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*All images and words copyright of Diane Dobson-Barton dba as Barton Studio 2002-2007

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Cutting a mat for your photograph


Cutting a window mat to display your photographs requires skills, but will save you a great deal in framing cost. For the cost of one 11” X 14” cut mat you can purchase a large sheet of mat board in a wide variety of sizes and styles. There is some initial investment however. You will need to purchase a mat cutter. This will enable you to cut a 45 degree and/or or 90 degree beveled edge. You could do this by hand, but the cost of a mat cutter makes it well worth purchasing for the ease it provides.


Be sure to use acid free mat board that you can find at large arts and crafts supply and frame shops. It is available in 2, 4, 6 or 8 ply boards most commonly. Each ply is typically 1/16” thick usually mat boards are available in 30 x 40 or 40 x 60 in diameter.


To cut with a mat cutter you must first determine where you will cut. Decide on the size of the image to show. For instance, even though the image may be 5” x 7” you may want to show only a portion of the image. Subtract 1/8” all the way around. If your photograph uses a full sheet of photo paper, this will leave enough edge to hind behind the window of the cut mat.

So the opening of the window needs to be 4 ¾ x 6 ¾ inches.


Next you need to determine the outside edge of the mat. Assuming you will be using a standard size purchased frame your options are; 8” x 10”, 11” x 14”, 12” x 16” or 18” x 24”.


You will want the bottom edge to be slightly wider then the top or edges as it is more aesthetically pleasing. So if you are using a 8”X 10” frame the upper edge needs to be 1.25 inches wide and the bottom can be 2 inches.




It is better to have a wider edge on a mat then this, so let’s look at an 11” x 14” frame. With the same size opening and with both sides equal. 


So each side will equal 3.125 inches, which will look nicer then the previous measurements.


Now for the top and bottom 14.00 – 6.75 = 7.25


Since we know we want to have the bottom edge a bit wider then the other we know we can automatically use the .25 inch on that edge. So we can pretend it is not there for the next step.


7/2 = 3.5


This means the measurements become 3.5 for top and 3.75 for the bottom and 3.125 on each side.  This leaves a difference between the top and the edges. If you wish to make the top and both side equal in width, you will need to make the window smaller on each side. Examine your image’s composition and decide if this will work. It is better in our opinion to have a mat that is cut neatly and a photo with a strong composition, then to be equal on the three sides. But if you can make it work, it is all the better. We assume the latter will be the case in the following information.


Since we now know we need the piece of mat board to be 11 x14 we need to cut this out of the larger piece. Usually it is best to use a corner as it not only saves a larger piece when you are done, but it is two edges less you will have to cut. Using a T square and ruler mark out 11 x 14 on the back side of the mat board.  Using a large straight edge and utility knife cut this section out.

Using a straight edge and a pencil, mark the measurements out on the back of an 11 x 14 piece of mat board. For some it helps also to mark which edge is which. Remember the bottom edge is slightly wider then the others.

Now you will need to measure out the window area to be cut with a mat cutter, and mark it onto the back of the mat board. Following the mat cutters instructions cut the window area out. Do not force the corners to come out until they are ready. You can damage a perfectly good mat by tearing the corners away.

In order to make a book mat you will need a back piece cut that is slightly smaller then the outside of the front. Usually 1/8 inch all the way around is enough. So the outside measurement needs to be ¼ inch smaller total making it 10 ¾” x 13 ¾”.

Cut the piece from mat board as you did the outside of the front. Lay both pieces down on a clean surface, with the front piece being face down, end to end.


Using archival tape, attach the two together. Flip the front piece over right side up and fold at taped end. Take photo and position it how you want it inside the mat.  Using archival tape either tape the image down at the top edge where it can not be seen or roll tape over onto itself, or use double faced tape on the back of the image.




Once you have it taped into the position you want it, attach the bottom edge of the mat board together. Then shrink wrap the matted image attaching the plastic to the back of the board.

Clean the glass with window cleaner. Make sure the glass or plexiglas is completely clean. If any moisture is left it can be trapped between the glass and the photo and possibly ruin the photograph and the mat.