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Creating a Basic Mat

Creating the Basic Competition Mat in Photoshop

Process your image(s) to the degree you deem necessary. Do this at its native size and preferably as much in RAW format as possible. If you need to process in Photoshop then do so as a TIFF or PSD and in the ProPhoto RGB color space.

Your final submission image should have a mat and a stroke (or “key” line). The reason for doing this is to control the area surrounding your image and direct the viewer's eye to the image. This is a convention that works well for PPA affiliate competitions and the judges will be looking for it. What follows is a standard recipe for creating a basic mat. You may vary it according to your taste.

2023 Note: Although this procedure will result in a satisfactory mat for competition, the trend is toward slightly thinner mats and mats that have a hint of color. Suggestions toward that end are below in yellow. (The math is not as convenient, but the results are good. It will become easier with practice.)


Recipe (PC Version):

1. Using either Lightroom or Photoshop, reduce the size of your image to 17 inches (try 18.125 for normal aspect ratio or 18.5 for panos) on the long side at 200 ppi and the Adobe RGB (1998) color space.

2. Now in Photoshop, go to “Canvas Size” and add 1 inch (.625 for normal aspect ratio or .5 for panos)  of black to the vertical and horizontal dimensions. Use the calculator if you need to! (Instead of black, try a Custom Color that makes your image look good but doesn't call attention to itself. Try darker colors that are less saturated, maybe a darker version of the stroke color.

A good way to test a mat color is to change the workspace color that surrounds your image. Right click on the background and pick Custom Color. Repeat this until you get a color you like.)

3. Then create a duplicate layer (which will activate the fx option).

4. Right Click in the background and change it to black. (or your Custom Color.) This is so you can evaluate the stroke color better.

5. Click on “fx” to activate a pulldown menu and click on “Stroke”.

6. In the Stroke box, make the size 3 pixels, position inside and blending mode normal. Make sure the preview box is checked.

7. Click in Color box and an eyedropper will appear. Pick a color that helps the viewer to look where you want them to look. This usually a color or shade found in the subject of the image.

8. Make sure the stroke color is not too bright. It should be subliminal and not as important as the image.

9. Click OK to create the stroke.

10. Right Click on the background and return the color to a medium gray.

11. Flatten the image.

12. Go back to “Canvas Size” and add 2 inches (or 1.25 for normal aspect ratio or 1 for panos)  of black (or your Custom Color) to both the horizontal and vertical dimensions.

Your final size should be 20 inches on the long side at 200ppi.

13. Save the image in the correct format and naming convention.

Your image is finished and ready to be submitted online!

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