Fine Art Photography, Black and White Prints

Reference: Mounting Prints


The following is a brief overview of my opinion on how to properly mount a print. This is only one of the many ways in which to do this. It is the way I decided upon after viewing many prints at galleries and museums. I will go into more detail below, but it should be noted that although I prefer a dry mounted print, this is not the current archival standard.

What I am trying to do with a print mounting:
- emphasize the image, not overpower it
- provide a strong separation of the image from the viewing environment
- produce a clean presentation of the image
, with minimal distractions (i.e. wobbly prints)
- maintain the archival life of the print through the use of high quality materials and methods

Material needed:
- Print handling gloves (you don't want to get finger prints all over that image here at the final stage)
- Archival mat board (for black and white prints this means acid-free, buffered rag board), I prefer bright white
- Dry mount press (I currently use a Seal 210M)
- Tacking Iron (I use the model ava
ilable from Light Impressions, although many hobby stores carry them)
- Dry mount tissue (for color or RC prints be sure to select a tissue made for this purpose)
- Paper trimmer (I prefer the rotary type as it tends to pull the paper less as it cuts)
- 2 sizable and reliable T-squares, and 1 ruler
- and let's not forget... an image worth framing (and an image worth framing, is worth framing right)

OK, lets get started...

First, ready your workspace. Dust the desk off, get your materials ready, and turn on the press and the iron to the appropriate temperatures. Put your gloves on.

After the print has sufficiently dried, press the print flat in the dry mount press. Allow it to cool. [If the print is not flat before continuing, bubbles are likely to result when pressing.] Now place an appropriately sized sheet of dry mount tissue over the back of the image, leaving two of the edges free for squaring when trimming. The iron should be warm by now, so begin by tacking from the center of the print out to the center of the edge closest to you. If the iron is set at the correct temperature, there should be no need to press hard. Rotate the print 90 degrees and tack again. Repeat for the remaining two sides. Always tack from the center out to the edge, and do not attempt to cross the whole sheet in one shot as more often than not the tissue will wrinkle in the process. See the illustration below.

Now that the mounting tissue is tacked to the print, it is time to do some trimming. You should have two adjacent sides that are free of overhanging tissue. Align one side with the squaring arm of the trimmer and cut. Cut each side with the previous cut aligned against the squaring arm. When completed, you should have a print trimmed to the desired dimensions and the well-tacked tissue trimmed identically. Tacking the tissue prior to trimming ensures that the adhesive in the tissue will not extend past the print when mounted.

Now it is time to Align the print on the mat board. I prefer what is commonly known as a museum mount (vertical mat board regardless of print orientation). Often times you may hear that a print needs to have an extra 1/2 inch along the bottom to prevent the print from appearing to slip downward. But sometimes half an inch may be too much (for small prints) and sometimes it wont be nearly enough (large prints), so I prefer a more methodical approach...

This is known as optical centering. Place the print in the upper left hand corner of the mat board. Measure the distance from the right edge of the print to the right edge of the mat board (we will call this distance "A"). Measure the distance from the bottom of the print to the bottom of the mat board (we will call this distance "B"). Note these on a separate sheet of paper.

optical centering

Now divide these distances in half and place the ruler on the right side adjacent to the mat board so that the scale starts at the bottom and goes up. Mark the ruler where half the distance of B is located. Lay one of the T-squares across the board from the position at 1/2 B to the lower left corner of the print. Now square up the other T-square with the right side of the board so that the scale moves left. The point at which 1/2 A crosses this diagonal line is called X. This is where the lower right corner of the print will go.

optical centering prints optical centering prints

Move the print so that the lower right corner of the print is located at X. Now, square up the print while ensuring that the corner stays at point X. Your fine print now has a fine position to be mounted in. Time to tack it down. Carefully weight down the center of the image (a drafter's bag works well). Pick up a corner of the image while leaving the tissue down. Carefully insert the iron and tack from the inside to the corner of the print. It doesn't take much, an inch or so should do it. Repeat for each corner and when done check that the print doesn't buckle when pressed flat. If it does buckle, carefully un-tack the two offending corners (sliding a ruler from the center out to the corner works well), re-check for it being square on the mat and re-tack. It should look like the illustration below (the gray lines are where the tissue is tacked to the print and the black arrows are where you just tacked the tissue to the mat.

dry mounted prints

Everything square? Everything laying flat? Everything clean? Dry mount press up to temperature? Place a mat board over the print and place it in the press. The required time in the press will vary depending on your materials. After pulling the boards from the press, lay them on the desk, lay a heavy book on top of them and lay a 50 year old Royal typewriter on top of that. Allow the print to cool for a few minutes under the weight to ensure a good bond. Remove the mounted print and check for bubbles and loose edges. Everything looking good? You bet it is...


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