uses for Mat Board
  • Mat board, in general terms, is a high-quality paper product that is easily cut — this makes it an ideal material for scrapbooking and other paper-based craft projects where quality is important.

What Is Mount Board?

  • Purpose of Mount Board
  • Much like mat board, it serves to protect a framed photograph or piece of artwork by providing a rigid, sturdy backing to keep photographs and artwork from moving or warping in the frame.

  • Where It Belongs
  • The location of mount board is basically the opposite of mat board. Instead of sitting on top of the artwork, it sits behind it. The artwork is attached to the mount board, which is against the back of the frame, with hinging tape or other adhesives.

  • Mount Board Materials
  • Unlike mat board, mount board is generally made of foam — often polystyrene — with a smooth, sometimes paper-based, face on either side. Some mounting boards do not use foam, such as the Artcare AlphaRag cotton mounting board, in order to increase its ability to preserve the artwork.

  • Other Uses for Mount Board
  • Mount board is also used for presentations and other display purposes, especially those that have integrated adhesive properties like the Fome-Core® Self-Adhesive mounting boards. With these mount boards, no other adhesive is required to create a display.

So What Is Foam Core?

Mount board goes by many names, including mounting board, backing board, foam board and foam core. Foam core describes exactly what a mounting board is: a substrate with a core made of foam. Foam core is no different than most other mounting boards — it’s all the same type of product.

With so many “boards,” it can be confusing to know just what you’re looking for when assembling a complete framing package. Mat board and mount board (or foam core) may be similar in name and serve to protect your artwork, but they’re used in very different ways.

About the author

author

Mark Rogers is an amateur photographer and the founder of Frame Destination, Inc. In 2004 Mark realized the framing industry was not keeping up with the evolution of photography via new digital technology and started Frame Destination in his garage. Now his company has thousands of do-it-yourself framing customers across the US that it helps with its 11,000 square feet production facility in Dallas, TX.

4 thoughts on “What’s the Difference Between Mat Board, Mount Board and Foam Core?”

  • Tom Farnie

    As a former professional picture framer with more than 2 decades in the trade, I'd like to say it was an accurate and informative article.

    Perhaps a follow up article on the common types of mounting a photograph or work of art would be interesting to folks? Dry mounting // wet mounting // hinging // museum mounting // etc.

    Maybe some info on glazing? 'A' single // 'B' single // non glare // vacuum glass // styrene // etc.

    Best regards,

    Tom Farnie

    Reply
  • Jodie

    I'm new to collecting art and framing. I was using the cardboard backers with attached hangers provided with the smaller frames, but I realized that cardboard is acidic and shouldn't be touching my artwork. I'm in the process of adding wire hanging kits to all my frames and buying backer boards, so the cardboard backers can be trashed.

    Regarding the foam core backer boards, I was told that the front and back surfaces are acid free, but not the foam in the middle. Is it okay to use these backer boards? Or would it be better to buy 100% acid free 4 ply paper mat boards with no cut in the middle? And if I was working with 4 ply mat boards (and some backer boards are 4 ply), can I stack them together if I need a thicker backer? Or would multiple layers potentially cause issues?

    Also, is it necessary to put a backer board behind a canvas panel? Canvas panels seem to be fairly sturdy on their own, but because they're technically a paper product that can potentially warp, I was wondering if a backer board may reduce the risk of warping. Right now, I have several in just frame shells without glazing or backer boards.

    Thanks.
    Jodie

    Reply
    • Mark Rogers

      Jodie, we have two levels of foamboard, acid free and artcare acid free that provides a little more protection. What you need depends on how archival you want to get. If you do want to provide additional barrier between the print and the foam you will want to use 100% cotton rag mat board which is naturally inert. Since it would just be a barrier you can save money by getting 2-ply instead of regular 4-ply.
      https://www.framedestination.com/framing-supplies/mount-board/2-ply-alpharag-pw.html

      We sell it on our website under mounting products since it is too thin to be used as a traditional mat board.

      In regards to the canvas panel it is probably already stiffer than the foamboard which can warp on its own, however, white acid free foamboard would help protect the back and provide a clean look. A solid frame will be the main thing keeping it straight and the foamboard could provide protection between the clips or points on the frame and the back of the canvas panel. Wood frames are also acidic so you might consider sealing the inside with this tape:

      https://www.framedestination.com/framing-accessories/photo-mounting-supplies/hinging-tape-tissue/self-adhesive-frame-sealing-tape-372.html

      Reply

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