Matboard and More

Guide to Matting for Art Shows

The majority of Matboard and More®’s customers are artists, whether it be photography, painting, drawings or other forms of art. We love to support artists and since we get so many questions about what kind of matting to use in shows, we thought it would be good to create a tutorial on exactly that! There are a variety of shows to consider however from large scale art fairs, small scare galleries, fine art competitions to name a few. We will try to cover all the bases in this article.

infographic on matting for art shows including details about sizes and matboard quality

Matboard Color

Matboard and More® offers picture matting in over a hundred colors, but our most popular colors by far (80%) are either simple black or white. For most art shows or high end galleries, people have come to expect neutral colors such as black or white because they don’t distract from the art. With that said, we have also had feedback that bright colors stand out in a crowd of white matting, so don’t be afraid to experiment depending on your customers preferences. Many art shows have policies around the allowed colors, stipulating only whites or blacks, so it is a good idea to ask before hand. Competitive art shows will almost always have rule dictating neutral colors only, which include white, soft gray, cream or black. Even amongst the whites and blacks however there are many choices. For black, it’s basically a choice of textured versus smooth but, smooth blacks are the much more popular choice. Simple is better. White mats come in shades from very bright to off-white/creamy mats.

The shade of white you choose is highly dependent on your own preferences but the most popular whites that we sell to customers are either:

Economy – Polar White/Smooth White : very bright whites, smooth white is the whitest color we have

Economy – Off White : creamy white, smooth and our most popular economy mat

Decorative – Very White : smooth bright white, popular and the brightest white of the Decorative mats.

Decorative – Arctic White : neutral white, the most popular choice for artists

Decorative – Antique White : slightly off-white, popular for those seeking a lighter shade of white

Conservation – White Art : slightly bright white, most popular conservation mat

Conservation – Off-White : lighter/creamier shade of white

Conservation 8 Ply – White Art : most luxurious mat, bright white and double thickness

As you can see there are many choices of white to choose from but Off White, Arctic White and White Art are the most commonly used picture mats in shows, depending on whether or not conservation matting is needed.

Conservation vs. Regular

Conservation matting is built to last over a hundred years, where Decorative matting will typically go a few decades before it begins to fade. Have a look at our Matboard 101 guide for a review of Conservation versus non-Conservation matting. For fine art, it is best to spend a few extra dollars and get Conservation matting, but other than that you are fine with Decorative matting. For purely aesthetic purposes, both types of matting do the job perfectly, it is more about how long you want the mats to last. Also, many times those who purchase the art from you will change their mats once at home, so it’s not all that important. In a competition always use Conservation matting for the best effect. Economy (Berkshire) matting is also an option and it is much more economical. However, it is not recommended for higher end shows or galleries, though it can be very practical for consumer art and retail outlets. The cuts aren’t as clean with Berkshire, the mats will lose their color quicker and they are thinner which means you lose some depth. In summary, Conservation matting is necessary for high end shows, but for most purposes Decorative matting does the job just as well. For the most economical option our Economy Berkshire matting is available.

Matting Size

A a rule of thumb, 2-4 inches of picture matting around the art is suitable for most art work, the larger the art work, the larger the mat. Wide matting makes the art seem more important. 1 inch is almost never enough, even on household art, it looks somewhat cheap. If you are selling your art work with just the mat, do your best to fit the outer size of the mat to a standard picture frame size (ie. 8×10″, 11×14″, 16×20″, 18×24″ etc.) as it will make it much easier for your customers when they look for a frame to match the matboard. Review our guide on Measuring Matboards for more detail. Some art work looks great with extremely wide mats, for example the square mat below is a 12×12" with a 5×5" opening. The borders are 3.5″, almost the same as the photo itself but it has a great effect. The key is to really experiment to find what works best for your art.

square matboard with wide borders

Matting Show Kits

Photo matting show kits are used to protect and professionally present your art work at shows. The three components of a show kits are picture matting, backing boards and show bags. The show bags are archival acrylic bags which should fit snugly with the matting and backing. Without bags, anyone handling the matting risks getting finger marks and smudges that will greatly diminish the value of the art. There are many backing boards to choose including economy chipboard, standard matting material, archival, foam board and self-adhesive mounting boards. All backing boards serve the same function, and it is mostly a matter of preference which one you would like to use, except if you need conservation, archival backing. If you use conservation matting, it only makes sense to also use archival backing board. For more information on our backing boards see our backing board products page page. Matboard and More® sells show kits in all sizes, you can either purchase standard show kits or custom show kits by adding bags/backing board as additional options. Either way, they are highly recommended if you intend to protect and sell your art.

matboard show kits for art shows including matting, bags and backing boards

Additional Options

The most important secondary options are double matting, the mat core color and bottom weighting (off-set). Many times the mat opening is not perfectly centered in the picture matting. You can choose to adjust the margins however you like. Top center is the most common off-set, it is when you have a larger bottom margin than top margin. It creates a very nice effect because when people look at art, their eyes naturally look higher than the physical center of the mat. By having a bigger bottom margin, your image is higher as well and the eye looks directly at the center of the image. A 1/2″ off-set is usually enough. It’s a subtle but important point.

double matted with bottom weighted off-set

Double Matting is when you add a second matboard layer that is placed below the top mat. A double mat adds a lot of value and give you the option to accent your matboard with another color. The image below shows a white on black double matboard. The black mat is the bottom (accent) layer.

double matboard showing white on black

The core is the the inside edge of the mat after a 45 degree cut is made. It functions as a secondary border and is typically 1/8″ of an inch. Don’t underestimate how much nicer your art will look in white or black core compared to cream core. If you are doing fine art, standard core will diminish it’s beauty and it is also non-conservation.

Core comes in three colors:

Standard/Cream Core : cheap and used in most retail shops for its low cost, but it will fade and yellow over many years of exposure to light. It will also become brittle.

White Core : true bright white and will retain its color over many years since it is acid free. Brings out the beauty of your art work much more than the cream core.

Black Core : true black and will retain its color over many years since it is acid free. Brings out the beauty of your art work much more than the cream core, particularly useful in black and white photos.


The bottom line is that mats are great for enhancing your art work, leading to higher sales of your products. For the most part, it is best to stick with white or black picture matting, that is about 2-4" wide. Picture matting show kits are essential if you are presenting many pieces of work and need a way to protect and present the mats. Conservation matting isn’t always necessary, but many customers do demand it, and all competitive shows do! Experiment, experiment and experiment some more and that Matboard and More® is dedicated to helping you present your art in the most beautiful way possible! Thank you to Judith Edwards and Allan Price for sharing their art work with us

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We sell pre cut mats and custom picture frames in any size, color and quantity. Our products also include custom matting, backing boards, clear bags, show kits, matboard value packs, custom plexiglass.

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