Choosing the Right Mat

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Damage Caused by Matboard

When framing and matting a document or piece of art, it is important to consider the value of the object being framed, and whether the piece is going to be purely decorative or if preservation is important.

For decorative framing, there are many matting options available to give your piece that special touch. Some of these options include: using textured mats, such as suede, leather, or linen & fabric. Selecting a mat with a different colored core, using a metallic colored mat, or even using creative cuts outs around the edge of the mat can give your art an entirely different look.

Example of using cut-outs

It is important to note that although these options will be aesthetically pleasing to look at, they may not be up to conservation standards, and may end up damaging your piece in the long run. When you pick out a mat, you must consider the value and importance of the piece to be framed and use this information to guide your matting choice. If the piece is valuable or something you intend to preserve for many years to come, chose your matting carefully. Begin by finding out if your mat choice meets conservation standards – meaning that it is both acid-free and lignin-free, and is inherently neutral, not merely buffered to a neutral pH level. Luckily, the mats Church Hill Classics uses in each frame are conservation quality and will protect your valuable document.

The two major effects of using non-conservation mat board include acid mat burn and discoloration. Acid mat burn causes yellowish-brown stains to appear around the edges of the art or document, where the paper comes in contact with the mat. If an acidic backing is also used, these stains will spread over the entire paper. Mat burn will not only cause your art to discolor, but will also make the paper brittle and weak, leaving it open to further damage, such as easy tearing and deterioration.

Example of extensive acid mat burn damage

Discoloration is not always caused by acid mat burn. Certain mat types do not meet conservation standards, and the colors will bleed through the mat onto the paper. Leather mats, for example, seem to be a high-end choice; however, they are not archival quality, and can cause paper to discolor in a short amount of time.

Below is a picture of two framed diplomas. The one on the top was framed using a non-archival leather mat, the one on the bottom used archival cotton rag mat board. In just a couple of years, the leather mat has caused the diploma to turn yellow and discolor.


Although a leather mat can give your document a unique appearance, and will stand out, it can cause irreversible damage. It is not recommended for use when framing valuable and historical certificates and documents, such as your diploma.

Types of Mat board

A decorative mat board is made simply from paper, and is not conservation-quality. The back is buffered with calcium carbonate to make it non-acidic, however non-acidic does not mean the same thing as acid-free, and over time it will return to its original state, and can damage the artwork. While this type of mat is the least expensive, and provides the greatest variety of colors and textures, it should only be used on pieces that do not hold a significant amount of monetary or personal value.
There are two types of conservation quality mat board—rag and alphacellulose, and both types meet conservation standards. The only type of naturally acid-free mat board is rag mat board that is made from cotton. One benefit of rag board is that it is natural, environmentally friendly, and easily renewable. Standard rag mat board is made with a 100% cotton core and backing, and an acid-free, bleed-resistant colored facing paper. It is more expensive than plain decorative mats, but there are several color and texture options to choose from, such as suede and linen. Standard rag board is recommended when framing fine art prints, valuable documents and photos. When framing important historical, valuable, rare or antique artwork or documents, many conservators choose 100% rag board in which the face, core, and backing are all made of cotton and are one color. There are a limited range of white and neutral colors available in this 100% rag board.
The second conservation matting option is alpha cellulose mat board, produced using virgin alpha cellulose purified wood pulp. The virgin alpha cellulose has been chemically treated to eliminate the acids and lignins that can degrade the mat board and the artwork. Available in over 300 colors, this face color on this type of board is created with fade and bleed resistant organic pigments. Research has shown that alpha cellulose boards with MicroChamber technology and zeolite counteract the effects of pollutants over time, including acidic gases such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen. Bainbridge’s alpha cellulose Artcare mat boards claim to proactively trap and neutralize pollutants and acid by-products that damage artwork. Alpha cellulose mat boards are appropriate for framing valuable art, important or historical documents, and photos or collectibles.

Church Hill Classics Frames

For important documents and valuable artwork, you should always use conservation-quality mat boards as well as conservation-quality backing and mounting materials. These materials will not only give your piece a decorative look, but will also keep your work safe and well-preserved for years to come. Our standard, suede, and linen mat options offered on are all 100% acid and lignin-free, which will assure safe document preservation. In addition, our suede and linen mat options are part of our premium diploma frame offering, and these all feature museum-quality mats.

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