Ever noticed how book pages, newspapers, and even some matting, gets yellow or brown-looking over time? This is the effect of acid in the wood-based paper fibers. The higher the acid content of a paper, the faster and more strongly it will discolor as the acid breaks down the fibers. This effect can bleed onto other paper surfaces, even if those papers are acid-free. In the case of picture framing, this can result in unattractive discoloration of matting, and permanent damage to valuable artwork.
It was only in recent years that acid-free matting became really standard in the framing community, so if you have older matted pieces, chances are high that the matting might not be conservation quality. So how do you tell if your old mat is acid-free? One dead giveaway is to look at the bevel of the mat. If it looks brown or yellow instead of white, then you've got acid, my friend! This means that over time, the mat will continue to deteriorate, and the discoloration will bleed into the artwork, creating what's known as "acid burn" or "mat burn". A group of framers, like us, can examine the piece to see if the matting can be safely removed, and if so, you can easily replace the acidic mat with one of our acid-free options.
There are two basic kinds of acid-free mats we offer. First are the less expensive Bainbridge Alphamats. These are paper mats whose cellulose fibers have been chemically treated to make them pH neutral. These are guaranteed to remain pH neutral for up to 300 years, and they come in a vast assortment of colors and finishes. Decorative paper and fabric-topped mats also fall into this category. These mats give you great protection with the widest range of design possibilities, and they're great for almost any project. The second option is Bainbridge Alpharag. These rag mats are made from cotton fiber rather than wood pulp, so by their very nature they're acid-free. This is the best protection you can get for your piece. The mats come in a range of neutral tones with a smooth finish and solid color that extends through the bevel. Since these mats come in a limited range of colors, their design possibilities might seem limited. However, the neutral tones make a classy and traditional setting for valuable artwork and photos, and these mats can be combined with the more diverse Alphamats in multi-layer mat designs to create something truly archival and amazing!
Whether it's an old piece that needs a conservator's touch, or a new piece you want to preserve for generations, we can help you come up with a matting design to meet your needs. We've got hundreds of mats to choose from. We can also discuss with you conservation techniques in all stages of framing that will leave you with the best results. It's important to remember that framing is more than just a way to put something pretty up on your wall - it's a way to preserve your valuable art and photography for years to come. Matting is just one step of that process, but now you know all about it . . . and knowledge is power!