A Beginner's Guide to Marketing Images With Mats
Article by Jim Fishwick
Professional and semi-professional artists and
photographers must effectively market their images. This market
is very competitive, and keeping costs down while using quality
materials is of prime importance. Thoroughly professional ways
of presenting your product in an effective manner is essential.
In some instances an image can be marketed by itself, but more
often an art mat is used, and at times a frame is added.
Some of the common places to marketing matted images are through
retail stores, street markets, art and photography exhibitions,
craft shows and find raising projects. You will find a lot of
competition with any of these alternatives, so you must be prepared
to provide the best possible product at the least price. Assuming
you have a photo or artwork that is readily sellable, there are
ways to present that product to the end user in a highly attractive
Using art mats: Try putting your artwork behind
several different mats. This can be done at most photo stores,
or use the corner samples at a custom cutting counter. It becomes
readily apparent that the perception of the image changes radically
with different combinations of colors. Most will enhance the image,
and some will stand out immediately as excellent choices. In most
cases double mats will work best, but images without bright colors
will often work best with a single mat. Adding a single or double
mat will usually be cost efficient, as most end-users will appreciate
the added value.
Here are some fundamental ideas when considering using art mats.
Single mats: If a single mat is used, it is
often safest and most desirable to use a neutral color, such as
off white, Cream, light Grays etc. These go very well with most
images and fit into most home settings. If you wish a stronger
color, try to match the mat color with a dominant color in the
image. i.e. Lots of dark green trees in the picture, use a dark
green mat. For black and white photographs, off-white mats with
a black core are very effective.
Using a double mat: Double mats add considerably
to the richness of the presentation. The safest method is to use
a neutral outer mat, and a color for the inner mat that matches
a dominant color in the image. The amount of the inner mat that
can be seen is called the "reveal", and varies with
the size of the mat. A reveal of 3/16" is close to being
an industry standard, but use your own judgment. When using a
white mat over another white mat, a reveal of ½ "
or even much more can work very well. Double mats are usually
twice the price of a single.
Adding decorative cuts: Closed and open "V-grooves",
decorative corners and graphics can be attractive, but often unnecessary.
A closed v-groove is very common, and can be quite cost effective
especially with larger artwork. The extra cost can be recovered
by a higher retail price. Closed v-grooves can be especially effective
on single mats of conservation quality.
1. Open v-groove, 3/16" reveal
2. V-groove gap
3. Closed v-groove
4. Message box, 3/16" reveal
5. Double opening, 3/16" reveal
6. Single opening
7. "Fancy" corner
8. Floating the image
10. #246 Walnut frame
11. Double mat, light blue outer, dark blue inner.
What type of mat to use: The two common types
are regular mats and conservation quality (rag) mats. It would
always be nice to use conservation quality, but this market is
very competitive, and price is important. Regular matboard is
still of very high quality, and we suggest they be used for any
image that does not have a high value in itself. Example: Photos
and printer copies. Conservation mats should be used for original
artwork, high quality prints, Limited editions prints or any image
that has a high value in itself. Price wise, a presentation using
regular mats will cost less than half that of using conservation
quality. Technical information on mats can be seen on the pages
of the two largest mat companies, Crescent and Bainbridge.
Size of mat: Use standard sizes when possible,
allowing your customer to buy a frame easily. Non-standard size
mats mean an expensive custom frame is necessary, and most end-users
recognize this when purchasing matted images. Standard sizes are
5 x 7, 8 x 10, 11 x 14, 16 x 20 and 20 x 24. The borders around
the image should be a minimum of 1 ½ inches for small images,
and up to 3 inches or more for large images. A 5 x 7 image in
an 8 x 10 mat will give borders of 1 ½ inches all round.
If you plan to provide a frame with the mat, keeping to standard
sizes is not important.
Obtaining mats at wholesale prices: Most photo
stores and many large retailers will carry a few sizes and very
limited colors, but don't supply volume. They are also expensive.
Larger Art supply stores may have very limited selections of mats
in volumes of 25 or so at some discount. To get a true wholesale
price, scour the Internet for companies that cater to the smaller
vendor. Expect to buy in some volume in order to get the best
price possible. Fifty or more identical mats will get you into
the price range that will keep your product competitive. A regular
11 x 14 double mat in a local store will cost $4.50 to $6.00.
In volumes less that 200, you should pay $2.50 or less. Be careful
of highly discounted mats that are not by major manufacturers
such as Crescent and Bainbridge. Some of these are not of equivalent
quality, and may warp or discolor quickly or otherwise harm the
Final note on mats: KEEP IT SIMPLE. Do not try
to match every image with a different color combination. A color
combination that fits several images quite well will meet your
needs much more efficiently. One opening size is better than several.
Your cost will be reduced, and those images that do not sell will
not saddle you with high or useless inventories of mats.
Backings: You will need a backing for the mat
and image. The backing completes the package and protects the
image. For regular mats, we recommend manila board or heavier
non-corrugated cardboard (for mats 11 x 14 and smaller), and foam
core for larger mats. If you use conservation quality mat, your
backing MUST be acid-free. Use acid-free mat or acid-free foam
To frame or not to frame: In general, do not
get heavily into framing for the "drop by" market. The
customer can pick a frame of their choice if the mat is a standard
size. Consider having a few framed pieces so the customer can
see a finished result, and can buy your framed piece if they like.
Aluminum "backloader" frames are inexpensive, and very
easy to load, as are clip frames. A thorough search of the internet
will find some high quality wood frames at reasonable prices,
and custom sizes are often not much more.
Thin plexi glass (1 mm.) is becoming very popular as a replacement
for glass. It is much lighter and being very durable is a big
plus. It also provides some solar radiation protection for outdoor
events or florescent lighting.
Packaging: A covering of some sort is a necessity.
A product made for this purpose is a re-sealable polybag. It protects
the mat package from the elements and dirty fingers, and also
gives a very professional appearance. Some ultraviolet protection
is built in to all plastics. These bags can sometimes be found
in Art supply stores but frequently the Internet is the only choice.
Shrink-wrapping also works, but requires time and equipment,
and is finicky. Shrink-wrapped matted art often has a tendency
to bow in hot weather.
Assembly: Tape the image to the back of the
mat on one long side only. This allows the picture to "breath"
under differing atmospheric conditions. Use magic (scotch) tape
or something similar. For conservation matting, an acid free tape
is mandatory. Photo corners are good, but time consuming. Attaching
the back to the mat is not necessary.
Displays: It should not be necessary to have
wire racks or other expensive methods of display your product.
A white cardboard box neatly cut can be sufficient if presented
well. Many larger communities will have stores specializing in
acrylic displays, and you may find ready made ones of the right
size and shape. Large stationary stores often carry these or may
have other cardboard displays to fit your needs. Foam core (3/16")
may be purchased at Art supply stores, and a good utility knife,
a glue gun and some imagination can create impressive displays.
How much to charge? A general rule is to add
up the cost of your mat, image, bag and backing. Add some for
labor. If you are going into a show, add a proportional cost for
this. Multiply the total by 2 to get a ballpark figure. If you
sell through a retailer, the "norm" is for them to double
whatever they pay you to get the minimum retail price.
Summary: Selling images in this market is competitive.
If your presentation is as good or better than your competitors,
then the quality and uniqueness of your image will determine the
outcome. There is a large appetite for well-done photos, artwork
and crafts. Keep it simple, keep your costs to a minimum, don't
expect to get rich, and most importantly, enjoy the experience.
MatShop has been supplying mat and framing supplies
to photo retailers for 10 years, and through the WEB for 6 years.
Its customers are artists, photographers, manufacturers and others
who require volume purchases of these products. The purpose of
the MatShop.com page is to supply background information on all
products, and to suggest how mats and frames can benefit the specific
needs of its customers.
MatShop is a Division of Island Art Publishers,
Island Art markets art cards and other products throughout the
Pacific Northwest and Alaska using the exact products we recommend
to our MatShop customers.
Proud members of:
-Professional Picture Framers Assn
-Photo Marketing Assn.
-Hobby Industry Association
In the USA? Visit: www.matshop.com
In Canada? Visit: www.matshop.ca
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