Mat Cutting: How To Cut The Basic Mat For Picture Framing
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
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?
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
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
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.
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.
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
The Finished Single Mat Cut - Shown with the fallout piece
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
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
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 CuttersFletcher Terry
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.
About The Author Of This Page
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.
Animals are my passion and art is how I chose to express it.