Why you should always use acid-free mats

So, you just purchased beautiful prints from your favorite photographer. To ensure your photographs can be enjoyed for years to come, don’t skimp on the mat!

Many professional photographers (us included) print exclusively on Kodak Professional Supra Endura VC Digital Paper. Even though prints on this paper typically last 100 years in home display or 200 years in dark storage, the mat surrounding your print can have a detrimental effect on its longevity.

When framing your photographs, pay attention to the type of mat you’re using. In most cases, if the mat doesn’t specifically indicate that it’s acid-free (neutral pH), the mat paper is probably acidic. Another way to tell is by looking at the cut edges of the mat. On a white mat, the edges of an acidic mat will look yellowish. These acidic mats can cause ‘mat burn’, which shows up on your prints as a dark brown line around the edge or as a thick band of discoloration.

There are five kinds of mat board available [1]. Ordered by quality, they are:

  1. Museum Board: The highest quality material available – 100% cotton fiber.
  2. Museum Mat or Rag Mat: Constructed of cotton liners and cellulose (wood pulp) middles. Less expensive than Museum board, while still offering good protection.
  3. Conservation or Archival Mat Board: 100% pure high alpha cellulose (wood pulp) and treated to be inter for up to 300 years. This is the highest quality paper matboard available.
  4. Acid-Free: Lined with a wood based liner and treated to prevent short term acid burn.
  5. Regular (Acidic): Avoid this; it can discolor your photographs.

Since the paper we use has an archival value of 100-200 years, Museum Boards and Museum Mats will likely outlast the photograph and may not be worth purchasing.

One final note: to avoid any discoloration over the life of your print, make sure all materials touching the print are acid-free. This includes any backing behind the print, and any adhesive tape used to affix the print to the mat. If you have any questions, please let us know in the comments below!

[1] Wikipedia