How to cut a mat
There are several factors that one must consider before beginning. You have before you, the pictures, images, articles, etc.. that you want to mat.
The first consideration is the size of piece to be matted. Working with standard size mats is probably the easiest way to begin. Standard size mats are will accommodate a variety of picture frames that you would purchase at a retail store that sells them. If you wish to have a specific size, or a size that is not standard, then it would most likely need to be ordered, which can be done at a picture framing shop.
The key is the Outside dimension. This is the dimension of the “inside” of the frame.
The Inside dimension is the “opening” or window is where the image will be.
This is a standard 8” x 10” mat, it will accommodate a 4” x 6” image.
The frame that you would look to fit this would be an 8” x 10”.
The border width on this mat is 2” on all sides.
Standard size frames would be: (all measurements are in Inches)
4 x 6 14 x 18 24 x 36
5 x 7 16 x 20 30 x40
8 x 10 18 x24
8.5 x 11 20 x24
9 x 12 22 x 28
11 x 14
NOTE: these are the most common.
The Inside dimension of the mat board can be cut to fit any image that you desire.
But a 1.5” – 2” border on all sides is a good starting point. I have given a 2” border in the example.
At this point, you might want to consider a color for the mat board. This is more of a personal preference and possibly could depend on the colors that might be in your image.
Colored mat board can enhance as well detract from images and photographs
Mat board is available in many colors and decorative textures, so the possibilities are many for you. I will talk more about this after we cut the mat.
If you are framing an image or photograph, and you have absolutely no idea as to what color, and or texture or design of mat board to use, a framer will be able to assist you in this choice.
If you are matting a diploma or an article, basic whites will work pretty well, but one could use colored mat board. so we will leave the topic of choosing colors fro another time. The actual cutting of the mat is what we want to highlight in this article.
MEASURING FOR YOUR MAT.
If you have an existing frame, you will need to measure the opening from the back to ensure the exact OUTSIDE dimension will fit. I recommend that a tape measure or metal ruler be used as opposed to a fabric or paper measure.
as you measure, you might notice that the length and width of the frame is actually 1/8 of an inch larger. This is to accommodate for the expansion and contraction of the mat, glass and the backing due to heat and humidity. Your measurement for the OUTSIDE dimension of your mat will be to the closest INCH.
VERY IMPORTANT: all mats should have at least 1/8 “ overlap in the opening of the window, so that the image will not fall through. Always keep this in mind when measuring for the window.
The size of the image to be matted, does somewhat dictate the actual frame size or outside dimension. Here’s why, say you’ve got a 9 x 12 image to be framed, and you have this great frame that has been in the family for years, but the frame size is 11 x 14.
The largest border that you have is a 1” all sides mat unless some of the image can be covered. Frayed/ worn edges, or imperfections in the paper, etc…, just as long as they are close to the edge it can be hidden. Then a wider mat can be used.
Do understand why? Looking at the width (horizontal edges), In the example above, youll see that the image itself is 4” with a 2” border on one side, and another 2” border on the other, you have filled the 8” width of the frame. The same is applied to the length (vertical) edges. Most pre-cut mats will almost undoubtedly have a 2” border on all sides.
There is an option for the mat to be “weighted” at the top, or bottom. Which means that if “weight” is at the bottom, then three sides of the border would be the same, and the bottom of the mat would be the thickest. As follows.
This is an example of a mat which is weighted at the bottom. Using the same dimensions as our first which had an Outside dimension of 8x 10, the inside dimensions have changed, and you will now be able to fit a 4 x 4 image behind the mat.
The actual opening of the window is 3, ¾” x 3, ¾”.
As far as the actual tools you will need to cut the mat, this depends on you. This website offers a few different types, but I will recommend a product that the framer who works Genesis Art uses. It is called the Logan 301-S compact 32” cutter.
This comes with a locking guide (straight edge) and a “push” style mat cutter, which runs in a track, and will yield excellent results. The framer has been doing professional framing for about 25 years. As well I can personally vouch for this product. It is what I used when I first learned to cut mats. It is simple and easy to use.
But you may choose other styles and if they work for you, then so be it.
But in any event, you will need a mat cutter of some sort that has a beveled cut.
A “T” square is easy to ensure that the line or edge I straight.
A slip sheet, which is a piece of scrap mat board to go under the one you are cutting. This needs to be larger than the actual mat.
Make sure the blades of the cutter are set so that they through the mat and into the slip sheet a bit.
So, if you’re ready, we will proceed.
Let us say that the image which we are going to mat is 4 x 6, and the frame we want to put it in is 8 x 10.
The first step Is to trim the mat board to the Outside dimension.
The next step is to decide the width of border the mat will have. For our purposes, we will say 2” on all sides.
We are going to do the following:
- turn the surface that you will see over so it is facing down.
- from the top left corner, measure 2” down and mark.
- from the top right corner, measure 2” down and mark.
- using your straight edge, draw a line and connect the marks.
(we will repeat this on all four sides. Regardless of which side the actual top, and bottom)
NOTE: the mat cutter will NOT accommodate for the 1/8” which will overlap your image. Based on our first example, the actual opening of the window should be,
3 ½ “ x 5 ½”. Which would accommodate a 4” x 6” picture.
The mat board should look like this.
So, your now ready to make the cuts.
Put the T-square’s metal edge on the line you have made, the actual “T” should be on the edge of the surface you’re working on.
The Logan cutters have a silver guideline that is just about in the middle of the cutter itself. This is where you will line up you corners before you cut. Meaning this: the lines that you drew have come to four corners. You will line up the silver guide on the mat cutter with the line that runs perpendicular to the one you are about to cut. This puts the blade at the corners.
If using a push style, you want to “push” towards the top. If using a pull style, you want “pull” towards the bottom.
We will repeat this step on all four sides until we have cut the opening completely out.
When you turn your mat back over you will see the cuts you have made have an angle or bevel to them as opposed to just straight edges.
You are ready to center the mat over your picture and put into a frame. I would suggest using a bit of tape and applying this to the BACK side of the photo and to the Backside of the mat.
SELECTING A COLOR OR DECORATIVE MAT BOARD
If you are selecting a color mat board, the choices are many, as I stated earlier.
I’ve listed some things to consider when considering this option.
Colored mat board and decorative mat boards can be a great enhancement to the work that is to be matted, but they can also make a great piece look not great.
If you are matting a color photograph or image, you would possibly look for a color of mat board that doesn’t overpower the picture. Something that might bring out the subtle colors might work better. You don’t want to draw more attention to the mat than the picture, right?
As you go looking for the right color or decorative mat board, if this is the path you choose to go, you will find what are called corner samples. And these will be found in all picture framing shops. These corner samples can be handled and put on the corner of your piece to see if it will work or not. Choosing a frame is done this way as well.
The décor of your residence or of the surrounding area, and the theme of the image are things to consider when making a decision for a mat.
Also, consider the frame that the image and mat will be going in. for example, I personally would not choose a bright green mat with a frame that might have a red stained finish. But, if you would, then who am I to argue. It is, after all, a preference and your choice.
Just as an example, a Chinese wood block print that is predominantly black type and some figures on hand made rice paper, might look good with a white mat. Maybe if the frame has hints of red, then a red mat might look even better. I witnessed this once when a customer came into the store with the artwork I just described, and as I watched the color choices they made, I, at first was unsure about it, but when I saw his choice of frame, which was mostly a very dark stained wood with hints of red, I was convinced he had made a good choice. The results were great.
The mat he chose, while very red, did not at all distract from the artwork.
So the subject matter played a large part of his choice, as well as preference. And in later conversation, he described the décor of his house and the space that the picture was to be hung in, and without physically being there, I had a good sense that it would be a great addition to the room.
So as you sift through the many options, don’t get overwhelmed, after all it is only a mat.
An option for you if you do find yourself unsure, is to just go with white or neutral colors, and if done correctly, you can always get another mat at a later time.
As well, if you are giving the framed artwork as a gift, sometimes it is best to go with more neutral colors, unless you know the space where it will be.
So hopefully this has helped you rough it out, so to speak. Do no get discouraged if your mat didn’t turn out “picture perfect”. There is a learning curve to it. Some people are very proficient at it while others make take a bit to get going. There are other types of mats, such as double mats, circular and oval mats, mats with multiple windows or openings, offset mats and some that have a “V” groove in them.
There is defiantly more to learn than what I mentioned here. This is a basic mat, and hopefully I have caught your interest.
If you are interested in learning more or would like a more knowledgeable approach, then I will refer to some extended reading.
The Complete Guide To Basic Mat Cutting, by Vivian C. Kistler ©
If you are interested in this book and it is not listed on this website, please call
(800) 937-4278 and they will get it for you.
I am sure that there are many more, just as there are libraries full of books on how to use the inter net or build a table.