Are you using white or colored mats for your art?

Kathy Radford writes:

Could you cover the subject of colored matting and framing? I was told many galleries only allow white matting. I understand it is easier for the artists to order all white in bulk to save money and all work looks uniform, but my personal preference is to use color matting.

Kathy, I know I’m not going to change your mind and that this is a matter of personal preference, but I’m siding with the white mats here. It’s my museum background that is coloring (pun intended) my choice. I simply have a strong distaste for almost all colored mats. And, because I like art on colorful walls (not just white walls), the colored mats would inevitably clash or limit my selections.

If you want to show your work in galleries, this may be something you have to concede. Galleries know what sells. They know what their customers want. And they know that a wall full of different-colored mats is terribly distracting. Like museums, galleries have to accommodate a number of artists simultaneously while making their galleries look as classy as possible.

If you click on the "continue reading" link below, you’ll see the rest of Kathy’s letter and how she selects mats and frames for arts festivals.

What do you think?

Image (c) Kathy Radford, Another Barn with Broken Windows.

This is the rest of Kathy's email:

I spend hours picking out mats for my photographs. Matting and frame is
an art in itself. I personally feel the matting and framing can make or
break a piece of art. Recently my artist friend and I walked around a
local gallery critiquing mats and frames. We were surprised at how many
of the pieces, although beautiful in itself, really took away from the
artwork. Had they chosen them differently they could really pop. What a

When I do local arts & craft fairs, I display the exact same photo
with two different colored mats and different frames. The photo is a
white barn off in a field of snow with some trees in both the
foreground and background. One photo has a light blue mat with a narrow
black metal frame. The light blue brings out the soft blue of the snow.
The other has a dark blue mat with a wider white wooden frame. This
makes the scene look much colder. It is also amazing how the trees
appear in both photos, one brings out the trees more, one makes the
barn look closer.

When I take my photos, I look for a particular feel to each shot. I
want them to stir ones emotions. That is why I use these two identical
photos to point out to the public just how important matting and
framing is to the art piece. I ask them which one they prefer, and to
my surprise it has run about 50/50. When I bought the original mats I
was looking for the light blue to bring out the color in the snow. I
happened to place the dark blue one on the photo and was surprised and
how much it changed that feel. Then I couldn't decided which one
because I really liked both. After about a half hour of not being able
to decide, I bought both deciding to ask the public. The two have
really sparked a lot of controversy.

My feelings are why would you want all white mats when you can enhance
your work to it's maximum impact by simply changing the mat and frame.
After all the whole purpose is to sell your work and you want to take
it to the max. Why settle for so-so when you can make such impact with
your work by choosing the right matting and framing.

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17 thoughts on “Are you using white or colored mats for your art?”

  1. I use only white matts in general but I know people like colored matts.I changed to all white because clients would want you to change the color of the matt at shows. Life is just simpler when its white. I do use a dove gray matt for very light paintings to help set them off.

  2. Rachel Hawthorn

    I’ve always used white mats and black frames, just to unify the look – I want people to see the work, not the framing. I was once told by a professor that if people comment on your matting and framing then you’re doing something wrong.

  3. I am a mixed media artist that has had the good fortune to be on the staff of a national award winning framer for the last 4 years. White or colored mats? You must consider the art, the intended venue and the customers taste. If you are working for museum representation or competitiion then white or neutral is the appropriate call. More than likely if you are selling to the general public through local galleries/and or frame shops,art fairs and shows and especially interior designers …think color! When I have worked art shows with 150 other artists ,my customers comment that they remember my images as well as the fact that my framing was well done and not the standard white mat /gold frame! If selling your work is important …listen to your customers. The push in DIY decor demands rethinking your framing /matting choice.Read “Art Business News”, “Decor” and note the color trends.

  4. This is interesting to read. For my prints, I use a soft white mat with German silver frame. Actually a framing shop helped me pick that color as the most appropriate color that would work well with my images. My partner who is a photographer uses the same soft white mats but with a black frame. Her work needs the black to … do something. For my original pieces, I use colored mats and frames. I worked years ago with a local matting and framing shop and he helped teach me how to see my work finished that way. He said that given the vibrancy of my work, the color held and supported it. I am happy enough for now with this decision … but may revisit it sometime. With the prints, to keep them affordable, we need to have uniformity to save money by buying in more bulk. But also we spent quite a bit of time playing with different colors (by holding things against these other mats and frames, and by putting each others’ images against the others’ frames) and we are both pretty pleased with the decisions we made. Interesting to read what people have to say. ~ Diane Clancy

  5. I try to be as professional as possible as I frame my own pastels. All archival, clean and consistent. I am using a linen liner (white) outside of the glass (some pastelists have chosen to place the liner inside) and flat, matte black frames (hardwood). The consistent look is important to show the unity of your work/ideas. The black and white may seem uniform, but it’s purpose is to keep your art in front. The only one, I think, who can afford to do the different and decorative framing is probably the artist working or owning a frame shop.

  6. While I agree that it is a good idea to keep framing and matting consistant, I also think that if your art has no white in it, and you use a white mat, you are making a big mistake. The framing should be a continuation of your art. The one thing about framing that is also true of art is that it is subjective and oh so personal. You will never please everyone, so as the artist, I think it is up to you to make the final call as to how your own work should be presented. It is more important that the matting and framing should be the best quality you can afford. Use archival materials.

  7. There is a difference in framing for showing, and framing for owning. For showing, it needs to be neutral and consistent. The neutral (white or off-white) is better because people have different tastes and different environments where they will show the work, and then the colour of the mat becomes an issue. Once a piece has been bought and will have a permanent home, it’s not such a big deal to take it to a framer and change the mat to suit your taste and decor.

    PS: I started out with coloured mats and after a couple of years, switched to off-white. When I look back at those coloured mats, I no longer like them at all. My favourite now is a double mat, with a dark coloured inner mat and an off-white outer mat.

  8. David Castle Art

    I agree strongly with white mats for most original art, and almost never use anything else for my own artwork. I don’t agree that a mat should match some color in the artwork (even white). However, I really think it depends upon what art is being matted/framed. For example, I don’t think the white mat rule necessarily holds true for photography, or some whimsical/decorative art. I collect vintage posters and have several framed with colored mats. One other comment – please keep your corner cuts crisp! Nothing ruins a mat (of any color) more than sloppy, overcut corners!

  9. We were showing our paintings at a frame shop & the owner didn’t speak any English…In exchange for impromptu lessons we got deals on really gorgeous framing materials…Most sucessful framing job? Double white mat, but here is the kicker, a spacer In Between each white mat …(rather elaborate gold leaf frame with great inlay design didn’t hurt either)…the spacer was a little clear plastic thing stuck in between the mats…made the whole thing (original acrylic painting on arches 300lb paper 22x30inches) look really masterpiece…we don’t use acrylics anymore (1996) but on thick paper & matted & framed in this manner…well, my mom got the work – just too beautiful to sell…(though I get offers often from my mom’s friends when they visit so it was worth the gift)…

  10. ok two more things…dark edges brings out light, light edge brings out dark, the contrast thing- this is if work needs fixing…&, the reason you don’t obsess over the frame is cause you are not selling frames…what happens artistically is that your perception of the work becomes dependent on the framing…eventually you think things like ‘ this will look better with a frame’ …then your work itself becomes a compromise & you spend all your budget at the framer instead of on integral art supplies…it is a bit of a hook framer’s do- don’t get caught…

  11. I appreciate all the wonderful comments to my post but I stand true to my feelings of using colored mats. I’ve seen so many poorly chosen mats and frames, I think it is easier to use white mats if you don’t know how to match them properly or want the bulk rate to save money. In no way do the white mats enhance most artwork. I’m still not convinced otherwise. I truly feel you will see a turnaround in the future. Old habits are hard to break, it’s just a matter of time.

  12. I know a few artists who prefer coloured mattes but it’s important to remember that we are not framing and matting/mounting for our own preferences. The idea is to create a neutral space around the artwork so it can show itself off. Considering that the majority of buyers reframe anyway it best to stick with simple options, or at least consistency for an entire show. Personally, I find coloured mounts or frames really distracts from the strength of the work itself.

  13. Good discussion. One of the shocks to my artist ego is that framing doesn’t come easy to me. But what always looks stunning is an 8-ply white matt and black frame, and if I am splurging, museum glass, especially for pastels, even subtle ones. The white and black seem to pop the image off the wall and drive the focus into the work itself.
    But if price is no object I have really enjoyed going to great framers, and working with a consultant in which I have liked their outcomes. I always seem pleasantly surprised by their unexpected and beautiful choices, like subtle-colored linen or silk matts, and elaborate frames, but I have done this when matching the style of the place with the work.

  14. When I’m at my framer’s, I’m always surprised by how many ***different*** whites there are. So it’s not just about white vs black or color. One type of white can look terrible, another can be gorgeous next to a piece.

    I also believe in sticking with a framer, once you find one you like. I’ve got a great one, who knows my work, understands how I show it, and gives me a discount!

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