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An Expert Guide to Matting and Framing a Photo

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The final printed image is the culmination of my journey in creating a piece of artwork that represents my view of the world around me. As photographers in the digital age we spend far too much time staring at our photographs on our computer screens and very little time holding them in our hands. I still take great pride in every print I produce. There are a myriad of options for printing your work today, from canvas wraps to Metal prints, however for me there is something timeless and classic about a finely Matted and Framed print.

There is a tremendous amount of information out there on how to produce a great print of your digital image. However I was very surprised when I started my research that there was very little on the topic of properly matting and framing a print.

Today, I thought I would share my approach to matting and framing my fine art photographic prints with you. While I don’t claim that this to be the only approach, I am confident it is grounded in the same principles used for fine art paintings and therefore will maximize the longevity of your printed photograph.

1. Be Prepared

I'm gonna go out here on a limb and say hopefully having a clean workspace should be fairly obvious. This is critical to ensure no dust or dirt reaches the print during the mounting process. Matting and framing a print should be carried out swiftly and ensure the print is not left exposed to the elements.

Before you start, make sure you have both plenty of room and everything you will need to mount and frame the print near to hand (and nothing more). One very important accessory you will need upfront is a pair of cotton gloves. These ensure none of the nasty chemicals are transferred to the print from your hands.

2. Creating a Hinged Mount Board

Hinging the matte is a very common method used in fine art and offers complete protection for the print but also makes the removal of the print a simple process. Firstly layout the matte and under-mount side by side. You can use a straight edge to ensure they are lined up exactly. When satisfied everything is straight use a pH neutral acid free paper hinging tape to tape the two boards together.

Next trim off the edges with a sharp knife. Once trimmed run your gloved finger along the tape to ensure good adhesion. Bonus Tip: A special cutting board is a useful investment as it both protects your work surface and is also very simple to clean. Once you’re finished the process you can simply clean the cutting board put it straight back in a protective plastic bag ready for the next time you need it.

3. Positioning the Print

When ordering a matte for your print you have a couple of options on window size. Traditionally you would size the Matte window slightly smaller then the print. However for fine art the matte window is typically ¼” or ½” larger. With this larger window however accurate placement becomes one of the single most awkward steps in the process.

Accurate placement is critical though to ensure the print is centered in the matte window. The first step is to open the hinged mount and place the print flat on the under-mount. If you choose to size the Matte window larger then your print ensure the print itself includes about 1" of white space all around (unprinted paper) to give the mount something to grip. To make it easier you can cut guides for each print size from heavyweight photographic paper. Make one for both the bottom and side that will allow you to line up the print on the under-mount perfectly.

Once lined up place a weight on the print. Not any weight though, something that will not damage the print. I use a very very soft sock, actually 2 socks one inside the other filled with coins. It doesn't need to weigh a ton, just enough to keep the print secure. Next close over the hinged mount and make sure everything is centred and squared off. You can tweak the position until it's perfect.

4. Securing the Print

Now that the print is perfectly placed in the matte you need to secure it. Don't use any adhesives on the print itself. Use see-thru archival mounting strips instead. These strips are made so half their length contains a 2-ply conservation board and acid free adhesive and the other half a clear archival polyester. Firstly cut 5 to 6 (depending on print size) strips of about 1/2" in length. Then reopen the hinged Matte to expose the print. Peeling of the protective plastic from the adhesive side place the strips around the print to secure it in place.

The adhesive edge sticks to the under-mount while the clear archival polyester edge secures the print in place against the under-mount. As you have included a 1" border all around the print not even this archival polyester edge touches the printed surface. Its important to leave a small amount of room, say 1/32" - 1/16" between the 2-ply board of the adhesive strip and the print to allow some expansion of the print over time. This method will suit prints up to 16” or so, beyond that I would recommend dry mounting to an archival quality board.

5. Sign the Print

So the print is now securely mounted within the hinged matte board. The entire process was done swiftly, in a clean environment, wearing cotton gloves and using only archival quality mounting products. Carry out a final inspection to make sure you’re 100% happy, ensuring everything is still spotlessly clean, print is positioned correctly, etc. Time to sign.

This is a very personal choice but something I will always do. If you have produced a stunning image that you are proud of and taken the time to carefully mount and frame it why not sign it? I sign both the print and the matte. The print signature is hidden beneath the matte so as not to distract from the print itself. If you do choose to sign the print make sure you use an archival quality pigment ink pen. A good old HP pencil is perfect for the matte.

6. Make a Print Sandwich

So now that the matting is finished we move on to framing. The first step is to make absolutely sure the Glass is spotless with zero smudges, marks, dust, etc. I use a glass cleaner mixture I make myself of 50/50 isopropyl alcohol & distilled water and lightly mist it on to one glass surface at a time; gently wiping with a micro-fibre cloth. The alcohol mixture evaporates very quickly leaving no residue. This mixture is also safe to use in an archival environment.

give the matted print and glass one last check for any dust and if needed give them both a quick brush using a soft drafting brush to lift any dust. Quickly slip the glass over the matte and then slip both over the backing board to make a sandwich and ensure a tight seal. Make sure you are still wearing your cotton gloves so you don't introduce any smudges on the glass.

7. Taping it Up

Next step is to place the frame over the glass, matte & backing board sandwich. Again double-check to make sure no dust has crept in, this is your last chance to spot anything. Then gripping the back of the backing board firmly against the frame, flip the frame. Secure the backing board in place by bending down the brads so the glass, matte & backing board all tight against the front lip of the frame.

Once secure its time to seal it up. You should use a specialist Kraft Paper Backing tape to tape around the edges of the frame and then fold each side down and stick to the backing board to create a tight dust free seal.

8. Add a Kraft Paper Backing

Next up is the paper backing. Make sure you use a heavy-weight brown Kraft Paper. Placing the frame on a sheet roughly cut the paper to size. Putting the paper aside and using either double sided tape or better yet a Scotch ATG Gun tape the very edges of the frame around all sides. The great thing about this ATG double-sided tape is it is so malleable.

Quickly run your finger along the edges of the frame and roll in any tape that is sticking out beyond the edge of the frame. Once complete it is time to flip the frame again and lay it down on the Kraft paper. With some light pressure ensure an initial adhesion and then once more flip the frame on its back. Then run your finger along the edges to ensure firm adhesion all the way around. Using a straight edge, something like a steal ruler, and craft knife cut off the access paper so it runs tight to the frame edges but not beyond.

9. Fit the Hangers, Wire & Bumpers

First thing is to mark a location on the frame on both sides 1/3 down from the top for the D-Rings. Once marked use a bradol to put a pilot hole for each screw. Then screw a D-Ring to each side. Bonus Tip: It is advisable to double check the orientation of the print in the frame before you start putting holes in your frame. Last thing you want after sealing your frame up is to discover you've added the hangers upside down.

Choose a wire that is capable of handling at least double the weight of the framed artwork. Cutting a length a few inches longer then the length of the frame tie it off to one D-Ring then thread it through the second, pull tight (not too tight) and tie it off. Last up is to fit some cork bumpers at the bottom edges of the frame. These help to both protect paintwork, wallpaper and keep the frame level when hung.

10. Enjoy it

Congratulations! You have just matted and framed your photographic print to archival quality standards. Sit back and enjoy it. This may sound like an odd step but this is so important. I opened this article discussing the digital age where we all spend our lives looking at images on backlit monitors, often flicking from one image to the next. You have just taken time to select an image, carefully print, matte and frame it. It is now ready to be hung. So why not go do that now and sit back and enjoy looking at your fine work.

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