How to Choose the Right Mat for Your Art Print

You supported an artist - yay!  You managed to get it home without spilling coffee on it  — great job! But your beautiful print has been sitting in a drawer for the past three years… whomp, whomp. I'm not here to judge, we’ve all been there, but it's time to quit procrastinating and frame it already.

I’m going to cover the basics of picking out a mat board for your soon to be matted and framed art print.

What is Mat Board

I feel pretty confident that you've seen mat board. It’s the thick paper “window” you see between the glass and the art when a print is framed.

Framed and matted illustration of cereal


 Why You Should Mat Your Art Print

1. Matting your print can protect it from things like: water damage, mold, or sticking the glass (trust me on this, peeling/ripping your favorite print off of glass is a super sad moment that will forever make you a strong advocate for matted prints)

2. Mats accentuate your print and give it a nice finished appearance.

Choosing a Mat:

There are a few things you need decide when picking out a mat.


The mat should only be a few inches bigger than the print itself. You want to avoid having a huge mat with a tiny floating print in the center. And you also don’t want a small 1/2” strip of mat around a big piece of art. If you look at the image below, you'll see that the art is the same size but the frame and mat make it look drastically different. I would suggest you aim for about 1.5” - 3” inch mat border. For example, if you have an 8”x10” print, an 11”x14” mat is a good standard size.

Two framed and matted illustrations of toast



There are a few routes you can take when picking out your mat color. No matter what you choose, make sure you pick a color that compliments the art itself - don’t worry about whether or not it matches the wall, sofa, etc.

Matching the frame color:
I would avoid choosing a mat color that matches the frame color. It will almost never match exactly and even if it does, it can look really bulky and heavy. Instead, consider a double mat and use that frame color as an accent.

Two framed illustrations


A neutral color mat:
Sometimes simple is best. A classic black, white, cream, or grey mat can work with almost any piece of art.

watercolor illustration of a stovetop espresso maker in a wood frame

Choose a color that is dominant in the print:
A common way to choose a mat color is to look at the art and find a color that stands out. This is great way to really draw attention to the art.

watercolor illustration of blueberries in a wood frame




When shopping for a mat you'll also want to consider the archival quality. Low quality mats can cause discoloration and fading to your art/photo called “mat burn”. This happens when a compound in the paper begins to break down and “burns” your art. If you’ve ever seen a piece of art that’s been in a frame for several years and it looks yellowed where the mat was, that’s mat burn. 


Most mats made now are “acid free” but there’s a different levels of quality:

  1. Acid free mats: The mat has been treated with a chemical to neutralize the acidity. This slows it down but doesn’t eliminate the potential for mat burn down the road. Mat burn may still happen after it’s been framed for several years.
  2. Archival mat boards: made from alpha cellulose (wood pulp) and stripped of any acids. Supposed to last 50 - 100 years.
  3. Museum Board: 100% cotton rag, the highest quality matting option available. This is what art collectors and museums use. Should last hundreds of years. 

This covers the basics you need to choose the right mat for your print. You can go to any local framing and/or art supply store and pickup a pre-cut mat, ask them cut a mat for you, or cut it yourself.