How to Cut a Photo Mat By Hand

Matted Picture Frame

Posted on 10, March, 2015

Last Modified on 08, July, 2016

Cutting custom photo mat boards by hand can be difficult, forcing many people to turn to professionals for framing photographs and artwork, or they will purchase a picture frame with a mat already included. Mats will often be uneven and have jagged lines out of the box. There are a few tools that can help make making your own photo mat easier. A specially designed mat cutter tool simplifies cutting and can cut angles and v-grooves for a more professional appearance.

Deciding the type of photo mat material that will be used will depends on a few factors, like budget and type of photograph. Museum mat or rag mat are good choices for conservation. Constructed of cotton fibers and wood pulp, this material is less expensive but offers sufficient conservation for most artwork. Rag mat is 100% pure wood pulp, the highest quality paper mat board, and can be inert for up to 300 years. Museum board is the highest quality material, constructed of 100% cotton fiber, and will preserve all contents of a frame. Lastly acid free mat is lined with a wood base liner and treated to short term acid burn but the core acid can leech out and harm the photo or artwork. The cost of the mat board will increase with the quality and preservation abilities.

Specifications & Tools Needed

5 Properties of a Matting Board

  • Thickness
    • Depth
    • Sturdiness
  • Acidity
    • Discoloration
    • Damages Art
  • Cores
    • Standard / Cream Core
    • White Core
    • Black Core
  • Finish
    • Bevel
    • Cut Accuracy
    • Cleanliness
  • Color
    • Smooth
    • Textures
    • Designer
    • Suede


  • Matting Board
  • Ruler
  • Artwork
  • Protractor / Square
  • Straight Edge Knife / Straight Ruler
  • Cutting Surface
  • Picture Frame

The Right Mat Size

Start by confirming that the mat selected fits the intended frame. If it doesn’t fit correctly remove the backing to the frame and trace around the back onto the mat. Use a straight edge knife or box cutter and ruler to cut the mat board to the correct size. Then check to make sure that the mat fits.

Measure Dimensions

Next measure the size of the artwork that you would like to use. Then subtract the width of the artwork from the width of the mat then divide by half. This is how much space will be needed on each side. Make sure to do the same with the height of the artwork before making any incisions.

Draw Outline Markings

Draw lines on the backside of the mat board. This is important to remember so that no markings show on the front. Be sure to draw each line with a ruler and protractor to create 90 degree angles. After drawing all the lines that will fit the work, double check each side to make sure that it is of equal distance from the edge of the mat board.

Cutting Photo Mat

Precut the border with a mat board cutter tool, straight edge knife or straight ruler to ensure a nice clean cut. Also make sure not to over cut. It will show on the front side of the mat. Once finished, add the mat to your frame!

You Might Also be Interested in Our "How To: Hanging Home Picture Frames Groupings " Article.

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