As Ralph mentioned, many people will avoid a bright white to avoid having a mat that is brighter than the whites in the image. In general, I will use the bright white but I like high contrast and deep saturation in my colors so I also like the frame and mat to be high contrast but that is my personal preference. If I am doing soft pastels, sepia tone, or low contrast black and white, then I will definite go with a less bright white mat such as the Bainbridge “photo white” mat which is good general use white for photography…thus the name.
Black is another commonly used mat color, but it is not as safe as white. My companies largest selling mat colors are by far white, with the slight off white and the bright white both selling in high quantity. One thing I have noticed is that most large orders will tend to be colors like photo white which indicates that it is mostly more professional people ordering it.
I mount most of my B&W's with Bainbridge Alphamat, matte white, which is slightly bone coloured, or photo white, which looks a little more grey. This depends on the type of paper I use, either warm or neutral tone. For high key prints I will often use a double mat, with black being the inner.
A double mat of the same colour can be quite effective also, but adds considerably to your cost. I find that most galleries around here are very conservative, and just want that off-white mat with a thin black or natural wood frame.
I never have had much success with black mats, but these can be effective with colour. Bainbridge make a grey mat called photo grey, which is as near as damn it to your Kodak grey card, and this can work well with low key prints, especially with an off white inner mat.
I use the white mount/mat boards from Freestyle for practically everything. For larger mats, I get 32x40 sheets from a local art store and cut them down.
I try to match the highlights in the print. For cold neutral prints, white is appropriate, but not a bright white, maybe something ever so slightly off white. For warm toned images, off white or slightly creamy works well. And for toned prints in sepia or viradon with creamy yellow highlights I like again an off white mat or more than often a cream colored mat.
For my silver gelatin prints, I have gone with a bright white -- usually a silver metal frame (Nielson profile #11). For my warmer platinum prints and carbon prints, I go with natural white and black wood frames. Usually 8 ply for the natural white.
I find it is a rare B&W print that can work well with a black mat. I used gray for a short while many years ago and quickly tired of it...but it was not as "clean" looking as some of the nicer grays now.
I only use bright white. One time I ordered natural white by mistake and tried it, but under gallery lights it looked kind of sickly yellow and detracted from tone of the light sepia toned photo.
There is natural white and there is natural white -- Light Impression's natural white has less of that sickly yellow than some others I have seen.
I matted with a very light cool gray for a while. I then had to put up a few prints on a warm colored wall, and was pretty much taken aback by how bad it looked.
Just sayin', consider the coolness/warmth of the background in not using a pure white matte. I now use a pure, bright white matte exclusively.
Good point -- one has to consider under what conditions a print will be hung (if possible). Color prints (and toned B&W) should be printed with consideration of the type/color of lights they will be eventually be shown under -- not always possible, of course.
Originally Posted by jpeets
With colored mats to match the color of the image, one would also have to consider how two images with different colored mats will look hanging together. The color of the mats becomes important (for the better or the worse) when sequencing work in a portfolio or on the walls.
Even with all white mats in a portfolio or on the wall, one needs to be mindful of the effect of different color of whites. One or two prints with natural white might be visually jarring in a show of all bright white...no much how better the image might look on the off-white.