View Full Version : Matting prints

Tom Westbrook
15-Oct-2004, 18:03
Looking for some guidelines on mounting prints.
<li>How much margin should be left around a print? Or, put differently, on what size mat board do you mount moderately sized prints and find most visually pleasing? I'm mostly concerned with prints 20x24 through 8x10 in size.
<li>I've heard a couple of different takes on the "visual center" thing, but is there any rule of thumb that can be used to measure the vertical offset as a proportion of the mat or print size? Or do people just eyeball this?
<li>What method(s) do you use to center a print on its mat (including any vertical offset) without making pencil marks on the matboard?
If there are any books that deal with this sort if thing in depth, I'd love to hear about those, too.


David E. Rose
15-Oct-2004, 21:15
Ansel Adams- The Print.

Ralph Barker
15-Oct-2004, 21:18
That's sort of a toughie, Tom. It really depends (I think) on personal preferences and budget.

The current trend seems to be away from mounting (dry mounting or otherwise) and toward hinge-mounting the loose print behind the "window" of an overmatte. The margin, and whether that is centered, or given a weighted vertical centering, is a matter of taste, and whether you want to use less-expensive pre-cut mattes, or have everything custom matted.

Personally, for most of my stuff, I use pre-cut mattes, and print to standard sizes, using one "standard" size up for the matte (8x10 print goes in an 11x14 matte, etc). That keeps general expenses to a minimum. For special images, however, printing to a non-standard size and aspect ratio, and then custom matting, should certainly be considered. In those cases, a slightly bottom-weighted matte might be preferable. The ratio of margin above and below the print are still fairly close, however, usually 45:55 or maybe 40:60 (above:below) from what I've seen. But again, tastes vary, and professional framers seem to have the same level of diversity of opinion as photographers. ;-)

If you're doing it for your own wall, I'd suggest doing what visually pleases you. If for a customer, do what they want.

David Karp
15-Oct-2004, 22:13
Hi Tom,

1. Here is what I do: 8x10 on 14x18 matboard (I like 14x17 too, maybe better, but have not found a 14x17 presentation case), 11x14 on 16 x 20 matboard, and 16x20 on 20x24 matboard. I have done 8x10 on 11x14 matboard, but I think it looks a bit too tight. I used to use overmats, but now cut a full window mat that leaves 3/8" around the top and sides of the print, and 1/4" or 5/8" at the bottom, to allow for a signature and date.

Here is what Adams suggests: Smaller than 8x10 on 11x14 matboard, 8x10 on 14x18 matboard, 11x14 on 16x20 matboard, and 16x20 on 22x28 matboard.

Here is what Bruce Barnbaum suggests in "The Art of Photography: Smaller than 8x10 on 11x14 matboard, 8x10 on 14x17 matboard, 11x14 on 16x20 matboard (although he prefers the proportion of a 17x20 mat), and 16x20 on 22x28 board (although he prefers 24x28). He also relates that Edward Weston used to mount 8x10 contact prints on 13-1/3x16 matboard because he could cut 6 boards from on 32x4o board. This book has a good chapter on presentation, and Barnbaum's method for mounting his prints.

2. I mount my prints with a larger bottom boarder, and I just eyeball the extra size based on how the print looks on the board. Sometimes the bottom border is noticably larger. Other times it is larger, but hardly noticable.

3. I use a laborious method to locate the print on the mat for drymounting. I roughly center it from side to side, and eyeball the bottom and top margins. Then I measure the sides and bottom with a clear ruler. The print stays in place because it is weighted with a bean bag that my wife made for me out of a very soft material. Once I am satisfied with the placement, I tack the print to the mat. This method is laborious because it every movement can throw the other measurements off. Things speed up when I do more drymounting because I am in better practice. Other photographers, like John Sexton and Bruce Barnbaum cut guides from matboard to help position the print. I tried it, but I so often trim my prints from the standard sizes that I would have to have a tremendous number of guides to be able to use them to mount prints in all of the various sizes. I guess if I had to set up an assembly line, I would figure out how to make some sort of guide.

Calumet makes a device using rulers with a zero point centered on a wooden board and a "T" square to mount prints. I have thought about devising something like this, but have not had a chance to do it yet. I think that this type of device (along with the bean bag) might be the best way to quickly and accurately mount a print.

Hope this helps.

15-Oct-2004, 22:18
tom mating is tough ,the least 3 prints I sold were 16x20 on 24x28 vertical or 24x30 horizontal . the people how perches them walk around it seemed like forever and then came back with two people to cheek them out ,and maker me sweat . if you have no taste or if you wear brown shoes with a blue suite ask a women they will tell you .... what have fond is I like to isolate the imaged .I have prints that look good with a 3 inch border and a 8 inch bolder. its all about the people you want to sell to .if its for your self then do what you wont ..

15-Oct-2004, 23:25
With respect to determining mount position, I have a set of templates that I use which are cut from scrap mount board. For example, when mounting horizontal 11x14's on 16x20 mount board, I have a piece of mount board 20 inches wide, and just over 2.5" thick. Make a tick mark on the bottom edge of the guide about 3 1/4 inches from each end. Mark this tick mark as '0' (zero). Then, mark 9 tickmarks, each spaced over 1/16 " from the last tick mark, going both left and right. Number each tick mark heading outwards from the 0. You should end up with something like this:

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

on each end of the guide.

Place your mat board on a flat surface where you can butt the top edge against a straight edge. Place the guide on the mat, and butt it up against the same surface as the mount. Center it left/right - the guide may not be exactly the same size as the mount.

Place the print on the mat up against the guide, and using the tick marks, center it left and right.

Tack the print in place, and you're done.

Once you've done this once or twice, you'll wonder why you've never used this technique before. I used to use a ruler, and I can't believe how much time using these guides has saved me.

As was mentioned above, grab Bruce Barnbaums book - the idea for the guides came from that book. His book is a very useful addition to your darkroom.

Brian Ellis
16-Oct-2004, 04:22
Most of this is a matter of personal preference. E.g., I think that small prints (8x10 or smaller) often look better when mounted on an oversized board, i.e. leaving very wide borders of perhaps six or eight inches or even more. Doing that seems to give these small prints an aura of being "something special" that they otherwise may lack, especially when displayed alongside much larger prints. But some people thinks this calls too much attention to the mat at the expense of the print and so they just follow the practice mentioned above of mounting 8x10s on 11x14 board. It all depends on what looks right to you.

With respect to centering the print, however, I usually just eyeball but I used to use a very simple device made by Falcon Safety Products, Inc. in Branchburg, NJ (sorry, no web site, phone number, or mailing address) called a "Falcon Print Mounting Positioner." It's a sort of T Square looking thing that allows you to center perfectly in a few seconds. It cost about $10 IIRC. I've had mine for years and don't remember for sure where I got it but probably from Light Impressions or old Zone VI Studios.

Richard Coda
17-Oct-2004, 12:25
Here's a little Excel spreadsheet I made to calculate mat borders. Just replace my text with yours and the measurements.



Richard Coda
17-Oct-2004, 12:26
Here's a little Excel spreadsheet I made to calculate mat borders. Just replace my text with yours and the measurements.

Oops, forgot the attachment:

PhotoMatCalculator.xls (http://www.pctype.com/incoming/PhotoMatCalculator.xls)



David A. Goldfarb
17-Oct-2004, 14:33
Regarding #3, I make light pencil marks and erase them with a Staedtler Mars white vinyl eraser, which removes marks cleanly without damaging the surface of the board.


neil poulsen
18-Oct-2004, 04:37
A lot depends on personal preferences.

My little "breakthrough" for vertically positioning the opening on the overmat is the following. I use the simple formula below, letting "M" be the upper margin between the print and the top of the opening, "A" be the height of the image, "B" be the height of the mat board in which the opening will be cut, and letting "C" be the distance between the top edge of the mat board and the top edge of the opening. I measure everything in millimeters to avoid all the fractions associated with inches.

C = 0.435 (B - A) - M.

Or, 0.435 (B - A) is the distance between the top of the mat board on which the print is mounted and the top of the print. (Assumes that the height of the overmat and the height of the mounting mat are the same.)

One can change the value of the constant "0.435", depending on how much offset one wants. The smaller the number, the higher the offset. I experimented with this number until I arrived at a value that suits my personal taste. If the constant is "0.5", then the print is exactly centered. I can't imagine going below "0.4", unless one wants a very large offset. With larger mat boards, relative to the image, I've used "0.425".

Prior to arriving at this simple formula, I tried to position the opening by eyeballing the print on the mat board, etc. It was a tedious process, since I tend to be persnickity. Since using the above approach, I get just the feel that I want. No guesswork. Plus, multiple prints mounted side by side have a more consistent look, when one uses the same constant.

I divined this formula from what may be the "Falcon Print Mounting Positioner" device to which Brian Ellis refers above. (Not sure on this, though.) If it's the same, the constant used by the device is "0.45", which I found to be high. I prefer a little more offset, so I lowered the value.

I use the same margin all around. Or, one can extend the lower border of the opening to allow room for a signature.

18-Oct-2004, 09:33
Tom. I had the same problem at one time . Looking in art galleries at the stuff that grabed me I found that often the mat and frame equelled about 1/4 of the long side. Bit rough but it seemed to work. Certainly anything that I sold I made about this size and it seemed to be readily accepted. So a 16x20 would have 5ins as 1/4 the long side. either as a huge frame and small mat or the reverse.

As for placing the print, whats wrong with measuring the print (assuming it's square) and subtracting that from the mat size (assuming it's square) halving it and putting a pencil feather line this distance along two edges. The print then just sits on (over) these lines.

15-Sep-2011, 10:54
Regarding Neil Poulsen's "breakthrough" formula:
Upon measuring my "Falcon Print Positioner" with a digital vernier caliper (to the nearest 0.1 mm), I've inferred that the scale factor between the two length scales on the lower arm is 0.439 (not 0.45); this is virtually indistinguishable from 0.435.
I agree with everything else in Mr. Poulsen's very useful post.

15-Sep-2011, 12:50
Here's a little Excel spreadsheet I made to calculate mat borders. Just replace my text with yours and the measurements.

Oops, forgot the attachment:

PhotoMatCalculator.xls (http://www.pctype.com/incoming/PhotoMatCalculator.xls)



I still can't get to it. The browser says the page cannot be found.

15-Sep-2011, 13:12
I still can't get to it. The browser says the page cannot be found.

That link is 7 years old – it probably got lonely and wandered off. ;^)

However, you might PM Richard for the spreadsheet. Maybe he’s still be around.

Bob Wagner
16-Sep-2011, 09:14
try this

16-Sep-2011, 09:42
Holy cow, you've revived and old thread!

try this

Use these "calculators" or the Falcon positioner if you must, but IMO these techniques vastly overthink and dictate the matting process. Take a look at your "practice" mounts before committing to them. Is obvious (egregious) "center-weighting" appropriate? Do they fit your personal presentation aesthetic? What looks good to you? While not directly addressing specific print positioning, this (http://www.rangeoflightphotography.com/pages/Fine%20Art%20Print%20Presentation) may also be helpful.