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Can You Use Coloured Frames With Black & White Photos?

coloured picture frames on wall

Choosing A Frame Colour For Your B&W Images

Black & white photography is a wonderful medium, as it reduces a subject to shades, shape & composition.

Sometimes colour can detract from certain images & a monochrome version may actually have more impact.

Black & white photographs are also fantastic for any décor, as they sit well on any wall colour.

But sometimes a hint, or splash of colour, may be just what the décor doctor ordered.

So can you use coloured frames with black & white photographs? Yes, black & white images can be enhanced with the use of a coloured frame, plus they offer creative possibilities for mixing & matching with your décor.

Black & white photographs can be printed on various materials.


As well as a photographic print, canvas is also a popular medium for monochrome images.

But whichever style of print, they can all be enhanced with a frame.

Mounting, Matting & Framing Your Photo

Usually it’s only images printed on photographic paper that require matting.


Check Out These Articles To Learn More About Mounting & Matting:


Canvas prints are normally stretched, & if it’s a rolled canvas it will be mounted before being framed.


Other print mediums like aluminium or acrylic are usually displayed without frames.


So when talking about using a coloured frame for your black & white photograph, coloured mattes can also be used to great effect.

So what is a photo matte? It’s a piece of paper-based material with a window for the photo to be seen through. Mattes can vary in thickness & as well as creating an added visual appeal, they also separate the photo from the glass or acrylic the photo is mounted behind.

White mattes are most commonly used for black & white images, but black mattes can also be a good option.

black & white photos in black & white picture frames

If you’re going to have a coloured frame, using a coloured matte, especially if it’s a different colour, could be overkill.

But having the matte the same colour as the frame, just a shade lighter, can look really nice.

This can depend on the width of the matte too, as obviously the wider the matting the more prevalent the colour.

The frame needs to be the darker shade, otherwise the overall look is unbalanced.

That’s why they’re called frames, as they “frame” that which is within them.

White mattes tend to suit images that are predominantly darker, or with more black tones, whereas with lighter images, a black matte helps to “hold” the image within the frame.

White mattes can have a black core & black mattes can have a white core.

This means when the window is cut, a pencil-like border is created.

Although only thin, it creates a border that separates the image from the matting.

Black mattes with darker images can be too heavy, offering no contrast or relief.

A coloured matte can also be visually appealing when used with a black or white frame as well.

Just like matching a white or black matte to a photograph, coloured matting is the same.

Stick to lighter or paler shades of colour for a darker image & vice versa.

And remember, a matted print can look wonderful without a frame too.

Choosing The Right Coloured Matte & Frame

The general rule of thumb for matting coloured photos is to match the dominant colour in the image.

This is so the eye is drawn to the image, not the matte.

But with monochrome images we’re dealing with tones & shades, not colour.

So there’s no rules as such & your creativity can run amok!

In saying that, remember to consider the wall colour the photo will be hung on & room décor in general.


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The style & subject matter is also a consideration.

Bold vibrant matting may not compliment subdued images like a foggy landscape for example.

Whereas a contrasty action shot may come to life with a bright or strong coloured matte.

Although it’s a black & white image, choosing colours that could be in it’s coloured equivalent can work really well.

For example, a monochrome shot of a forest with green matting, or a desert landscape with brown or ochre matting will add to the atmosphere of the photograph.

Black & white photograph in brown wood picture frame

If you’d actually like to experiment with this idea, I’ve found a couple of free & really useful tools where you can upload your photo to see how it will appear with various coloured matting & frames.

You can even change the wall colour.

Matching The Frame & Matte Colour

If you’re using a matte, it’s probably best to decide on it’s colour 1st before choosing a frame colour.

There’s a couple of reasons for this, firstly the matte can be the most dominant area & the colour will need to work with the photo.

Second, it may be trickier finding a complimentary matte colour if the frame & image are already looking good together.

It’ll be easier matching the frame to the matte colour than having to match the matte to suit the frame & image.

But with black & white images it isn’t that crucial unless the photograph has a coloured accent, sepia or other toning applied.

With monochrome images, it’s more important to match the frame to the wall colour & room décor.

Black & white photograph in colourful picture frame

The general advice of choosing a frame darker than the matte, is usually a good rule of thumb when combining coloured mattes & frames.

But white, black & grey matting is colour neutral, so it frees you up to choose any frame colour you desire.

You can also turn this rule on it’s head & experiment with frames lighter than, or the same shade as, the matte.

Grey matting with a grey frame is a very subdued & almost industrial look.

monochrome image in grey picture frame

By using white frames against a white wall, the image appears to float & you could even take this a step further by matching the frame to any colour wall in your home.

Toned & Colour Accented Prints

Although not a full colour image, monochrome photographs can have a sepia or other toning effect applied.

Certain elements of a black & white photograph can also be colour highlighted.

Hands up those of you who haven’t seen those black & white shots of London with the red bus or phone box.

Terms like sepia & selenium toning derive from the good old days when images were developed in chemical baths.

But the appearance these tones gave can be digitally replicated & to great effect too.

Sepia toning gives a brownish colour to an image creating an oldy worldly effect.

This will limit you to which colour frames & matting are going to suit.

The focus will want to be on the toned image, so a neutral matte & frame may be the better option, perhaps white or grey.

Black matting could be used, but it will also create an overall heavier appearance against the brown shades of sepia.

Other toning effects may be reddish or blue, so keep this in mind when choosing an appropriate colour matte or frame.

With photos that have coloured accents, again it’s best to stay neutral or match the accent colour.

That’s why they’re called accent colours, once you start adding other colours into the mix it can all start to look too busy & a bit tacky.

Are you looking for some unique black & white art? Canvas Cultures are worth a peek, they have a large choice & accented prints too.

Choosing An Appropriate Style Of Frame

Although we’re discussing frame colour & I’ve already mentioned matching the colour to the photographic style, I thought it worth touching on choosing the right style of frame to match the image.


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Although you may have chosen a suitable coloured frame, it’s important that the style of frame reflects the style of photography.

Ornate frames can work well with certain portraiture, but will look odd framing a modern city or architectural scene for example.

Whereas modern aluminium frames & floater frames are better suited for city skylines & modem architecture.

Although floater frames seem to work well with most styles of photography.


Rustic frames can look fabulous with sepia toned images of old cars & trucks & even certain landscapes, & wood & patina picture frames look great with beach & surf photography.

Frame Style & Colour

Maybe you’re a crafty type & love the DIY approach to framing your photographs.

Either making them from scratch or upcycling charity shop finds can be a lot of fun.

This can often involve painting the frame & we’ve already covered matching frame style & colour to the photographic style.

But what about matching the colour to the style of frame?

Although you can get super creative with frames, I feel black & white photography requires a subtle approach.

An ornate or decorative frame could look amazingly funky painted a bright lime green, I’m just not sure it’s the right approach for a monochrome fine art image.

But at the end of the day it’s down to personal taste & if your creative side is compelling you to try something, then you definitely should.

Nothing new or amazing has ever been made by sticking to the rules.

Final Thoughts

Black or white frames are the standard for monochrome images & if you’re displaying a fine art photograph in a gallery, they usually request it be in a white frame.

But when you’re hanging a print in your own home, it’s great to get creative, & coloured frames can definitely work with & enhance not only an image, but the space it’s hanging in.

I hope this article was helpful & inspired you to try something different.

Please feel free to share if you know anyone else who may find value in it .. remember .. sharing is caring.


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