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BMFA Matting & Framing Guidelines


In keeping with BMFA’s mandate of inspiring excellence in the visual arts through educational opportunities, the following guidelines are provided to guide the artist in making appropriate choices in matting and framing to enhance the chances for acceptance into BMFA venues or shows. The following suggestions are by no means comprehensive, but may guide the novice in making choices.

Works on Paper


For works on paper, preferable in all cases are acid free mats, sometimes referred to as conservation matting, alpha matting, or museum matting. These are all terms for mat board that has a pH balanced rag content. Matts of this type will preserve your work for many years, whereas regular cardboard or non-acid free mats may contain acids that over time may discolour your artwork and damage the area they are touching.
Other criteria to consider that may affect your mat choice is where the work will be displayed. For example, many watercolour exhibitions require plain white, off-white or cream mats as it is thought that coloured mats detract from the work. Be sure to check the requirements for matting in the show you are entering as improper matting could be cause for immediate rejection from a show. In some cases a ¼ inch to 3/8 inch inner coloured mat is considered acceptable and can be considered if you feel it would enhance the work. If the work is being hung in a private home more options are available, but keep in mind that the mat's purpose is to enhance the work, not dominate it. Mat width may also be detailed in a show's entrance criteria, but a general rule of thumb is a minimum 3" wide mat for a quarter sheet of standard watercolour paper, or the width required to result in a 16"x20" completed piece (mat and artwork together). A minimum 5" wide mat is required for a half or full sheet painting to be attractively displayed. Too small a mat looks cheap and ill-conceived whereas a more generous mat may even create more drama for a smaller painting, so consider this carefully when framing.


Again, choosing an acid-free backing is important in preserving your artwork. The backing is the single largest surface that will be touching your artwork. Acid-based cardboard, regular mat board or paper covered foam core will damage your work over time. Acid-free foam core is a good choice, or a varnished board may also be used. The tape used to attach your painting should also be acid-free.


Frames should compliment your work, not overpower it, so be sure to choose a frame that suits the style of your work. You may be able to purchase frames in standard sizes which can be a less expensive alternative to custom framing. Overly ornate frames may detract from your work or be unsuitable for a particular venue. Some venues may be quite specific in framing requirements, ( eg black frames no more than 1 inch width for photo exhibits), so be sure to ascertain what the requirements are before submitting your work. All frames must be fitted with secure eye hooks and taut wire so that they can be easily hung from gallery hooks. Sawtooth hangers are not acceptable in any professional venue.

Works on Canvas


Unframed works on canvas must be minimum gallery depth (1" inches), appropriately stretched, and not warped. The painting itself must wrap around the outer edge of the canvas, or the outer edge of the canvas should be painted a consistent colour all the way around. In other words, paintings that have some bare canvas showing on the side of the work look unfinished and unprofessional and will be rejected as such from most venues. Be careful to choose kiln-dried frames as improperly cured canvas frames may warp over time as they dry.
If the canvas itself is not of gallery depth, it must be presented within a floater frame. Floater frames come in many colours and finishes and can dramatically enhance your artwork giving it a professional finish.
As stated previously all canvases or floater frames must be fitted with eye hooks and taut wire so that they can be easily hung from gallery hooks. Sawtooth hangers are not acceptable in any professional venue.

Choosing a Framer

If you will not be framing the work yourself, choose a framer with a good reputation and let them know conservation is important to you. Some framers, if not informed, may assume you don't care or know. In order to save money, they may use less reliable materials. You have put a lot of time, money and care into your work, so take the care to frame it properly so that you, your family or clients can enjoy it well into the future.