Carolina Custom Frameworks
Columbia, SC

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Choosing the Right Mat Quality

Choosing a mat, or combination of mats, in a picture frame is generally that toughest choice made by my customers.   Most don’t realize there are so many options and look to me for guidance.   I try to make the choice a little easier by initially selecting colors from a sub-set of the hundreds of mats on my rack based on the item being framed.   After all, when they are already confused, the last thing they need to hear is:   Do you want regular mats, alpha-cellulose mats, or rag mats?   Most have no idea. 

Here’s a simple breakdown of the choices when it comes to mat quality. 

Decorative – These mats are made of paper and buffered to be pH neutral.   Does this mean they are acid-free?  No.  They are buffered with a chemical like Calcium Carbonate (same ingredient in Tums) to neutralize the acid.   Being pH neutral means they are neither acidic or alkaline.   These mats should be used for decoration purposes and conservation is not an issue.  Quality rating:  GOOD 

Alpha-Cellulose – While still made of paper, these mats are considered to be conservation-grade and are acid-free.  They can be used for any framing projects where conservation is of concern.  Quality rating:  BETTER 

Rag – Made of 100% cotton instead of paper products, these mats are the best choice when it comes to the ultimate protection.   Unlike paper products, which is made from acidic wood products, cotton is acid-free by nature and, therefore, has no possibility of causing damage to artwork from acid-burn.   Quality rating:  BEST 

In summary, if you’re framing a Carrie Underwood poster that is probably not going to be something that you want on your wall in ten years, decorative mats are a good choice.    Diplomas and family portraits need conservation grade options.   When framing your great, great, great grandfather’s letters from the civil war, go with the cotton Rag mats.   Ultimately, the choice is yours, but I would recommend spending a few extra dollars to go up in quality so that you don’t regret it later.