What is Matboard?
Matboard is a heavy cardboard-like material that is used to give a photograph, drawing, or other artwork a finished look during the picture framing process. Matboard is typically white or black, but colored matboard is available for those who seek a more unique look.
When you pay to have a picture professionally framed, matboard is usually included in the price of the framing. However, it is possible to purchase matboard from an art supply store and do your own framing. You can also purchase a handheld mat cutter for about 20 US Dollars (USD), although investing in a professional quality cutter is a wise idea if you plan to frame your own artwork on a regular basis.
If you’re going to use matboard to do your own picture framing, it’s important to measure correctly to leave an attractive border around your artwork. Typically, experts recommend that you leave at least a three inch border on the top and sides of your picture and four inches of space for the bottom border of the matboard. This helps to “weight” your picture and give the finished piece a more visually appealing look.
After measuring and marking the back of your mat, place the straight edge of the cutter along one of the lines and slowly run it down the edge. Be very careful about keeping your fingers away from the blade as you cut — mat cutters are very sharp. If you’re trying to create a beveled look in your finished mat, slant the cutter out away from the window you are cutting. This will ensure that the beveled edge is visible from the “right” side of the mat when you are finished.
If you make a mistake when cutting your matboard, try using a craft knife to correct the error. Rubbing a boning tool over the edge of the mat can help to make mistakes appear less noticeable. Running fine grit sandpaper or an emery board over the rough edges of the cut may be useful as well. However, if you’re consistently having trouble cutting your matboard, you may need to buy a new blade for your mat cutter. Dull blades produce dull cuts.
Most artists say that learning how to cut matboard is simply a skill that takes a lot of practice. Don’t be discouraged if your first few attempts produce less than satisfactory results. Be patient and practice on scraps of matboard until you have perfected your technique.
Matboard is a great material to learn to cut if you enjoy making scrapbooks and want to make sturdy backing for your work. It is also great for making accents and shapes.
I have found that matboard in a variety of colors work best for theme pieces. I have a gorgeous scrapbook I made out of ivory, green and white matboard for my wedding, as it matched my colors.
If you are looking to cut shapes, or any small detail pieces make sure you are wearing gloves to protect your hands and take your time. Working with matboard isn't always easy, but the results are worth the hassle.
If you are a collector of art it is a good idea to learn how to cut your own matboard for framing. I have traveled quite a lot and love picking up various art works done by the locals where ever I go. The sheer quantity of the art I have picked up made it more economic for me to learn how to do my own matboards.
If you want to go for a dramatic look, learning how to layer matboards is a good skill to have. Sometimes having alternating colors around the art can really bring out its features.
There are lots of examples online of layered matboards, so you may want to find a style you like and see if you can copy the look.
In my experience, places online that sell pre-cut mats often sell the frames with the windows cut out and the backing mats separately. This can get rather costly, so I just order the frames and cut my own backings from a huge piece of matboard that will provide enough material for several backings.
If I'm having difficulty finding a large slice of matboard, I will just by foam board instead. It works well, but the only thing is that even a professional mat cutter will often leave behind jagged edges. Rough sandpaper is good for major hang tags, and fine sandpaper works for little discrepancies.
I love to use mahogany colored matboard to frame sepia tone photographs. The entire effect reminds me of wood carvings and historical imagery.
Also, cream matboard is great to use if you draw with charcoal on cream colored drawing paper. The cream of the paper and the cream of the matboard enclose the charcoal image in a sort of art sandwich!
Brightly colored drawings in a medium such as pastel pencils are best contrasted and brought to the foreground by using black matboard. Your image will seem to shine out of the darkness.
Handheld mat cutters are way more difficult to use and messy than professional mat cutters. I found a good professional one for $50.
It has a cutter arm with a blade and a ruled surface for lining the board up evenly. You simply place the mat board on the surface out to the edge of the base where the blade will hit, make sure it is lined up with the rules, lift the blade up 90 degrees, and bring it down quickly to chop off the excess matboard.
Of course, you have to be very careful when picking up or storing the mat cutter. There is no guard on the blade, so you must remember to grab it from the other side.
@JessicaLynn - That's interesting that a white matboard is supposed to be best for black and white photos. One of my friends went to school for graphic design and she told me they wanted the graphic designers to use black matboards for their projects. I'm not surprised the recommendations are different though-photography and graphic design are two totally separate disciplines!
@m3g4n - I have a degree in Photography and I was always taught a white matboard was best for black and white photography. Since I mostly do black and white I buy a lot of white matboard!
I find cutting it myself to be really difficult so if I'm working with a standard size piece I purchase the photo mats. However if I'm making a non-standard size piece I will make the occasional attempt to cut my own matboard. It doesn't always turn out so well though.
@m3g4n – I completely agree with you. I frame all my illustrations with mat board, and I almost never cut the frame in a perfect rectangle. My art is really whimsical and silly, so I like to take a razor blade and (very carefully) cut curves or shapes into the mat board to mimic and accentuate the lines in my art.
I don’t recommend doing that unless you’re wearing cut resistant gloves, though!
@ginSoul – I agree that mat boards are difficult to cut properly. I cut my own because it makes me feel more connected to my drawings and photographs. I put my heart and soul into creating my art, so I like to do the framing myself.
Which mat board colors do you use most often? I use a lot of reds and purples, because those are the dominant colors in most of my pieces. Most artists in my town use black frames, but in most cases, a colorful frame is best for my work.
I believe the frame should not only support, protect, and show off your art, but it should also be an extension of your art.
I’ve been framing my own photographs for 7 years and still can’t cut mat board properly! I’m so bad at it, I have to order precut mat boards online. I’m a professional photographer, and I use museum quality 8-ply mat board in all of my exhibits. It’s very thick and difficult to cut.
Luckily, buying precut mats online is really cheap! A 16” by 20” frame costs about $7. They’re even cheaper if you buy large quantities.
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