All about Mats – How to Cut Your Own

By Nicole Tinkham


No matter the type of artwork, large or small, you’ll want the final piece presented in a professional way. The best way to achieve this is with a mat and frame. Easy enough, right? Actually, matting can become difficult when working with an odd size piece or trying to find the perfect mat color. When it comes to matting your artwork for framing, you have three options to get the job done: purchase a pre-cut mat, have it done by a professional, or cut your own mat.

Pre-cut mats
This is going to be your easiest option but it may not be the most practical choice for you. Pre-cut mats come in a few basic sizes (outer dimensions): 5 x 7, 8 x 10, 11 x 14, 12 x 16, and 16 x 20. You will often find black and white mats to be the most abundant (see below), but there’s an array of colors available as well. Double mats are also available with an inside border. This can add a totally different feel to the piece. To find a pre-cut mat, all you need to do is match the inner dimensions to the artwork and find a picture frame that corresponds to the outer dimensions. But what if your piece is an odd size? That’s where you run into a bit of trouble. You will need a custom mat either from a framer or a DIY project.


Go to the professionals
This is a great choice when you’re completely lost and need a little help. Framers can cut mats down to any size, help you decide on a color if needed, suggest frame types and answer just about any questions you may have about the process. We suggest doing your research first and finding a good framer! Talk to friends, other professionals and read reviews before deciding who to go with. While expert help is a great option, it may not be in your budget. This leads us to your final option when going custom – DIY!

Cut your own mat
Cutting your own mat may sound daunting but with the right tools, it’s not as difficult as you might think. It takes a little extra work but in the end you get custom mats and save a little extra cash. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably never done this before, which is why we included step-by-step instructions.


  • Mat board – These come in large 30 x 40 sheets in various colors (see picture below). If you’re unsure which color to choose, play it safe with a neutral color or one that highlights subtle tones in the artwork. Mat color is not something you want to mess up so choose wisely! Eggshell and off-white are both excellent choices that won’t take away from the piece.


  • Sharp blade, X-Acto or box cutter
  • Mat cutter – Mat cutters can be pricy but in this short tutorial, we’ll be using a pull style cutter which is less expensive (and available at Keeton’s).
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Cutting surface –Use spare mat board or a large sheet of thick cardboard as your cutting surface. Make sure you’re working in a clean area.
  • Frame and artwork for final piece

Let’s begin!

  1. Measuring
    We will be doing a lot of measuring in this process so be prepared for a little math! First, measure your artwork so you have a good idea what size frame you will need. Next, you will measure how big your mat board needs to be to fit inside the frame you have chosen. Using a pencil and ruler, mark your measurements on the larger mat board.
  2. Trim down
    At this point you will need to trim the larger sheet of mat board down to the size needed for your picture frame. With your box cutter/X-Acto and ruler for alignment, cut along your lines.
  3. Measuring (again)
    We told you there would be a lot of measuring! Now you need to figure out the inside dimensions. To figure out the width on each side of your mat, subtract the width of the artwork with the width of the mat and divide by 2. Use this same formula to figure out the top and bottom widths. Typical mat width is 2” on all sides but you aren’t limited to that. Once you have your measurements, mark them on your mat using a pencil and ruler. See below for a visual of what exactly you will be measuring.


4. Time to cut!
With your mat cutter along a straight edge on the left side of the cut line (with the tick mark on the cutter lined up with the cutting line), press down and pull toward you until the tick mark hits the end of the line. Repeat this step on all cut lines.

Please note that all mat cutters are different and to achieve the best results, we suggest following the instructions for your particular mat cutter. In this tutorial we used a pull style cutter but the process differs depending on the type of cutter you are using.

Don’t let framing stress you out. See if you can get the perfect mat for your piece pre-cut. If not, don’t freak out – weigh your other options. Going to a framer or purchasing a mat cutter are both going to cost a bit of money. If you feel confident in doing it yourself, give it a try! If you are too unsure of the process, a framer may be your best option (we can suggest one, just ask us!). If you need any help purchasing mats, mat cutters, or frames stop in, give us a call (941-747-2995), or leave a comment in the box below.

Interested in starting a new project this summer? Check out the workshops scheduled for the next few months at The Artist’s Corner and don’t forget to sign up for The Nook for email updates!

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