Matting & Hinging Art on Paper for Show & Sale

This information is intended to help you choose professional methods and quality materials for presenting your artwork.

What does a Mat do for you?

If your work is being presented unframed, a mat will give it a finished and professional appearance. White is often preferred by galleries as it is neutral and generally does not conflict with the artwork or a customer’s decor. The purchaser may wish to change the mat colour later to suit personal taste.

A mat does more than just set off your work. It also functions inside the frame to separate the glazing from the art, allowing for air circulation. Direct contact with glass over time can cause fogging, adhesion, mould growth (even in a dry climate!) and scratching of the art. Paper continually expands and contracts as humidity changes, rubbing against the glass and also buckling. The backing board acts as a support for your picture, and separates it from other acidic components in the frame.

Matboards need to be “acid-free” at a minimum. The term “acid-free” simply means that the material is acid-free at the time of manufacture. However, because acidity develops over time, a board that is just “acid-free” will eventually discolour and cause damage to the art. Older mats often caused “acid-burn”, a brownish discolouration on the art around the edge of the mat. This is caused by the chemical reaction between the lignin in wood pulp and sunlight and humidity.

Better matboards are manufactured from cotton (also known as “cotton rag”) or “purified alpha-cellulose” (paper made from wood pulp with the lignin removed). These mats are usually buffered with an alkaline material (such as calcium carbonate) to further counteract acidity. The lignin in wood pulp is the greatest culprit in causing the acidity which will damage your art. Cotton naturally contains very little lignin and can be used in matboard even without the buffering.

Your backing board should be of reasonable quality. No corrugated cardboard! This is worse than the poorest matboard and can burn lines into your art in as little as 7 years! Conservation matboard makes a very good backing board. Regular foamcore will last about 10 years before it starts to break down. There are also several “acid-free” foamcores on the market which are of better quality and are quite useful because they are both acid-free and rigid.

Hinging your Art

Once you have your mat and backing, you need to attach your picture. This is called “hinging”. General practice is to attach your art to the backing board which is stronger and better able to support your picture than the mat.

Never use masking tape! It causes irreversible staining, dries out or goes gummy and usually fails; it is the same with almost every self-stick tape in general use. Double-sided tape tape cannot be removed and causes problems later on.

One tape which can easily be purchased in an office supply store is Scotch 810 tape. It is very stable. Other tapes which are both stable and removable include gummed linen tape, rice paper hinges, Framer’s Tape 2 (TM), Filmoplast P90 (TM) and others. Art supply stores and picture framers are sources for these specialized tapes. Corner mounts can also be used for many applications.

Different hinging materials are good for different types and weights of papers. For example, gummed linen tape is good for watercolour and other heavier papers.

Taping your picture all the way around with tape to the mat actually causes it to buckle. Your picture will be moving with humidity changes, and must not be trapped by too much tape. The ideal is to hinge your picture to the backing board with just 2 points of attachment. (See diagram #1). Your mat opening will be a little smaller than your artwork, so that the paper doesn’t pop through the opening over time. You want to cover at least 1/8” or 3 mm. of the paper’s edge to compensate for the way your paper will move over time.

You may want the edges of your paper to show, instead of being covered by a mat. The diagram to the left shows a hinging method that you can use for this kind of presentation. Because there is no mat to hold down the edges of the paper and help support its weight, the hinges will need to be strong, especially if your paper is a full sheet size and is heavy. All self-stick hinges fail in this style of mounting. Gummed linen tape is the most useful for heavier paper; rice paper hinges work with lighter paper. If your paper is too light, it will be too fragile for this kind of presentation.

Remember that art galleries and shipping companies can’t always be as be as careful with your artwork as you would be. You need to frame and otherwise prepare your work to withstand the handling it will receive.