How I cut a mat.
I spend a great deal of my expendable income on artwork and to allow myself to save money to eventually buy more, I mat and frame it myself. So, in case you find yourself in similar shoes, cutting your own mats is easy as pie.
You can buy a handheld mat cutter for about $20 to $30 and I find it works great for me. (A tabletop one would be nice but I’m saving clams recall.) A mat cutter is what cuts in the 45 degree angle. I’ve used several in the past, all work fine, most recently I’ve bought a Logan Deluxe Style Mat Cutter cause it was at my local store.
Step One: Gather materials.
You will need a piece of matboard. Matboard is generally available in 32″ x 40″ pieces. It will run around $10 depending on whether you choose acid-free or 100% rag content. (Don’t get the super cheap stuff, acid content is too high and it will discolor your piece.) Grab your frame, a pencil, your matboard, box cutter and a straight edge (a more substantial metal ruler will be easier to use) and a clear ruler is nice but not absolutely necessary.
Step two: Cut out the size mat you will need.
Depending on your frame size, cut out the chunk of mat you need from your larger piece with the box cutter. If you bought a pre-fab frame, the paper insert is a nice guide to use when cutting. Alnd from here on out, always work from the back of your matboard so you don’t mark up the front of it.
Step three: Calculate the size of your borders
This might be the trickiest part because it involves math but even this step isn’t too complicated. According to me, borders are the same on the top and left + right. The bottom border can be larger to give the piece visual weight at the bottom, I determine this on a case-by-case basis. Generally, according to me, mats need to be at least 2″ and I would go even wider for larger work.
Since the left + right border need to be the same dimension, start by working out the width of these two. The mat is 8″ in width, the artwork is 4.25″ wide.
You need to leave some space for the mat to overlap onto the top of the artwork, and in case because its a small piece I’m going with a super small overlap of 1/8″ on both sides.
This means that the window size needs to not be 4.25″ but actually just 4″ wide. Subtract the artwork width from the total mat width to see how much mat you have to work with. In our case, 8″ of mat, less 4″ of artwork, leaves us 4″ of mat to work with. Divide that by two, since we need a border on the left and right and you get 2″. So, we will now have a 2″ border on the left, right and top (since those all need to be the same) and just leave what’s left at the bottom. Wow, see now the worst part is over.
Step Four: Mark the window on the mat
Again, from the backside of the mat, draw out the borders for your mat window. Using a clear ruler is easier at this step.
You’ll want to see the corners clearly, so extend the lines longer than necessary. This way you will clearly see where the borders cross. You will need to see this when you begin cutting your mat.
It doesn’t need to be pretty, it’s the back. And now with all the lines drawn, doublecheck it’s the correct size but place your artwork on the back and making sure the artwork is slightly wider than the mat on both sides.
Step Five: Cut out the window
Finally, ready to get down to business. First, line up your mat cutter on your guidelines you just marked. Your mat cutter will have a couple of guidelines on it so just line up the blade to just above the corner. You need to overcut each corner about 1/4″ inch to account for the bevelled edge, this ensure a good clean crisp corner on each side. Also, position the mat cutter so the angled blade of the mat cutter is pointing toward the center of the artwork. Your cutter should make it clear which edge faces your ruler, but just doublecheck the angle.
Use your metal ruler as a guide to push against when you are cutting your mat. Also, remember to turn the mat in the same direction all the way around so the bevel remains at the right angle. Finally, just push hard enough to make sure your blade is cutting through to the front of the mat. It goes without saying, but a good sharp blade is mandatory.
Step Six: Remove the window
After you’ve cut all four sides, your window should just slip right out. Proceed with caution and do not yank it out or else you will rip the mat and it will seem as though some animal gnawed out the window with their dull incisors.
Insert artwork and voila! (More on various ways to mount the work another day.)