Poll on mat color choice (black or white) ?

Pat Regan

Feb 28, 2004
Victor, NY
I wanted to know what you guys thought was better. I have a lot of very colorful, saturated prints. I want to settle on a single framing and matting style. Would a white or black mat be more suitable for this?

I have always read that your eye travels to the brightest area of a photo first so, expanding on this, wouldn't a white mat cause the same phenomenon? I always thought black would cause the opposite effect and cause your eyes to be drawn to the photo especially if it has lost of color.

But you don't see black used that much so, is it that people prefer white?

And for my Sepia toned ones, which is better?

Hmmm, I am sitting here looking at one photo I did with very vibrant colors and a black top mat. Not too far away is one with an off-white top mat. No guideline is always correct. That being said ...

I feel that the mat "usually" becomes part of the background; taking most objects of the same or near the same color to the background with it. (This is off course effected by the general rule of thumb that cool colors recede and warm colors come forward.) Therefore, I would first try a mat that is NOT the same as the object you want to focus on.

In the case you are discussing I would expect Black to make the bright colors come forward and white to give them depth. What affect are you going for?

Obviously, this does not always work. I beleive it works most of the time. I know many people believe the opposite, but look "squinty eyed" at completed works and I think you'll see what I mean.

Just to add to your confusion :D Why not double-mat? Black over white or vice-versus. You would be amazed how it changes your aspect.
Most of my work are landscapes with lots of color. I think I understand what you mean that black would bring out the colors. But I am not sure what you mean by white would give the colors depth?

A co-worker of mine said he thought if the overall tone of the print was dark I should go for a white mat. And if the tone is light go for a dark mat. But, I would assume lots of mine fall in between so what to do there?

Are you going to mat them yourself or are you going to have a frame shop do the work for you? Matting for competition is usually the black or white not both. Undecided go white. If a frame shop is going to do the work go to one who does photos.
Let them choose the proper mats black or white. Letting them choose it, should cost less than if you want to help choose. The more time they spend with you the more it will cost.
Just the way we do it.
I would use an off white or a very pale gray or grey. When nothing else seems to work, gray does. Black works in very few cases in my shop. I was in the Brandenburg gallery last summer and he had all of his work for sale in mostly white mats, white on white double. Just my opinion.

In theory, I believe the dark on dark brings out the light and vice versa.
"But I am not sure what you mean by white would give the colors depth?

In painting, you will notice that shadows tend to recede into the background and "bright colors" or sunlight tend to "pop out." (For now, we won't complicate things by getting into the fact that most shadows consist of "cool" colors and most "highlights" consist of warm colors.) Contrasts tend to accentuate this accurance. So, this same phenomenon can tend to happen when mats are applied. A light or lighter mat will make the "darker" colors (almost any non-white, with the probable exception of "hot" colors like yellow and red) tend to be seen as "shadows," thus causing them to recede.

In my first post I said "No guideline is always correct," you need to look at your images and determine if these "guides" work for you and what effects you want.
If you are selling to a younger audience use black if a more experienced use white or off white. this has been my experience in our gallery
I have been on a quest for the past couple of years with photographers to try to get them away from the traditional refrigerator white mat with black flat profile frame and I would go the same route for stark black mats too.

A much more pleasing and easy to look at mat that will stay in the "neutral" zone for both color and b/w would be an off white towards the dominant color in a color photo or a combination of greys for a b/w photo. You would be amazed what just a few shades away from black will do to pop a b/w photo and a double mat of light grey over a darker grey with either a nice profile black wood or a pewter or iron finished profile like LJ's Ferrosa line of moulding look great on b/w's.

For sepia tones I would wander around in the grey-brown over either dark brown or dark grey mats. You can do alot with a dirty copper or gold frame or a very old looking dark brown on these too. LJ's Etrusca, Java, or the new Antica lines work very well with sepia tones.

I am sure that others have favorites too that they use with b/w and color photos and I am anxious to hear what their mats/mouldings of choice happen to be.

Actually, we weren't talking about mouldings, but ... although I have used a fair amount of the Ferrosa line, I have been experimenting with a new look that seems to have caught some interest.

I have a separate display with a B&W photo, a black inner mat, and a VERY light grey top mat. This has a Larson Black enhancer (179022) with a Larson Nantucket (cypress color) moulding around the enhancer. I then acquired duplicate chevrons for four more of the Nantucket colors and a couple of the new Barrington line (377350 for one) which I placed on corners and "around" the framed piece.

The idea is to show how easily you can use B&W photos to fit into "any" color/decor, while still keeping the feel of the B&W photo. People seem to like the display (it's out on-the-floor where they can touch it) and are "ohhhing" over the "concept."

I have a number of signed Cibachromes (sp?) by Dan Farber which I am trying to sell. Many are B&W. He isn't with us and there won't be any more of these made. The hope was that the display would draw more interest to these photos. That hasn't happened yet. :rolleyes:
White. Make it a wide mat. White will " pop " most photographs much better than black. Black is a " morbid " color, try to stay away from it entirely unless your photos are moody and depressing. White will hang in more environments than will black. If your target audience is a very youthful one, black may be the way to go. Kids like black on everything, no matter how bad it looks.

I love the drama of dark mats. My first choice for colorful landscape photos is often Bainbridge's dark green silk.

But it doesn't work on everything.

So if you are wanting to mat all the photos in the same color for purposes of continuity in your exhibits, I'd choose white. For a more finished look, I'd use two mats, white on white, and scale the size of the reveal to the size of the photo. If the photos are as large as 16 x 20, maybe think about an open v-groove.

Not off white, or antique white, or eggshell, or ecru. Those can look washed out on colorful photographs. And flat black looks dead. Sometimes you can get away with black if it has something else going on, like a coarse textured linen.

White over black or black over white will give you a sort of late 70's retro look.

(It must be getting close to dinner time. I'm not usually this opinionated.)


Edit: On second thought, I guess I AM usually this opinionated. Oh well.

Take a peek at that combo with the Eastlake (174615) enhancer on it. I like the soft curved profile of the Eastlake enhancer and use it on some of the sharper edged profiles to give a softened look.

I would also like to see your display if you have the time to post a photo.

I was in one of Vivian Kisler's seminars this last weekend at Deco Expo and the topic of mat choices for BW photography came up (white vs grey/black). Her answer (shortened here and as I understood it) is that grey or black is occasionaly trendy but white has always been the right choice.

Just before going to the show I had framed some 1890's panoramic photos of the resort area of Mauch Chunk, PA which is 3 miles from my shop. I went with a Photo Gray outer/Black inner with a black frame and really liked the results. White may be the correct answer but I like Grey/Black as well. I have a number of these photos that I will be framing for sale in my shop and I think I'm going to experiment using both and see how people react.
I just did 32 8 x 12's for a customer. Lansdcape. Close-ups. People. Texture. Motion. Slow shutter. Light background. Dark background. etc . . .

All with double black mat. 3 3/4 top, and 1/4 fillet.

Satin Black frame. 3/4 (or 5/8th) wide face. 1 or 1 1/4 depth.

Black paper back.

Super sharp display option.

Customer loved 'em.

Everybody does white, or off white mats.

Go black. Stand out from the crowd.

The black double mat is even more standout.

If you do go white, do 8 ply. Again stand out.

Even Double white mat will look different than just a plain single mat.
I would like to say thanks for the excellent information you guys have provided me.

I am looking at doing some art fairs this summer so its for that purpose. I have lots of waterfall, landscapes, fall scenes, and such. Target audience would be probably more adult oriented I guess.

It seems my best bet would be to get a good sampling of my prints to a framer, actually a few grumblers have already contacted me. And look at mat color options and see if I can find one that might work across the board. I would like to have a uniform presentation (at least for the show).

White on white sounds like an interesting idea. Maybe I will try that for my large prints.

I assembled a frame the other day for one of my tall waterfall pics, it was a somewhat dark, misty day, but the greens just glowed as the sun was peeking through. The frame came with double matted, white over black and this seemed to work perfectly for it. However, this would not work for most of my other work.
Marc -

You want to know something funny. I went to two local framers recently and said I wanted 8 ply white mat and they were like 8 ply? They were in such disbelief that I would want to use that. Neither place actually stocked the stuff (maybe this is normal). But I agree, 8-ply looks great.

Now, about standing out. 8-Ply is a good idea. Now what about using oversized frames, like 16x20 to do my 8x10 portrait/landscape prints. And off-center the windows to make them top-heavy. This, to me, would stand out from the other photogs. And I could also use 16x20 frames for my 11x14s as well.

My only concern with this approach is would the general buying public want to buy such an oversized frame compared to the print size?? What do you guys think?
the shop i work uses mostly 8ply mats. then again the style that is used in the shop is that of a museum. our main mats are white, warm white, and antique white. this is quite traditional and i don't entirely agree with it, but it is how it is done.

pat you could always do some 11x14 matted 16x20 and buy a frame. do a few samples of your two maybe three favorite ideas, then choose after you have layed it down on several of your prints with the frame you like. some times you got to do some mock ups before you get it right. instead of changing your mind down the road give yourself the options now and see what it does for your work.
good luck
I would rather have the bottom larger or equal to the top than have it top heavy. I don't mind the top being slighly larger than the sides but narrower than the bottom.

Do I have you good and confused now?
One way to distinguish yourself from some of the other photographers showing out there would be to use more generous mat borders, even if it's just a single 4-ply mat.

If you're making 11x14 prints, and you want to stick with standard-size frames, think about a 20x24 frame size, instead of the 16x20 that everyone else is using.
Here is a picture of the display.

Sorry, for the lack of detail, but you should be able to construct this easily. I have used a "straight" black enhancer, but any of the black shapes will work.


Framerguy, I have used that Eastlake black, but take a look at #170114 with Tribeca 350285 and ANY flat moulding as a panel in between. Great look, especially with the Nantucket series or some AMPF soft colors or Studio wood grain colors. I am certain the selection of panels between these two is nearly endless.

I think that's bottom-weighted, Pat.

But it's very striking and will get noticed.

I have some Nielsen wall models in my shop. The ones that people comment on have neutral mats in unusual proportions - like a vertical image in a horizontal frame and vice-versa.

(The comments are good, btw.)
Ron -

Yeah, bottom-weighted makes more sense. I was thinking from a print point of view since it is nearer to the top. I need to learn the lingo, I guess.

Hey, I did some competitive research this morning. There is a local guy who does really great Sepia landscapes.

Here is his link, Final Impressions

He uses fairly narrow hardwoord mouldings that match the darker Sepia tones in his prints.

Here is info on his materials :

Archival Paper, archival Ink, archival 4-ply mat board, archival 4-ply window mat and archival buffered mount tissue. I only use the highest quality materials so your prints will last many many years.

The window mat is cut back from the edge of the print. In this way I can exactly control the presentation of the print, and have my signature appear on the actual print, not the over mat. In addition, the print number is also clearly visible in the lower left of the print (not mat).

This last part is interesting. He leaves a border around his print exposed all the way around the print (its just white). Its kind of an iteresting effect. No need to sign the mat.

What do you think of that?
I usually use white mats on color and black and white photography- crescent's 1613 is my favorite on color photos. It is a very crisp, cool, clean white. And do go nice and wide. Maybe even a 22 x 28 frame on an 8 x 10 print. It looks very dramatic and most photographers are "afraid" of wide mats, so you will stand out. Black is a close number two choice, though.
One thing to keep in mind regarding white or black mats- the trend interior-wise here is to paint the walls a saturated color- red, terracotta, saffron, chartreuse, etc and the woodwork white. Pieces with white mats look absolutely divine on colorful walls and will survive a decor change without a trip to the framer for a remat. (WAIT, what am I saying here...?)
I also like the look of a horizontal image in a vertical frame but not the reverse. I don't know why.
To jazz up white mats a bit, sometimes I will double the color as well, but I also like to use my homemade version of Bevel Accents in a clean white handmade paper or even a tightweave white linen. Match those whites, pelase!
I almost always use a matte or satin black flat or bevelled frame, but as an alternate, I like Pitcure Woods ebonized walnut. It is a warm and elegant off-black look.
Fot aluminum frames, I like the kickiness of the bevels of the Nielsen 51's and 57's, the spareness of the 91's and the sleekness of the 81's.

edie opinionssubjecttochangeatanyminutethough goddess
It has to be white.In art school here they teach you to avoid anything other than white or off white.With trashy prints then fire the coloured mounts as much as you want.

Black is mainly used here as a photographic mount/mat.The camera clubs seem to insist on either black or white in competitions.
Pat -

You are right to choose a consistent presentation, and it's difficult to narrow it down to a single choice. It took me months to settle on my "presentation" (which was influenced by Ansel Adams presentation). I choose white (could have chosen a brown I suppose), because it seems bright and neutral and "pure". You are correct in the eye leading to white areas, but the viewer won't dwell on blank white space. They will be drawn into your image.

What you ultimately want to achieve, is someone
spotting your work from across the room before they can see the details of your work. It works
well for me. The frame color, width of border and art work all combine to present the viewer with your signature look. Very Important.

Good luck -

Final Impressions
Doug -

Wow, small world. I think your work is excellent and very inspring. And I think the "months" you spent on picking out your presentation have sure paid off. I am still trying to find my "signature" look.

Do you have Lumiere Photo do all your framing?

Also, if I recall, you use a digital camera as well. Do you print on an inkjet printer?

If so, how does your framer mount your prints (hinge-mount,corners,dry/cold mount)?

Also, if you don't mind me asking, I am trying to determine how much inventory to bring to Canal Days (assuming I get in). Since, you are a Canal Days veteran, do you have any tips?

Sorry for all the questions.
Hi Pat, since no one else has jumped down your throat on this point ( ;) ) I just had to make a comment about the signing of mats. I have been a framer since 1969 and it just amazes me when artists (mostly photographers, sad to note) sign their artwork on the mat. Do you have any idea how many pieces get rematted in their lifetime? Rematted due to the aging of the mat, rematted due to the repainting of ther livingroom, rematted due to the new colors of the sofa!

The photograph is YOUR artwork and you should always find a way to sign it, for the sake of posterity (in case you are the next Ansel Adams). And not with a gold marker, find a proper type of pen and ink for your paper and your work could make someone VERY happy on Antiques Roadshow in 2104!!!

A good way to achieve the signing would be to reveal some of the paper around the photo and sign it just like artists who do etchings, or serigraphs, or lithographs. Then you are signing on white instead of the colored area of the photo. This signature could even be covered by the matting, just so it is there! In the scrapbook industry there are many new types of acid-free, lightfast, waterproof, non-bleeding (etc etc) pens on the market. Or check with Light Impressions.

Just please don't sign the mat. Mats come and go but artwork can be forever.....
Framar -

I agree with you. I liked the way Doug left a border around his prints and signed in the border and matted around it to reveal this border. I like that idea or to just cover it with the mat, either way. I guess some potential buyers might like the idea of showing the artists signature.
Most of the photographers I frame for sign in the margin, though they often have me mat over the signature so that the white margin doesn't interfere with the composition of the framed piece. Some sign on the back of the piece, and others have had an embossing tool made so they can put a "chop" mark in the margins. Whatever method used should be on the photo paper itself.
I personally don't like to see the signature in the image area, and I despise the gold or silver markers. Other than that I'm pretty easy going.

OH, and neutral colored mats (this was about mat color, eh?). It all depends on the tone of the paper the photo is printed on and in the case of black and whites, whether or not the photos themselves were toned (celenium, sepia, multi....). Some of the photographers I work for use some of the archane technologies, so mat colors are adjusted to each variable (Crescent 1102 looks really good on platiunum prints. and Bainbridge 8642 works well with salt prints).

Presentation is everything.
Would nighttime stars and Milky Way pictures be better matted on black? I'm wondering if white would be too stark of a contrast.


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    Milky Way over Burnt Coat Harbor Lighthouse DSC_7368 06 02 2024.jpg
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Would nighttime stars and Milky Way pictures be better matted on black? I'm wondering if white would be too stark of a contrast.
Hi, Linda. Welcome to the Grumble! :)

You might also look at some other options. A dark grey the color of the house and cloud would work well.
Another consideration is, how it will look behind glazing. If it's framed with a black mat and reflective glazing,
there will be a lot of reflections. So, hopefully, a black mat would have non-reflective glazing. Do you primarily
sell framed or unframed prints?
Hi, Linda. Welcome to the Grumble! :)

You might also look at some other options. A dark grey the color of the house and cloud would work well.
Another consideration is, how it will look behind glazing. If it's framed with a black mat and reflective glazing,
there will be a lot of reflections. So, hopefully, a black mat would have non-reflective glazing. Do you primarily
sell framed or unframed prints?
Thanks for the welcome, Shayla!
I plan to sell them in clear bags and let them do the framing.
If the sizes of the photographs are uniform (also assuming there are other images) you may want to show both options and let the client decide.
Welcome to the G, Linda!
Not sure about either, but for selling, I would think most people would opt for white. Doing a black might make it 'too moody' overall for most. If you would go for black, I would go with one that is slightly glossy (I love the Peterboro glossy black matboard as it has a slight texture). Problem with black is that it has to somewhat match the black in the photos. White would be easier.

Your customer might simply change the mat (most of mine do) so maybe you should also look at selling them without the mat? Just throwing out ideas!
Thank you, Ylva! Small world!! I grew up on the North Shore. My Dad fished out of Gloucester for many years.
I'm going to try both and see if the white doesn't make the highlights POP more.
Selling images at a local event/craft fair will present better matted in clear bags.
Having people paw through them without them they'd get ruined.
Thank you, Ylva! Small world!! I grew up on the North Shore. My Dad fished out of Gloucester for many years.
I'm going to try both and see if the white doesn't make the highlights POP more.
Selling images at a local event/craft fair will present better matted in clear bags.
Having people paw through them without them they'd get ruined.
It's possible that any smudges and scuffs left on the outsides of the clear bags
will show up more on black mats, than on white. But, I love the idea of doing both.
Not only does it gives folks the choice, but it creates a more eye-catching display.
When I was selling my photo's at small town local craft fairs I offered all three; white mat, (black or grey) mat, no mat.
I haven't sold for many many years, but whenever I am at any artshow/fair I snoop at what others are now doing.
Each artist/photographer's choice of display is as unique as they are.

Offer sizes that are "standard" ready-made photo sizes and your customers will love you.
If the budget allows, you can try to find a good source of affordable ready mades that you can also offer as a "upsell".

Put a couple of your best pieces in a mat and frame as "samples only".
You don't have to frame all of them, just a few samples.
When someone shows interest in a piece, direct them to the framed samples.
Or, have a matted sample of each photo that you can quickly swap into a sample frame right in front of the customer.
"Here's what it looks like in a mat and frame".
Guaranteed it will boost at least some of your sales from photo only to mat & frame.