The Art of Cutting Custom Picture Frame Mats
Let’s face it: You all want to make custom-made, crisp, beveled mats for photos and art prints. Am I right?
They can take art from good to great. Children’s art begins to look more like a Van Gogh, mass-produced pieces look more authentic, and they’re ever-useful in making collections look consistent on the mantel or on a gallery wall.
They’re just cool.
I’ve been itching to learn how to make my own mats for years, always trying different DIY techniques with scrap paper, scrap mat board, clamps, rulers, butter knives, pumpkin-carving knives, utility knives, you name it, but I never produced anything worthy. All efforts left me feeling like I wasn’t quite precise enough, because without the right tools, I wasn’t.
And so that’s what lead me to explore DIY mat production. Turns out, it’s as awesome as I imagined.
So cool, in fact, that I’ve pulled together a whole little tutorial to highlight how this new toy is curing my framing woes. I’m giddy, because I know if I can do it, you can do it too. Cheer loudly with me now!
There comes a point where going to the store to buy another pre-made mat loses its luster, especially after hunting and finding the exact size and color you want only to realize that someone bent the corner in a moment of fury, rendering it damaged and worthless. And sure, there are always specialists in the art department willing to cut you a new mat, custom-fit for your job, but at a price. And how long do you want to be paying that price when it’s really something that you could do for yourself? (True story: many a large mat are double the cost of a piece of uncut mat board, yowzers.)
And with that said, I do collect photography, prints, and frames, and have spent plenty-a-dime on professionally-made or store-bought mats, but all too regularly find myself dealing with two issues:
Issue #1: The standard mat isn’t the same size as the frame I want to put it in:
This “You Are Here” charming anatomical heart print from a Sydney, Austrialia-based artist (who appears to have closed his Etsy shop, hellogoodbyeagain) arrived beautifully adorned with an 8″ x 10″ mat, but the frame I wanted to put it in was 9″ x 13″ (it’s one that I custom-made out of reclaimed wood, and I had a little crush on the distinct grains and colors). Because the print didn’t fit, its sat without a frame, and the frame, without anything fabulous to display.
Issue #2: The art I’ve purchased is the wrong dimension to be framed by standard store-bought mats.
Take this print that’s housed in a simple white Ikea Ribba frame (I wish I could recall where I got it or read the artist’s signature on the piece). The paper the print itself is on is an odd dimension, making the entire piece look uncomfortably wedged into the already-unusually sized frame. Too vertical, not enough horizontal, and crammed into corners. Any pre-made mat would chop off part of the art (believe me, I tried):
Off to the store I skipped (with a 40% coupon in hand) and I brought me home one of these bad boys: The Logan Compact Classic Mat Cutter. A little more advanced than some of the lower-priced hand-held cutters, but more affordable than some of the monstrosities I scoped out too. I was looking for something mid-range and durable that would be a sort of all-in-one package, and with the 40% discount I only paid $75 + $7 for a sheet of 24″ x 36″ uncut mat board to practice with.
A few specs, just for fun:
- It has a 32″ cutting capacity (perfect for even the largest art I currently have in my home)
- I’ll be using its sturdy, fixed guide rail for all kinds of consistent cuts, but it’s perfect for cutting mat board.
- Its guides allow for mat frames as narrow as 3/4″ or as wide as 4-1/4″ (hurray for accommodating both the subtle and the chunky)
- Came with both a mat knife and a “push style” bevel cutter (I’m ready for action.)
Out of the package, I set up cutting-shop on my living room coffee table (a large, flat-top trunk). You should know, I followed the instructions straight on through this tutorial, so if you know of any, or discover any shortcuts, do share.
1. I started by cutting a piece of mat board using the straight edge and mat knife to the dimensions of one of my frames.
This was actually the hardest part of the whole project, believe it or not, because there was no great way to ensure the stock was square and even. I somehow made due with the use of one of my own rulers, but there you have it, my only Logan mat cutter complaint.
2. Once I had my mat cut to size, I adjusted the guide so that my mat border all the way around would be 2″.
This, I knew, would be allow me to float the print evenly in the mat without cutting out any detail of the artist’s work.
3. I plotted in pencil (using the mat guide as a rule) where those bevel edges would fall.
Etched lightly on the backside of the mat, it’s an advised step in the instruction manual and useful to gauge where your cuts will begin and end.
4. I got to know the bevel cutter.
This thing is awesome. It’s fitted with a channel to slide right along the guide rail, is only sharp and dangerous when you’re depressing the razor with your thumb onto something solid and flat, and floats along the mat paper like a flying carpet over the clouds.
5) I made my first beveled cuts with a smile on my face the whole time.
See, they make it easy as pie by reminding you to line up the middle line on that sticker with the pencil lines you sketched on the back of the mat, so you know precisely where to begin and end your cut. Nailed it on the first try. I impressed myself.
6) I rotated the paper against the mat guide to finish my cuts.
The last three cuts were just as easy, and I had freed the center of the paper and left myself with a clean, crisp mat to put in the frame. Charming!
The first finished piece looked great, so I proceeded with the second mat to house the hellogoodbyeagain anatomical heart print.
When all was done, I had two refreshed pieces of art ready to hang. They’re not actually going to be hung together in the house, but to show both of them to you at the same time, hope this suffices! The mats made a big difference.
I hope that makes it look easy, because it was.
A mat cutter would be a great tool to buy if you’re considering gifting art this holiday season (or ask Santa to bring you one so you can tackle framing projects indoors while the weather’s cold)!
Catching the home improvement bug at an early age, Emily Fazio is a now a devoted DIYer living in Rochester, NY. The projects she covers on her blog Merrypad range from painting a wall to building a deck, so it’s only natural she landed at DIYNetwork.com. You can follow Emily on twitter at @merrypad and like her on facebook at facebook.com/merrypad.