It’s do-it-yourself day here. I put my library show prints into too large of frames (18×24″), so I spent a little time tonight reprinting, cutting new mats, and getting the frames ready.
As with every DIY project, you have to weigh the money you (might) save doing it yourself against the cost of materials and the time you spend doing mindless work . . . time that you don’t ever get back. I personally find it unconscionable to spend the kind of money that local framing stores want, especially when I know how much it costs and how little they pay their
students workers. So for smaller pieces (12×18″ prints or smaller) I do most of my own matting and framing.
Here’s how you can follow along at home.
- 4-ply Matboard — You can buy 32×40″ sheets of 4-ply board for $5.00 at most art supply stores. Or you can buy the same size 4-ply board from an agreeable framer (in my case, Newtonville Camera) for about $10-12/sheet. Spend the extra money to buy something that has the same color throughout and doesn’t have bent corners. Your bevel cuts will have the same color as the rest of the mat, and you will be able to get more mats out of the same size of board. Of course, buy pH-neutral, lingen-free, archival materials. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
- 2-ply Matboard — This will be the backing for the matted print. Color doesn’t matter, nor does price. (Just be sure it’s archival.)
- Frames — The size, style, and manufacturer are you choice. I find metal frames very easy to work with and usually buy pre-built frames from a chain frame shop for about $20-30 each. If you buy metal frames, be sure they’re the kind that you can reassemble.
- A large flat surface — Preferably taller than a normal table. You will also want . . .
- A thick 36×40″ (or larger) piece of cardboard — This will protect your flat cutting surface. I find that a clean, unassembled “large” U-Haul moving box works well. (Even nine years after the cross-country move, I take pleasure in cutting up “U-Haul.”)
- A pencil — To draw guide lines on the board and to sign mats. You do sign your work, right?
- Metal T-square — 24 inches is as short as you should go; 36 inches is ideal.
- Mat knife — I like the Logan model 500 knife, but any will do as long as it has a retractable blade that you keep very sharp. I find you need to change cutting edges every 6-8 mats.
- Flathead screwdriver and wire cutter — For assembling frames.
- A mat cutter — My mom gave me an Altos 4501 mat cutting system with a 45-degree cutting tool, which works well for 1-6″ borders. Expect to spend about $100 for a decent entry-level system.
- Acid-free paper and linen tapes — These have a water-activated adhesive that you will use to attach a print to the mat (paper tape) and the mat to the backing (linen tape). You will need scissors to cut the tape. Have paper towels on hand to blot excess water.
That’s it. I keep most of the smaller supplies in a small toolbox along with other odds and ends, such as a 3′ tape measure, a small level for hanging pictures, an anti-static brush, canned air, a little water bowl for the tape, a burnishing tool (for smooting rough edges on a mat), and a Staedtler Mars plastic eraser (which can lift many blemishes without a trace). You don’t have to be this organized; we’re artists after all.
First you will need to cut your mat board to the same size as your frame. Measure twice, cut once. Use the T-squre and firm pressure to make the cuts straight.
On the side of the mat that people won’t see, use a straight edge (or your matting system) to draw guide lines for the mat window. A rule of thumb is (if your system doesn’t compensate for it already) make the border 1/8″ smaller than the desired size; your cutting tool needs that much of an offset.
With the cutting tool pressed firmly against the system’s rail, cut from one intersecting guide line to the other. Cut such that the point of the blade is exactly even with the intersecting guide line when you start and stop the cut. This will ensure a clean, neat edge.
Four cuts later, it’s time to attach the backing to the mat. Use the linen tape to make a hinge along the top of the back of the mat. Attach it to the backing board (cut to the same size as the mat with the opening), fold over, press, and allow to dry.
Cut a couple of pieces of paper tape to attach the print. I find it easiest to put some paper towels between the backing mat and the print, attach the wet tape to the back of the print, center the picture in the mat opening, fold it all together, and press firmly until the tape is dry. Remove the paper towels and voilà, a finished, dry mat.
(Note: Images larger than 12×18″ should be dry mounted to prevent warping. That’s beyond any tools that I have, as they range in price and complexity from moderate to severe.)
Put the matted print into a frame, with a piece of thicker archival backing if necessary, assemble it, and you’re done.
For the maximum amount of fun, wait until a half-hour before you need to submit the framed piece.