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Monday, March 3

Matting prints

My efforts to put together a portfolio have been progressing painfully slowly. I've done a few prints - 9.5" by 12" - so a start has at least been made. If you look at the above pic, you'll see they share a common theme - they were all easy to print! I thought I'd start off with the negs that would require least footering about under the enlarger.

So, although I'm not exactly forging ahead I have, nevertheless, been thinking about matts - what size and which orientation.

The colour is easy as I would never use anything other than white or slightly off-white when matting black and white prints. That still leaves a few variables. When I was presenting prints at Dundee Photographic Society events and a few international exhibitions, I always followed a fairly standard layout. The matt at the sides and top would be the same size but I'd leave a little extra room beneath the print as that seemed the best way of balancing things.

I'm wondering if there are perhaps better layouts. I haven't bought any matt board yet so I'm not in a position to experiment but maybe a centrally-placed print would look good? That's an obvious one for square prints but might be harder to pull off for rectangles. I seem to recall a few photographers used to buck the trend and present landscape format 35mm prints in a portrait-style matt.

Then there's the size of the matt to be considered. A big matt with a big print looks great but they're a bugger to store. So I'm thinking of something no bigger than about 16x20. Since it's been a lot of years since I did any matting, I no longer seem to have a matt cutter (don't know where that went) or any idea of the best place in the UK to source the materials.

I used to get my supplies from an art shop in Dundee but I don't think it's there now. Any and all suggestions for matt board and matt cutter suppliers would be very welcome - as would your views on the best size and format for matts.

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Herman Sheephouse said...

Indeed Bruce - Burns and Harris shut a few years back now, so you have little recourse but to go netting.
Silverprint have a great selection of mounting stuff but it ain't half expensive . . there's loads of online framing supply places too.
Your nearest 'proper' art shop is Dunn's in Perth - a lovely old school REAL art shop . . highly recommended, but best to phone if you are after anything specific . .they can order too.
Good luck!

Michael Stevens said...

In a former life I was a picture framer and still stick to the standards I was taught then.

As you, I always go for white/off white mountboard (to match the paper). I would also recommend a half inch wider margin at the bottom to balance the optical illusion of 'top-heaviness' that equal margins give.

The width of the margins is a bit of a balancing act. As you say, generous ones look better but use more materials and take up more space when stored or framed.

I would also recommend conservation grade rag board for a prestigious project like this: why spoil the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar?!

Regarding cutting equipment, for best results I would either fork out for a proper bench mounted cutter – if you can justify the expense – or contract the work out to the professionals. There are some online services that will make to measure and give discounts for larger orders. A company I have used is here.

If you choose to do the work yourself, everything you will ever need can be found here.

By the way, we generally call them 'mounts' rather than 'matts' which is considered a bit of an Americanisation!

Good luck!

Bruce Robbins said...

I vaguely know Dunns but it's been years since I was last there. I think that's where I bought my matt cutter. There was also a nice art shop in St Andrews but don't know if it's disappeared or not.

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks for the advice, Michael, and the links. Very, very useful. A bench mounted cutter is out of the question I'm afraid. If I was doing it myself I'd be using one of the hand-held cutters that slides along the ruler.

Anonymous said...

First of all, I like the look of the three photographs in your illustration. With regard to mounts, I use a 16x20" mount for an 11x14" enlargement; a 14x18" mount for an 8x12" enlargement; an 11x14 mount for an 8x10" contact print, a 6x9" enlargement, and a 5x7" enlargement; and an 8x10" mount for a 4x5" contact print and a 4x6" enlargement. I leave an additional 1/2" at the bottom of a mount. Best wishes.
Bill Wheeler

Nick Jardine said...

Hi Bruce.

I started out refusing to buy a mount-cutter, just couldn't bring myself round to paying out for something that seemed an extravagance.

However, after spending a fortune getting custom-made mounts online that turned out to be not quite the colour I was expecting and really pretty horrible mounting board (that's the joy of ordering stuff online that you can't physically see) I gave in and I'm glad i did.

I spent in the region of £60 on mounts, most of which I eventually binned so I bought a Logan Mount cutter and I wish I had done so sooner. It cost £100.

Now I can cut whatever board i like (get it from my local art shop) to any size I like. Complete freedom.

The one that i bought is here:

and here's handy video on how easy they are too use:

Just having a look at your mounts, I was thinking I may have gone for a slightly bigger border around the top and sides, they just seem a wee bit small to my eye and slightly out of proportion to the bottom, then again, it's all personal taste.

I like my images to have a good size border because I feel that if I put them in a frame (I always use a black frame) I don't want the frame to disrupt my viewing of the image.

Bruce Robbins said...


The problem with mount cutters is that they're so unsexy! I'd find it hard to spend £100 on something so practical - although maybe I should.

The prints in the pic at the top of the post aren't actually mounted. That's just the print border you're seeing. On a 10x12 print I'd probably prefer about three-four inches of mount around the print.

Thanks for the links, too.

David Kirk said...

It's a bit out of your way perhaps, but there is F.W. Holroyd in Queenslie Industrial Estate, but while handy for me near Glasgow, it may be less so for you.

David Kirk said...

Forgot to add, sometimes F.W. Holroyd has some second hand, but still perfectly serviceable gear too

you never know give the guys a call and they could help you out.

Will Morgan said...

This may be naff and a bit cheapskate, but after printing them like this, why not just mount them directly into a frameless clip frame?

If you need further embellishment (before you frame them, that is) you could always print them with a black line round them, a la Cartier Bresson.

Good work, and good luck!

Wilf Morgan

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks, I'll keep an eye out on Holroyd's site.

I've nothing against the frameless clip-type affair but these mounted prints will form part of a portfolio which will probably be packed away in an archival box.

David McCormack said...

Hi Bruce,

Just wondering which paper you went with in the end?

And how would you mount/attach the print to the window-mount or separate mount? Do you dry mount your fibre prints to deal with the curl?

Sorry for all the questions!

Just a thought, when they show vintage prints from the RPS collection at the Media Museum in Bradford, the prints are often different sizes and formats but they tend to mount them all in the same size mounts, but they are very much oversize mounts. It would be good to browse through a portfolio with all the prints in the same orientation but it would mean a large size box.

When mounting/framing an individual photo you can choose the best way for that one image but for a collection you can get away with photos sitting in a mount in the ‘wrong’ orientation. When you see a landscape image in an upright mount in a portfolio or exhibition it looks good and not out of place, but a single image framed on a wall at home could look ‘wrong’.

Bruce Robbins said...


I've yet to decide on a particular paper. The five prints above were done on Tetenal FB but I've now run out of that stock. To be honest, there isn't a huge difference between the Tetenal and the likes of Multigrade FB and I'm wondering now how important it is to do the whole portfolio on one paper. If there was a mix of the two papers, I think you'd really need to see the same print on each paper side by side to really notice any difference.

Re mounting the print, I think I'll use an archival tape (can't remember the name right now) to stick the print to the window mount and then support it with a second piece of mounting board. That's how I used to do it anyway.

morris1800 said...

Hi Bruce Firstcall have an offer on mounting boards . Not sure if its good value or not ?

Antonio Aparicio said...


I print 9.5x14" images on 12x16" paper and then add a 16x20" matt.

I sometimes cut the matts myself using a Logan (very easy to use and easy to store). That is the cheapest.

But if I am ordering frames (I recommend Halbe magnetic frames, see: then I will either buy the matt from them and cut the passpartout or ask them to cut it for a little extra.

Antonio Aparicio said...

p.s. I centre the print in the matt.

Antonio Aparicio said...

Bruce, have a look at how the Cartier Bresson pints are mounted in this video:

Antonio Aparicio said...

Also see:

Bruce Robbins said...

Great stuff, Antonio! Thanks for those.

Michael Stevens said...

Hi Bruce,

I suppose you need to balance outlay costs against materials and time, and factor in economies of scale.

If you went for the Logan recommendation from Nick (which looks very good) you will produce high quality mounts with little waste in quick time. The ruler-with-a-sliding-blade will be cheaper initially but you will waste more board (a tip - change the blades on any cutter very often: they are much cheaper to waste than mountboard) and spend a lot more of your time doing the work.

If you're only doing a few mounts then that might not matter. But if you'll be doing them often then it pays to invest to save money and time in the long-run.

Also, another thought regarding dimensions, it's often worth sticking to standard sizes for the outside measurements of the mounts (12 x 16, 17 x 14, 16 x 20 etc) regardless of the actual image size in order to make them easier and to frame if you ever want to in the future. Otherwise you'll need bespoke – ie: more expensive – frames possibly varying in size (especially if you crop on the enlarger).