After many years of not being able to answer this question, even for my wall art, I have decided that like everything else - it's up to me. Art is, after all, highly subjective and personal.
There is a valid and important reason to mat though that surpasses looks; a mat protects a photo from the glass. Sometimes condensation can get into the frame without your even seeing it. This will cause mold and other nasty things to grow on your artwork! If you have paid a pretty penny for your photo, had it printed on fine art paper, and have a great frame ready, why take that risk?
That being said, here are some tips to help in picking the perfect size and color for your mat.
I'll start with sizing.
- A mat that's width is 2x the width of your frame is recommended. Sometimes I like to "weigh" mine with a little more width on either the horizontal or vertical sides.
Color is the hardest, right? Here are a few pointers.
- A light mat will add depth to the photo while a darker mat brings the photo forward. Do you have a landscape with a winding road that makes your eye want to enter and explore or a macro of flower petals?
- Mats that bring out a dominating color in the photo will also pull the photo forward.
- Contrasting colors will also pull the photo forward. ie. light mat on a darker photo or a darker mat on a lighter photo.
- Black or white is always classic. Black looks good on almost any photo, while white has so many tones that it is easy to pick out a white that compliments your photo.
- Sometimes you just want to show the photo - use a neutral color. Remember that neutral isn't synonymous with boring, blah colors. Many gorgeous colors are neutral.
- Regardless of which color/tone you choose, ask yourself if it will still be stylish in x-amount of years. Be careful of "theme" mats for this reason.
These are the things that I think of when choosing a mat. I take a decent photo of the photo with me so I can "see" how it looks before I buy. If you are getting the print professionally matted (highly recommended), they are great in picking out colors and showing options.
I reiterate what I wrote in my first paragraph though. It's ultimately up to what you love and your purpose for the print. Cheers!