Mat Cutting Techniques for Artists

Posted by artsupply on 11/9/2013 to Art Tips is a Chicago-based art store known to locals as Genesis Art Supplies. We have a great team and we love what we do!

Pro Tips: Mat Cutting Techniques

Artists are like small business owners: at certain times, you will need to wear multiple hats in order to be successful. We must be our own creative experts, our own marketing advisers, our own promoters, organizers, and that doesn't even begin to encompass preparing your work for an exhibition, or to sell to a client. Preparing your artwork for showing is one of the most important parts of being an artist. It is up to you to determine how your work will be seen, and that means finalizing with frames, pedestals, and any other way you prep your work for showing. Let's look at one of the most common, and most important ways to show your two-dimensional work: matting and framing.

Matting is vital. It sets the stage for your work to be seen, so you want your matting to look at professional as possible, and it protects your artwork from touching the glass of the frame. Let's start with the basics.

Tip: If you prefer video tutorials, check out this video, which details setting up and using one of our favorite mat cutters, the Logan Artist Elite Mat Cutter", which we carry on our website.

Mat Cutters
As with any art form, you must have the right tools for the job. The right tools will ensure the best precision (which is the key when it comes to matting and framing), less room for error, and the easiest workflow when you move to matting and framing your work. A high quality mat cutter is the most important of all the tools. It must be big enough to work with the mat sizes you are using. It must be sturdy enough to deal with your mat's thickness, and the blade must be sharp in order to create the best cuts possible. if you routinely work with larger prints, canvasses, or other flat mediums, then it is best for you to have a larger mat cutter in your studio.

Mat Board
Choosing mat board for your artwork is an important part of the matting and framing process. Look for mat board that is acid free so it doesn't damage the artwork over time, and use mat board that is sturdy enough to provide a strong backing for the work.

Pre-cut mats come in several standard sizes (8 x 10 inches, for example), but when you are cutting your own mats, you must pay attention to two sizes: the outside of the mat, which must fit inside your frame, and the inside of the mat, called the window, which will "frame" the artwork. Mats usually have a 1.5 inch - 3 inch border width, meaning that is the distance from the outside of the mat to the window, but you can determine what width you want your mat to be, depending on your tastes and the look you are going for. If you are using a frame that is a standard size, measure your artwork, and then add 3 to 5 inches to the outside dimension to determine what the closest standard frame size would be.

Sizing Tip: Always let the art determine the frame size.
A good rule of thumb when framing an type of artwork is to work from the inside out. Let the artwork determine the frame size you are using, and not the other way around. Choosing a frame and then trying to make the art fit within can create space and cropping issues, not to mention, it might not give the artwork the right visual feel.

First, measure your artwork in both directions. Your mat should overlap your artwork by 1/4 to 1/2 inch on all sides, so subtract up to a 1/2 inch from your artwork measurements. This is the size of the window. From there, you must determine your outside measurement. If you have already chosen your frame size, then the outside measurement will simply be that frame size. If you are matting your artwork for a custom frame, determine the width of your mat border and add that to the measurements you made from your artwork. Simple.

Measuring Tip: Sketch your measurements on the back of the mat board you intend to cut. Always work from the back of your mat!

Now that you have measured your mat board, it's time to make some cuts. Rule number one of cutting mat board is to cut it from the back. If you are using a board mounted mat cutting tool, this means your mat board lays face down.

Cutting Tip: Use a backing sheet under your mat board when you are cutting.
A backing sheet is very important in order to make the best possible cuts. Backing sheet (a scrap of mat board is best) under your cut will prevent the blade from tearing the front of the mat board; instead, you will get a nice, clean cut because the blade is forced through the front of your board to the backing sheet. If you have set your mat cutter blade correctly, then the blade will only score the top of the backing sheet. If you are cutting though both mat board and backing sheet, then readjust your blade, because it is too deep.

Note: Mat board is the best backing sheet to use when cutting, because it will maintain your mat cutter blades much longer than anything else, since that is exactly what they are designed to cut!

Prepare to Frame
Attach your artwork to the back of the mat with archival tape. Finish preparing to frame your art by cutting a piece of acid free foam board to fit the size of the frame. This will hold your artwork nice and firmly inside the frame, and protect it from moving around.

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