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Mat Cutting: How To Cut The Basic Mat For Picture Framing

Updated on November 22, 2014

How To Cut The Basic Mat For Picture Framing

I have been a picture framer for over 20 years and have cut tens of thousands of mats in that time. I understand that for most folks the cost of framing can be prohibitive and many people just enjoy the act of doing it themselves.

So I created this lens as part of a series in mat cutting and picture framing. The page will cover mat cutting in it's most basic form, the single mat. Once you learn how to cut a single mat it opens the doors for cutting multiple layer mats as well as specialty cut mats.

What You'll Find Covered On This Page

How to calculate the sizing for cutting mats

How to cut a mat step by step

Mat Cutting & Picture Faming Terminology

copyright protected by copyscape
copyright protected by copyscape

All copyrights are retained by the artist, Mona Majorowicz of Wild Faces Gallery.

The artwork or content in this lens may not be used or reproduced, either in part or in whole, without the express written consent from the artist.

Do You Do Your Own Picture Framing?

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The Purpose Of Matting

Matboard Serves Primarly Two Functions.

Matboard serves primarily two functions.

First it provides a visual field in which to view the artwork without distractions of frame and wall.

Secondly it provides the air space necessary between the framed art and the glass. This air space prevents mold growth and helps to maintain the integrity of the framed object.

The Simple Math Of Mat Cutting - How To Figure Mat Sizes When Cutting Mats

Photo by Mona Majorowicz
Photo by Mona Majorowicz

Let's say you have a 5 x 7 inch photo that you want to mat and frame into an 8 x 10 frame. In this case the basic math looks something like this

8 x 10 frame

5 x 7 photo

------

3" x 3" = 1 1/2 mat

divide by 2 because you need to figure it for both sides of the mat (The top and bottom or side to side) and so you wind up with a 1 1/2 inch mat all the way around.

Another example would be you want to custom frame your 5 x 7 photo.

5 x 7 photo and you want a 3" mat all the way around it. so doubling 3 = 6

6 x 6 = 11 x 13 custom frame size.

NOTE: These examples were to teach the mechanics of the math. It seems quite simple and logical but I've worked with enough people to know that the doubling or dividing by 2 concept is often hard for people to remember off hand.

Here's An Accurate Example For Figuring Matting.

You have a 5 x 7 photo and you want it in an 8x10 frame. But when figuring your matting you need to add an allowance for the mat to cover part of your so your photo doesn't fall through the opening. I usually allow for an 1/8 inch but most folks use 1/4 inch allowance.

So using 1/4 allowance your 5 x 7 photo is now a 4 1/2 x 6 1/2 photo.

8 x 10 frame size minus 4 1/2 x 6 1/2 photo = 3 1/2 leftover : divide that by 2 = 1 3/4" to cut your mat.

Step 1 For Mat Cutting: Cut Your Blank - The Solid Piece Of Matboard Cut To Size Is Called A Blank

Photo by Mona Majorowicz
Photo by Mona Majorowicz

Ideally your mat cutter will have a squaring arm which makes the cutting of matboard blanks easy.

If however you need to cut it by hand all you really need is a long straightedge and a utility knife.

A museum I worked for insisted all matboard be cut by hand as the matcutters didn't cut a perfectly square blank. It is certainly more work but is easy enough to do.

A Good Utility Knife Is Essential For Cutting Mat Board and Foamboard Blanks By Hand - Mat Cutting & Picture Framing Tools

Tip: When Cutting matboard or foamboard be sure the blade you are using is sharp. Also keep your lines straight. You may want to score the initial cut to allow for a smooth straight stroke on subsequent cuts. Using a straight edge is very helpful in this.

Picture Frtaming Supplies Needed For Cutting Mats by hand
Picture Frtaming Supplies Needed For Cutting Mats by hand

How To Cut Your Mat Board Blank By Hand

And The Picture Framing Supplies You'll Need To Do It.

Step 1: Start by measuring the distance you need for one side of your blank. 8 inches. Align your ruler to a straight edge of your mat and leisure in 8 inches at the top and bottom of the board your cutting your blank from.

Step 2: Lay your straight edge along these tick marks you just made.

Step 3: Using your utility knife score this along your straight edge. Mat board is very dense. Trying to cut through on the first pass will likely result in in a wobbly line or you cutting off in the wrong direction. Plus scoring sets a groove for your knife to follow in subsequent passes.

Step 4: Continue to pass blade along line until cut goes all the way through the board.

Step 5: Repeat for the next edge at 10 inches.

Logan Model 850 Simplex Mat Cutter: A good mat cutter complete with squaring arm. - Picture Framing & Mat Cutting Tools

Logan is a great economy brand of mat cutter and is the first mat cutter than I purchased for myself. A good professional grade mat cutter run in the thousands of dollars. But the Logan mat cutter did the job for me for decades and costs less. I upgraded when I opened my own gallery and frame shop.

For more information visit the Logan Graphic Productions Website

Tip: If you plan on doing any quantity of DIY framing I would strongly suggest investing in a table top mat cutter over a hand held. The extra money it costs will be earned back in mats that get cut right the first time. Not only in the time saved but also the matboard that gets wasted by mats that didn't cut well and had to be thrown away.

Cutting A Professional Mat Using A Table-top Mat Cutter
Cutting A Professional Mat Using A Table-top Mat Cutter

Step 2 For Mat Cutting: Marking Your Mat

Cutting Mats Professionally

Place Mat board face down in your cutter. Both hand-held and table-top mat cutters are designed to be used on the backside of the mat board. So you need to mark your mat board so you'll know where to begin and end the cut.

Set stops or mark stop lines with pencils Some table-top mat cutters have stops which you can set and so you never have to touch pencil to mat, but I usually cut multi opening mats or mats with specialty cuts so I pretty much always mark my stop lines with a pencil.

For my example shown here I'm cutting the mat at 1 5/8 inches.

Gently insert the blade approximately 1/8 over your starting line and while pulling the cutting head toward you in a smooth stroke. Do not start and stop or let blade up before finished with cut line. Cut to approximately 1/8 inch past stop line and allow blade to lift out of the mat.

Note There are some major framing companies that when they certify framers, have them over-cut the stop lines buy a significant margin. This ensures that no tearing occurs when the fall out rips away from the cut mat, thus ruining it.

The way I was trained was however was to under-cut my stop lines and then pop out my fallout piece using a hand-held blade carefully run to the corner. This gives perfect corners with no over-cut marks. A perfect mat in popular with artists as well as patrons as most want flawless looking mats. However, popping a corner by hand takes quite a bit of practice to get a feel for it and to do it correctly.

Backside Of Cut Mat

Photo by Mona Majorowicz
Photo by Mona Majorowicz

The Finished Single Mat Cut - Shown with the fallout piece

Photo by Mona Majorowicz
Photo by Mona Majorowicz

Note: If your mat is large enough you might be able to use the center fallout for another project. Since our example mat is so small it will be just thrown away. However, if you plan on cutting a double mat, you'll need it yet.

Mat Cutting & Picture Framing Terminology

Mat Cutting Terminology

ATG - Adhesive Transfer Tape - The professional framers double sided tape.

Blank - An uncut piece of matboard

Double Mat - Where two mats are cut for one item. Usually the inner mat is cut at 1/4 inch.

Fall-out - The left over piece of mat board from the center of the previously cut mat.

Foamboard (also Foamcore and Foam Board) - The backer board used in framing. It predominantly comes in 1/8 inch thickness and 3/16 inch thickness. It also comes in regular, acid free, black and gator styles.

Mat Cutter - Either hand held or table top cutter with a fixed blade used for cutting mats.

Mat Board - A dense board usually comprised of 8 white papers bound together. The top most layer is the colored portion that you see.

Over-cut when the blade go past the stop line.

Stops Setting on the table-top mat cutter than can be set for setting the places for you to start and stop a cut line.

Stop LinesThe lines drawn on the back of the matboard indicating your pace to start and stop the cut of the mat.

Squaring Arm - The extension on the mat cutter which allows you cut cut mat board blanks with ease.

Undercut Starting or stopping the mat board cut line just short of the stops.

Preparing To Cut A Double Mat - Professional Mat Cutting Basics

Photo by Mona Majorowicz
Photo by Mona Majorowicz

So now that you've got the basics down for cutting a single mat, you can now cut double mats, triple mats and well as many multi-layer mats as you well want to.

You Can Create A Double Mat Two Ways

1. Cut a second single mat the same size and the first, cut separately and then glue together.

2. Attach a second mat to the first and cut together.

The second method is the one I recommend. If your matboard is slightly off square using the two single mat methods will show this difference. Whereas if you cut the mats together the inner mat lines up flawlessly with the top mat.

To cut a double mat

* Apply a double stick tape (ATG) to the back of the first mat.

* Attach the second blank cut approximately 1/4 inch smaller than the first mat that was cut.

* Flip over and apply a little ATG to the fall out and place back into opening.

* Put mat in cutter and mark or set stops to cut 1/4 inch wider than your top mat.

NOTE By placing the fallout back in before cutting the inner mat, this will help the mat cut true. Without the fallout the inner mat will bow with the pressure of the cutter and will result in hooked corners.

Finished Double Mat - Professional Mat Cutting Basics

Photo by Mona Majorowicz
Photo by Mona Majorowicz

Logan Model 850 Simplex Mat Cutter

What To Look For When Choosing A Mat Cutter

Picture Framing & Mat Cutting Tools

Here's a short list of a few of things that I use most of on my mat cutter. Again not all of these things are necessary but if you plan on doing any great quantity of mat cutting this will make it so much easier and saves time to boot.

* Squaring Arm

* Fixed cutter head on a rail

* Both angled blade and straight blade on the head

* Preferably metal base

* Can cut a 40 inch mat. This is the standard length for both matboard and foamcore. While it is rare to cut a mat this long you will be cutting your blanks from this size sheet.

Since I don't use stops they are not something I look for.

Professional Grade Picture Framing Mat Cutters

Fletcher Terry

C&H

Note: I have used all three brands of mat cutters mentioned on this page, Fletcher Terry, Logan and C&H. Of Them I liked C&H the least though it is considered a very high-end high quality cutter. Logan was a good cutter that I used for a very long time and it did the job adequately. By far my favorite is my Fletcher 2100 though. It does everything that I want it to and has held up admirably over the decades.

ATG - Double Sided Framing Tape - Picture Framing & Mat Cutting Tools

The tape width I prefer to use is 1/2 inch. I do have ATG guns but almost always roll it on by hand as I feel this gives me greater control and it was how I was trained.

Hand Held Matcutter - Picture Framing & Mat Cutting Tools

Hand-held mat cutters are great for doing free style type cuts where your cutting odd shapes but in general I wouldn't recommend them. It is more difficult to get perfect looking mats with hand-held cutters. So if you think you're going to be cutting a lot of mats, I'd go for a table top version even if you settle for one without a squaring arm.

Mona Mjaorowicz demonstrating technique ata gallery open house
Mona Mjaorowicz demonstrating technique ata gallery open house

About The Author Of This Page

Greetings,

My name is Mona Majorowicz I am a professional artist who has been making my living selling my work for some time now. I am an animal artist, (meaning I paint critters) who works primarily in Oil Pastel or Water Soluble Pencil.

I own and operate Wild Faces Gallery with my husband Mike in a small rural town in Iowa. There we sell my original artwork and prints, as well as do quality custom framing and offer Giclee printing for other artists as well as for ourselves. I have over 20 years in ate art and framing industry both as a business owner and as a working artist.

I maintain a blog called Fur In The Paint, as well as write a regular column for the equestrian magazine Apples 'N Oats about painting horses.

Animals are my passion and art is how I chose to express it.

I'd Love To Hear From You

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    • WildFacesGallery profile image
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      Mona 4 years ago from Iowa

      @anonymous: I prefer the Fletcher brand though C&H is also good. By professional you are generally looking in the thousands for a good mat cutter.

    • WildFacesGallery profile image
      Author

      Mona 4 years ago from Iowa

      @anonymous: Not really, though I usually give it a try anyway because you aren't out anything if the mat doesn't fit. If you needed it a 1/2 smaller all around no problem but when only shortening one side, do your best to line it up with the previous score cuts. As I say this rarely works as the cuts don't line up and you may get hooked corners. But what's the worst that can happen? You have to throw it away anyway.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      now that my mat is all cut, I realize that it should have been an inch and 1/2 narrower at the top, is it possible for me to cut it again, thanks ann

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      What is the BEST and easiest PROFESSIONAL GRADE MAT CUTTER and inked line maker helper equipment to use for framing family artwork and photos that I want to do myself?

    • TaraBlah profile image

      TaraBlah 5 years ago

      Fantastic idea for a lens! So many people find themselves stuck in the realm of standard sizes. As an art framer, learning to cut my own custom mats was definitely one of the more valuable skills I learned as it enables you to frame your own custom-sized art into standard-sized frames, saving a bit of money on custom ordering. I shall be pinning this on my Pinterest :)

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      nycelady13 6 years ago

      Good that you have provided detailed instructions and tips. Nice lens!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 6 years ago from United States

      Fascinating! I have never cut my own mat. If I don't have a picture professionally framed/matted, I purchase a pre-cut mat. You made it look easy enough that perhaps I could do it without removing a finger in the process :)

    • profile image

      CreativeMind2011 6 years ago

      Lense is simple yet very detailed on important topics about how to do photo mat board and you got an amazing idea about that "math of photo matting"

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 6 years ago

      My dear, I have spent more than a few thousands of dollars on professional framing for my various works of art -- the only time I FRAME it is in those all-in-one frames ... and that is rarely ... it is refreshing to meet someone who can DO it all!

    • ElizabethSheppard profile image

      Elizabeth Sheppard 6 years ago from Bowling Green, Kentucky

      This is great information for artists and people who want to mat their art. Thank you for sharing your tips!

    • RhondaAlbom profile image

      Rhonda Albom 6 years ago from New Zealand

      Love the detailed how to you provided. I am going to give it a try sometime.

    • MikeEssex profile image

      MikeEssex 6 years ago

      A well researched lens. Once again a topic which seems simple actually shows it takes work to get things just right.

    • profile image

      ohcaroline 6 years ago

      Very good explanations and photos. I really enjoy framing. I am still in the beginner stage of framing and matting. I don't do enough right now to keep my skills sharp. Bookmarking this for future reference. Thank you.