Macco of Bethesda Custom Framing

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Matting & Mounting


       The purpose of a mat is to provide a separation - a layer of air -  between the art and glass which prevents the art from having contact with anything that could invite deterioration. Regardless whether the art is pristine or badly damaged,  with or without evidence of “foxing” (paper mold), direct contact with the glass allows for two-way transference of any paper-borne “cooties” to come in contact with any potential microscopic moisture which can form on the inside of the glass as a result of changes in temperature and, especially, humidity. For that reason, Macco advocates that all art, whether paper, fabric or artifacts , be separated from the glass by means of a mat or spacers (shims). 

      Mats are available in several grades: regular, acid-free and museum quality cotton rag. Though I have a plentiful in-house stock of all three, I rarely use regular and only with the understanding & permission of the client as to its potential to damage/discolour art. However, it is practical for items of little or no value intended for short-term use or disposal. Regular mat board is made from wood pulp which contains wood lignin,  highly unstable and destructive, and in short time will discolor its back side and bevel to a kraft-paper brown as well as anything else it contacts such as the art and mounting board.

    The designation of “acid-free” is vague as a chemical state of being acid-free can be achieved, primarily, in two ways. The first category of acid-free mats are generally made from ordinary wood pulp (which contains lignin, the primary culprit that causes discoloration of itself and anything near it) which is chemically de-acidified and  neutralized. The next best grade of acid–free mats are made with increased-to-exclusive proportions of higher grade pulp components, some containing added buffering chemicals. Both of these acid-free options offer a good mid-range quality product and are available in a vast and desirable range of colors.

    The Rolls-Royce of mats are termed “rag” mats - or  museum mats - and are just that: 100% cotton rag, are the highest quality available and used exclusively for museum-calibre matting. They cost more than the other options but the expenditure guarantees optimal, long-term protection. In recent years the colour range has been expanded though still not comparable to acid-free. If mat colour is a critical factor in the framing design, an acid-free mat can be used with a 2 or 4  ply rag mat underneath as a physical and chemical buffer.

     Most forms of art can, if desired, be conservation-framed without a mat. This requires more involved, labor-intensive techniques to isolate the art from the glass which can add to the overall cost of the framing. The two most common methods of mat-less framing are shadowboxing or using shims – thin plastic 1/8-1/2" rods – to elevate the glazing away from the art.

     While a pastel can technically be framed without a mat using “floating” methods of concealed hinges behind the art in addition to either shadowboxing or shimming,  Macco highly recommends the use of one or more mats to provide a greater buffer between glass and art.  Pastels are a very fragile medium with nothing holding the pastel chalk to the paper except the “tooth” of the paper and require the upmost care in handling. Some framers refuse to frame pastels which have not been secured “fixed” with special pastel adhesive sprays and will offer this service; however, Macco does not advocate the use of pastel fixatives as they can cause long-term damage such as compromised clarity and fastness of colour.


The term French mats is a plain paper mat which has been decorated by the addition of lines, coloured panels and/or added  marbled papers or 23k gilded strips. Because we don’t know any  better (!),  Macco continues to use old-fashioned European techniques for creating French mats.  Ruling pens are used for making lines with either coloured inks, watercolours or gouache, mediums vastly preferable to markers or pencils as the colours remain more vibrant and true to traditional European mat decorating while minimizing the risk of bleeding and fading. Coloured panels - i.e., bands of colour, should also be made with watercolour and gouache washes which technically dye the paper are a more permanent application than are contemporary rubbed-on pastel powders which are at risk for smudging.  French lines and panels can be further enhanced with marbled strips and/or gilded strips, made in-house.


     Fabric mats are available in both ready-made and custom-wrapped. Ready-made fabric mats exist in a range of colors and fabrics such as silk, linen, burlap, suede, leather, etc., and, in recent years, are now available pre-attached to acid-free boards. They can be bevel-cut as any other mat though the bevel will be white, same as the board. 

       In the case of custom-wrapped mats, the mat is first cut from an acid-free/rag mat. The fabric is then applied to cover the mat and literally wrapped around the bevel and stretched to the back of the board to provide continuity of colour. Custom-wraps allow for a very customized color and texture selection of fabric which we or the customer can provide.

       For obvious reasons, fabric mats are not appropriate for the use of french lines or coloured panels but they can be enhanced with fillets.


Mounts are perhaps the most important part of a framed package. Most clients realize the importance of quality mats for the preservation of art, but sometimes overlook the fact that the mounting (backing) board has 100% contact with the art compared to the marginal contact of the mat. We recommend and use exclusively acid-free or 100% rag mounts as well as rice paper hinges for attaching the art.

     Hinges are available in two grades: pre-pasted linen and Japanese rice paper. Art should hinged at the top only which allows it to hang unrestrained and free to expand and contract under changing conditions without buckling. Art hinged or attached by more than the top edge will  balloon and buckle as the paper contracts and expands in response to ambient temperature and humidity.

       Macco does not use any of the popular commercial methods of mounting art, especially dry or wet mounting or any method involving adhesives. These methods are not fail-safe – art can be damaged in the process or come loose over time as the adhesives dry out and release. Hinges, properly applied, do no damage and are reversible.

       We can, however, provide resources for professional permanent, flat mounting for inexpensive, commercial works of art to be box mounted –  such as posters –  with the informed permission of the owner.


Macco of Bethesda
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