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Matting Your Art Work

A Step-by-Step Demonstration of Proper Matting Techniques


Figure 1

Preparing to Mat

A mat is like a sandwich. The bottom, called the backing boards, holds the picture. The top is called the mat window. The window and backing board are hinged together with acid-free gummed tape (water-activated) along one of the long sides, opening like a book. If the mat is wider than it is high, the hinge runs along the top edge. It is a good idea to reinforce the hinge with an additional strip of tape at the corners, especially for large mats. (See illustration).

While there is no rule on mat window dimensions, it is wise to consider its impact on the picture. Most mat borders are between 2¼" and 4¼", depending on the size and style of the image. The top and side margins of the mat should be the same width and the lower margin should be between ¼" - ½" wider, depending on the size of the work. This is because the eye tends to read the bottom margin as narrower. When measuring your mat window, be sure to leave 1/8" to 1/4" around the image or platemark, with a little wider space at the bottom for a signature. After your window has been cut, it is good practice to sand the inside cuts with fine grain sandpaper. This eliminates any rough edges which could scratch your picture.

The Standard Hinge Mat

This is the most commonly used method of matting drawings and prints. It is a method which can be used for pictures with margins, bleed images (these go to the ends of the paper), or those on papers with a deckle you want exposed. In this type of mat, the art work is attached with hinges made of Japanese paper -- which is thin, flexible and has long sturdy fibers. Two rules should be considered when making the hinges:

  • Use as few hinges as possible, while still providing the most support for the art work.
  • The hinge should always be weaker than the paper to which it is applied. This insures that under stress the hinge will give way instead of the art.

The size, weight and condition of the art work should determine the size, number and weight of the hinges. The adhesive most recommended by paper conservators for attaching hinges is wheat paste. It is water-soluble and, if made correctly, remains reversible over time. Our wheat paste is sold in dry form and is easy to mix, as needed.

Never tape art work to a mat or backing board, not even with the tape labeled archival. These are too strong and inflexible to be used directly on art work. Although the adhesives on these tapes is initially water-soluble, they become insoluble over time, requiring the use of a solvent to remove them.

Figure 2

Making the Hinge

The standard hinge is constructed out of two Japanese paper rectangles. The edges of the hinges are strongest when they are feathered, rather than cut, leaving the long fibers exposed. The rectangle which is adhere to the art work is always feathered. The reinforcing strip, which is not mounted to the art work, can be cut. The best way to feather Japanese paper is to:

  1. Fold the paper where you want it torn.
  2. Draw a thin line of water along the fold with a brush.
  3. With one hand, hold a metal straightedge on the fold line.
  4. Lift the paper with your other hand, tearing the water-weakened line up along the straightedge.

It is a good idea to prepare all the hinges and reinforcing strips before beginning the process of attachment. If you have never worked with wheat paste, go through these steps on a mockup before trying the procedure on a work of art.


  1. Position the art work behind the window of a prepared, closed mat. To hold its position, weight it with one or two light objects (1 oz. sand-filled sacks or pin cushion).
  2. Open the mat window and make light pencil marks on the backing board around the two upper corners of the art work.
  3. Remove the weights. Invert the art work on its upper edge, face down, so the two upper corners rest just above the pencil marks. Replace the weight. (See illustration).
  4. Carefully lift the corners of the art work and erase the pencil marks
  5. Place the feathered hinges you have made on a clean blotter and cover them with paste.
  6. With pencil, lightly mark the location of the hinges on the back of the art work. Remember to leave room on the outside edges of the art work for positioning the reinforcing strips. See Figure 2. Attach one half of the hinge to the back of the art work and the remainder to the backing board.

Figure 3

  1. Place the reinforcing strips on a blotter and cover them with paste. Carefully center (laterally) a strip over the portion of the hinge which is attached to the backing board, with its top just a hair from the edge of the art work. (See illustration). The hinges should not be visible when the mat window is closed.
  2. Cover the reinforced hinges with a piece of mylar (to prevent sticking) and a blotter. Weight it evenly until dry.
  3. When the hinges are dry, turn the art work right side up, hanging from the hinges, and close the mat window.

Be very cautious when hinging lightweight paper in this fashion. Cockling (wrinkling) of the paper can develop from the moisture in the paste. This can be alleviated by frequently changing blotters during the drying process.

Figure 4

The Corner Mat System

This is a method of matting for those who do not wish to attach anything to the art work itself. There are two drawbacks to this system. One, it can only be used on images with margins and not on bleed images. Two, this method will not work on a piece with very slim margins because the corners will show through the mat window.

The corners are constructed of lightweight neutral pH paper, like Rives Lightweight. The size of the corners depends on the size of the artwork and the width of the mat window. The corners need to be big enough to support the print, but small enough to be invisible through the window.


  1. Prepare the corners from four cut rectangles, folding as shown in illustration.

Figure 5

  1. Position the art work behind the window of a completed and closed mat. To hold its position, weight it with one or two light objects.
  2. Carefully lift the mat window. With pencil, lightly trace around the four corners of the art work onto the backing board. Remove the art work.
  3. Affix the four handmade corners, fold face down, to the backing board with acid-free gummed linen or pressure-sensitve tape. Burnish well.
  4. Slip the art work into the corners. Close the mat window to insure the corners do not show. Adjust, if necessary. See illustration.

Figure 6

If you are mounting a fairly small and lightweight art work, you may choose to use pre-made corners. We sell these in two sizes: 1/2" and 1-3/8", 100 per box. They are made of mylar with pressure-sensitive tabs at the ends to adhere to the backing board. See illustration.


The Matless Mount

If you want to frame a drawing or print without a window mat, it is possible to do so and still create a breathing space between the art work and the glazing. There are two ways to do this:

  • The Neilsen Style 55 Frame are both designed for framing artwork without a window mat. They have an 1/8" groove to hold a sheet of glass or Plexiglas in place and away from the artwork.
  • If you do not want to use this style of frame, you can purchase clear plastic strips called Framespace, which we sell by the foot. Framespace has a groove to hold the glazing material and snaps on all sides. When everything is inserted into the frame, the art work rests on Framespace and not on the glazing.

You still need to use a backing board for both of these methods of framing, although it does not have to be adhered to the art work. Large pictures framed without a mat will eventually bow in the center and rest directly on the glazing.

Materials List