Digitally Mat Your Photographs For a Perfect Color Match

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Matted to match. The textured brown outer mat matches the
eagles feathers and the beige inner mat matches the beak.

Clicking on the matted eagle will open a full size detail view
showing how real the mat and bevel looks

Rectangular QuickMats empty mat template
Each mat and bevel is selectable in the Photoshop Actions Pallet

Visiting an outdoor fine art fair can be an eye opening experience. It’s a chance to see the work of dozens of excellent photographers, many of whom earn a living selling framed and matted prints of their images. Seeing photographs presented for sale as finished works of art can be a source of great ideas for presenting your own pictures, even if only for gifts for friends or relatives.

Having made a living selling our work this way for more than 20 years, you might think we had seen it all, but just recently we were struck by the perfect color match we saw on a few select matted photos at a local Art Fair. On close examination, the “perfect" mats were not the bevel cut acid free mat board they appeared to be at all. Rather they were the perfect illusion of that, printed directly on the photographic paper along with the image. At a viewing distance of greater than 12 inches, the effect would fool almost anyone.

Egrets matted to pick up the delicate colors in the photograph
the texture is optional

The software used to produce these faux mats is named “Quick Mats.2” John Hartman, a commercial portrait photographer from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, spent over four years developing the series of Photoshop actions that make it work. He put painstaking care into the design of his actions, recreating the shadow and detail of a real hand cut mat, giving the bevels and corner cuts a true three-dimensional look. You almost have to touch the paper surface to break the illusion.

Rose photograph matted digitally with Quick Mats.
An example of using the same photo extended onto the mat

The software can quickly create single, double or triple mats, each with the color and texture you select. You can even choose the color of the bevel, simulating a “French Mat” or color core board. You can position the window where you want, and even create multiple windows. QuickMat comes with built in mat templates that will fit most standard image proportions, but also has the ability to create custom sizes.

QuickMats offers several advantages to photographers who sell prints of their work. First, it eliminates the cost of hand cut bevel mats. Even if you have mastered the skill of cutting your own mats, eliminating the cost of mat board and the time to cut it are considerable savings. But the outstanding feature of QuickMats is its ability to easily create a perfect color match with any of the colors in your original image. As anyone who has ventured beyond placing a simple white mat around their photograph knows, choosing just the right mat colors to make your print look great can be quite a challenge.

Purists may object to the idea of a faux mat. After all, one of the functions of a properly cut mat is to protect the image by keeping it from coming in direct contact with the glass of the frame. That certainly is important, but can be accomplished in many ways. Products like FrameSpace, Econospace or thin strips of foam core board can used to the keep print and glass separated. You also may choose to use a floater type frame, which can add a simple and elegant surrounding to your QuickMatted image. But the best solution may be the simpler idea of using QuickMats for a perfectly matched inner mat and real mat board for the outer mat.

So, how does the general public respond when they realize that the mat they see is just an optical illusion? From what we have seen, people may be initially confused. But when given a choice between purchasing a photograph traditionally matted in white and the perfectly color matched illusion, they usually opt for the QuickMats piece.

Beveled mats that look so real you have to touch
them to see that they are printed on the photograph

Perhaps one of the most effective uses of a tool like Quick Mats is on images that will be seen on a web site. Even if you plan to continue cutting traditional mats this software can do a better job showing how your finished images look than if you painstakingly photographed the actual mats yourself. It’s easy to create a series of digital files that represent each standard mat that your work is available in, so web visitors can see how the different colored mats effect each of your images.

QuickMats sells for $229. While not inexpensive, it is an excellent tool for those who sell prints regular basis. Portrait studios and school picture professionals will quickly make money on images enhanced by QuickMats. Web designers who have artist and photographer clients will likewise find it well worth the initial price. To run QuickMats you will need either a PC or Mac with Adobe Photoshop v6 or greater installed, and 3 to 4 GB of available disk space.

Screen capture of the Photoshop workspace

click on the image to see it full size

A shows the numerous QuickMats options in the open Actions Pallet. I've chosen the action to "select outer mat" and you can see the flashing marquis around the outer mat B. Using the Eyedropper Tool C, I've chosen a new foreground color D which I've used as the outer mat fill color B.

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Contents of this page © 2005 Larry Berman and Chris Maher and is protected under United States and International copyright laws and may not be reproduced, stored, or manipulated without written permission of the authors.

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