Go deep with thick matboards: today’s thicker matboards inspire new techniques and offer an added dimension of design possibilities

Go deep with thick matboards: today’s thicker matboards inspire new techniques and offer an added dimension of design possibilities

Carol King

Behold the allure of thick matboards. Incorporating six- or eight-ply matboards into framing projects can turn up the volume on the dramatic presence of the finished product, while inspiring new design possibilities and adding more “depth” to the bottom line.

Thicker matboard framing techniques have gained appeal, in part, through museum exposure. Because museums tend to frame an array of works in deeper mats, the products have attracted consumer attention while lending themselves to variety of projects and a multitude of artists’ media.

“The six- and eight-ply matboards give framers and their customers an entirely new creative framing tool,” observed Brian Barnett, a consultant to Fletcher-Terry. “These boards are remarkably effective for enhancing any image, large or small. Because of the unbroken depth the thicker-ply board creates, it has a wonderful way of pulling an eye to the image.”

“The thicker mats are here to stay,” said Mike Anglesey, vice president of sales and marketing at Eclipse in Draper, Utah. “Finding a fast and economical way to offer these mats to customers should be paramount in the minds of all framers. Designing with thicker mats as an alternative translates directly to the bottom line,” At trade shows, Anglesey said more and more framers are inquiring about the 6- and 8-ply cutting capabilities of Eclipse’s computerized mat cutters. “When we place these thicker samples out for display, they seem to be the first ones to disappear.”

Artistic Appeal

The beauty is in the bevel, noted Brian Wolf, director of standards and training at Wizard International in Mukilteo, Wash. “It used to be that all bevels were the same width, but now that has changed. The deep bevel in the thicker matboards provides a very attractive design element for traditional and contemporary pieces,” he said. “The prominence of the products began in museums, which provided an austere presentation for uniformity, but it has evolved. The addition of new colors has helped the thicker matboards lend themselves to more and more applications in a lot of different styles.”

The bevel depth adds perspective, agreed Tim Franer, owner of Tim Franer and Company, a Houston-based consulting firm. “Framing is not a one-dimensional look. The ultimate goal of framing is to complement the artwork,” he said. “The depth of eight-ply gives the job dimension and adds to the subject matter. It’s a great board that heightens the sense of drama in a finished piece. With this element, you focus directly on the art.” Franer’s consulting clients include Nielsen Bainbridge and Larson-Juhl.

The introduction of new colors, combined with the boards’ conservation-quality features, have propelled the products into a niche that is growing in demand, noted Jack Dempsey, communications manager at Crescent Cardboard of Wheeling, Ill.

“The boards are of the finest quality and are demanded by galleries, museums and interior decorators because they are archival and because they add to the finished piece. Our Rag Mat products are in solid colors and are lignin-free,” Dempsey said. “Artistically speaking, the depth of the boards draw the eye down gradually, which provides a nice flow.”

Crescent offers the thicker products in its Rag Mat, Rag Mat Museum and Crescent lines. The Crescent eight-ply boards measure about 1/8-inch deep while the six-ply board is about 9/10-inch deep.

Nielsen-Bainbridge offers Alpharag Artcare, a 100-percent cotton rag made of equal plys in eight-ply. Ultrathick Artcare TopMat, which has color surface papers on top of a white core, is available in seven-ply.

“The thicker matboards work with all types of art and are becoming more and more popular,” noted Caroline Mastres, marketing communications manager at Nielsen-Bainbridge. “The products are ideal for enhancing strength in oversized artwork, adding dimension to artwork and providing a classic museum-style look. The deeper bevel on the thicker mats are a design option that allows framers to add drama and impact to the art by adding depth.”

The boards also add to the bottom line, according to Mastres. “Since thicker mats are higher priced than standard matboards, framers will have a higher profit margin and offer a value-added product to their customers,” she said.

Design Potential

The design possibilities thick matboards present are endless, noted Kevin Pietro, owner of a Great Frame Up franchise in Schaumburg, Ill.

“The Wizard mat cutter allows me to be very creative,” he said. “I have done hand cuts and cut-outs for the corners of the thicker boards. We do a lot of animation work here, and the thicker plys help us to keep the glass off of the artwork while we cut holes in the corners to let colors come through on the underneath beveled mat.”

Applying foam-core spacers helps to further the accent on the deeper bevel, he added. “Spacers add an enhancement that gives the mat a more customized look,” he said. “The spacers also show off the bevel nicely, especially if you are layering a white on white or a cream on cream colored mat. This works particularly well with six-ply.”

The eight-ply boards work well to create a layered look for the finished piece, Pietro added. “I like the look of the eight-ply up against the next mat. It gives the mat a natural ‘step.'” One of his favorite combinations is an eight-ply as a top mat, a six-ply as a middle mat, a 1/4-inch foam-core spacer and an eight- or six ply as the bottom mat. “The spacers give even a flat print added dimension when used in a mat and adds a richer look to the finished piece,” he said.

The deeper bevels offers framers “a six-millimeter-wide space of decorative opportunity,” said Wolf. He likes to hand-paint the bevel of the board to further enhance the artwork.

“I like painted bevels a lot,” he said. “You can do some wonderfully artistic things with this matboard.” He masks off the face of the board with removable tape and cuts an opening through the tape. From there he will spatter paint or sponge or paint patterns on the bevel. “Now that the board is twice as thick and the bevel is twice as wide, you can put your creativity out there for the rest of the world to admire.”

Since the boards come in an array of colors, the products lend themselves to a multitude of framing applications, Wolf added. “Now there are creams and grays and textures and dark colors that would look great with more traditional artwork. We should experiment with designs that combine different thicknesses of mats, too,” Wolf said. “I recently worked on a project where I used six-ply mat on the outside and on the inside I used a floating bevel panel with an open groove done with four-ply. Just as we design with different sizes of other decorative elements, the changing bevel width is a detail I’d like to see more.”

Barnett of Fletcher-Terry noted that when he first saw the thicker products, he was anxious to put them to the test. “Now, I use six- and eight-ply boards to the point of overusing them,” he said. He framed an English stamp from 1840 using six layers of six-ply board, stepping down in very tight increments. “When you look at the stamp, it is like looking at it in a little tunnel,” he said. “It is a wonderful effect that emphasizes the importance of the framed object.”

Franer recently used thick matboard to enhance a white linen doily. He mounted it to an eight-ply ragboard and then cut a circular opening in another eight-ply ragboard and placed the mounted doily behind the opening, giving him enough depth to keep the glazing off of the doily. “The end result was a nice, white conservation look that gave real focus to the subject matter,” he said. “It is a very clean, very nice look.”

Cost wise, Pietro estimates that he charges about 25 percent more for a six-ply board than a four-ply. He charges about 50 percent more for eight-ply boards. “With the eight-ply, we charge a bit more because it is not as easy to cut. You have the cost of the matboard and the rest is labor so we do make a little more on the job,” he said. “With the six-ply, there is a nice markup, and it is as easy to cut as the four-ply.”

Manual Cutting Techniques

Although six and eight-ply boards are thicker than traditional four-ply boards, they can be cut easily when the proper guidelines are followed, noted the experts. But even the experts approach these boards with slightly different methods. Therefore, it’s important for framers to experiment with their own equipment to perfect their techniques.

Barnett advises framers use a hand mat cutter to make two passes when cutting the mat. “They need to make an initial score and follow with a second cut, penetrating through the board,” he said. He has also found success using the manual mat cutter in the normal manner, but extending the blade out farther from the cutting head. “Doing this will probably require the framer to use a blade that is thicker than the normal .012-inch product, as it will be prone to bending or flexing. Most framers recommend using the .015- or .018-inch-thick blades to cut six- or eight-ply boards.”

Franer also recommends extending the blade, but only on the second and third pass. “The blades have a tendency to hook when you use them on a straight-line mat cutter. If you extend the blade farther out and try to cut through on the first pass, the thickness of the eight-ply takes control of the blade. The further the blade is out, the less control, strength and durability it has.

“To combat this, I recommend three passes per cut,” he said. “During the first pass, the blade is set to one-third the thickness of the matboard. During the second and third passes, the blade is extended in thirds to complete the total cut.”

Wolf, however, said he simply extends the blade, recalibrates the stops on the machine to get good corners, and then cuts “as though everything were normal.”

“I find that most framers’ manual mat cutters have too much play their mechanism, and their technique does not keep the excess movement of the blade to just one side of the machine through the entire stroke,” he said. “People are making several passes to get corners without hooks. If this works, that’s fine, but it’s an extra effort that is not necessary if the machine is properly adjusted.”

Alternative Applications

The deep, layered looks inspired by thick matboards can be achieved by other means, the experts noted.

“Similar looks can be achieved by using filet or foam-board spacers between matboards,” said Mastres of Nielsen-Bainbridge. The company makes Artcare Bevel Accents, which are pre-beveled foam-board strips wrapped with Alphamat surface papers that create a custom look by adding depth in dimension.

Meg Peters, owner of Finer Frames in Meridian, Idaho, sometimes dry mounts several boards together to create a deep bevel. She recently mounted three four-ply boards together plus a rag barrier board. “The bevel had lines, but I painted the bevel a blue color to match the artwork and hide the imperfections,” she said. [See “She Frames” on page 29.]

In another project, Peters said she mounted several different-colored boards together to frame a child’s picture. “I mounted bright blue on bright yellow on bright red,” she explained. “This ultimately gave the deeper bevel a rainbow effect.”

Some experts, however, advise framers against dry mounting boards together for certain applications if you don’t want the layers to show.

“If you mount two four-plys together, you will always have a seam that will be seen in the bevel,” said Wolf. “This looks like a fatal flaw to perfectionists. In decorative matting, we always aspire to do spectacular things, but you have to evaluate whether you are spending time and energy on results that do not look great or make that much money. Just get the thick boards from the manufacturer, and off you go!”

Computerized Matting-Cutting TIPS

Electronic mat cutters are a comparatively recent introduction to the custom framing industry, pointed out Brian Barnett of Fletcher-Terry. “Once justified financially, they make mat cutting quite a different proposition. Initially, however, they were not able to cut through the thicker six- and eight-ply boards because there was a limit to how deep their blades would penetrate. To correct this, some electronic mat cutter manufactures created new blade cartridges that allowed their existing blade to plunge deeper.”

Mike Anglesey of Eclipse said, “From the beginning, Eclipse has been engineered to give the framer a multitude of automated capabilities. With the new found importance of cutting thicker matboard, our foresight of using the highest quality motors has paid off. Value-added fancy corner styles, ovals, v-grooves, multiple openings, fonts and clip art are all made effortless by the strength of the Eclipse PRO’s servo motor technology.”

Testing is essential in getting a proper cut, noted Brian Wolf of Wizard International. “The Fletcher-Terry machine has a different eight-ply cartridge and the Wizard has a blade-depth knob. Both need a little fine tuning and experimentation to find the right settings to get great results,” he advised. “On the Wizard, the framer needs to tell the software how deep the blade is set, and the program automatically adjusts the overcuts to create perfect corners.”


Crescent Cardboard, (847) 537-3400

Eclipse, 800-972-8913

Finer Frames, (208) 888-9898

Fletcher-Terry, (860) 677-7331

The Great Frame Up (Schaumburg, Ill), (847) 891-7650

Nielsen-Bainbridge, 800-526-9073

Tim Franer and Company, (281) 497-0150

Wizard International, (425) 551-4300

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