Matting Prints

A couple months ago I decided to try and sell my work at a local gallery.  I submitted my portfolio and a couple of weeks later, I heard the great news that they wanted to accept my work into their displayed collection.  I was thrilled.  The problem was, I didn’t know exactly how to showcase my work in a way that was ready to sell.  It was time to do some research.

Most photographs sold in a general art gallery expect you to sell a matted print.  This is a nice option because it allows the buyer to choose the frame to fit their home decor, and saves you the guesswork as the artist.  But how exactly do you mount a photograph in a mat?  And how do you protect the product so it arrives in the customer’s hands in perfect condition?

There are several ways to mount a photograph, so you can certainly try out a couple to figure out what works best for you.  This method worked well for my initial run of 36 prints, and I expect to use it for the next run as well.

First, you need materials.  To properly mount a photograph, here are the materials you will need:

  • The mat itself
  • A backboard
  • A plastic sleeve
  • Linen tape

There are several websites that sell these materials.  I purchased mine from a company called Golden State Art.  They sell several kits that include a mat, backboard, and sleeve all together for very reasonable prices.  It was nice because I didn’t have to worry about the sleeve being the right size to properly fit the mat and backboard.  It was a set, so I knew it would work.  Note that Golden State Art offers quantity discounts if you purchase more than 20 sets.  Even though I wasn’t mounting 20 photos of each size (I was printing 3 different sizes), I ended up purchasing 20 kits of each size just to get that discount.  Eventually I will use them.  One really nice thing about the quantity discount is that you can order different color mats as long as they are the same style, and still get the deal.

That takes care of most of the materials, but you’ll still need to find some good linen hinging tape.  Linen tape is nice because it’s sturdy and matches the white color of the mat.  It’s also easy to work with, giving you some leeway if you need to peel and re-attach it.  I did some research and found a lot of recommendations for Lineco brand products.  Make sure you get self-adhesive, and not the gummed tape.  Gummed tape needs to be wet in order to stick, and I’ve heard it’s a real hassle to get the tape wet and placed without making a mess of it.  I ordered Lineco’s 1.25″ wide tape in a 150′ roll, but they also have smaller rolls as well.

Now that we have the materials, it’s time to get started with the mount.  The first thing you’ll want to do is hinge the mat to the backboard.  Place them on a level surface edge-to-edge, with the mat face down.  Then cut a piece of tape about 90% of the length of the mat and place it evenly between the mat and the backboard.  It should look something like this:

The mat is placed face down on a level surface next to the backboard.  Run a piece of tape evenly split between the two.
The mat is placed face down on a level surface next to the backboard. Run a piece of tape evenly split between the two.

After the tape has been placed, fold the mat closed and make the initial crease in the tape.  It should fold smoothly.

Now it’s time to position the artwork on the backboard.  Close the mat/backboard most of the way and position your photo on the backboard.  Once it is in a good position, place a heavier object on the print to hold it in place.  As you can see in this photo, I used a lens on top of a cleaning cloth to avoid scratching the photo.

Position the photograph on the backboard.  Once you have it in the desired spot, place a weight on it to hold it while taping.
Position the photograph on the backboard. Once you have it in the desired spot, place a weight on it to hold it steady while taping.

Now we are ready to tape the photo to the backboard.  When attaching the photo to the backboard, you only want to tape the top of the photo.  The rest of the photo should hang freely.  The reason for this is that the photo will naturally expand and contract with temperature, and you want to allow it to do this without rippling in the frame.  The tape is strong enough to hold the photo against the backboard and just let it hang naturally behind the mat.

For my 5×7″ and 8×10″ prints, I used 2 pieces of tape the attach the photo to the backboard.  For my 11×14″ prints (as in the image below), I used a third piece of tape as well.  With the photo held down by the weight, gently lift up the top of the photo and place a 2″ strip of tape face up, sticking against the back side of the photo.  Just slide the tape halfway under the photo, and then let the photo rest on the tape, pressing gently to seal it.

Here on this 11x14" print, I used three pieces of tape along the top edge of the print.  Note that the tape is facing upward, attached to the back of the photograph.  Nothing is holding the print to the backboard yet.
Here on this 11×14″ print, I used three pieces of tape along the top edge of the print. Note that the tape is facing upward, attached to the back of the photograph. Nothing is holding the print to the backboard yet.

As you can see, nothing is holding the print to the backboard at this point because the tape is face up.  To make the final attachment to the backboard, you’ll use a second piece of tape for each point.  Cut 2-3″ strips of tape and attach them horizontally across the tape tabs you placed in the previous step, pressing them onto the backboard.  Try to attach these strips of tape as close to the photograph as possible, otherwise you will have sections of tape face up that will stick to the mat.  It should look something like this:

Place horizontal pieces of tape across the tape tabs stuck to the photo to complete the attachment to the backboard.
Place horizontal pieces of tape across the tape tabs stuck to the photo to complete the attachment to the backboard.

Your photo mounting is now complete.  Close the mat on top of the backboard and you are ready to go.  In my case, I wanted to sign and label the print.  There are lots of opinions about the best way to do this, but I decided to use pencil and write behind the mat on the backboard.

I write the name of the photograph, the year it was printed, sign my name, and provide a link to my website.
I write the name of the photograph, the year it was printed, sign my name, and provide a link to my website.

To complete the product, slide the image into the plastic sleeve.  The sleeves from Golden State Art are nice because the adhesive is on the envelope side of the sleeve, and not on the folded flap.  This makes it very easy to slide the mat into the sleeve or make adjustments, even after the adhesive is exposed.  Press the flap against the adhesive to seal it shut.  Here’s the final product:

The final product, in the sleeve and ready to sell.
The final product, in the sleeve and ready to sell.

Total time for the 36 photos I prepared was 6-7 hours over a few nights.  Once you get used to the process, it goes pretty quickly, but it can take awhile to get in the groove.  It’s great to see your work showcased in this kind of mat, and even better once you frame it and see it on the wall.

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