A few nights ago some folks asked how I matted and framed my prints for an exhibit. So I thought I would go over all the why’s and how’s of my method, but please realize that just as in Lightroom and Photoshop, there are several ways to do the same thing as well as other methods altogether.
First, a few basics. Whenever handling mat board, or your prints for that matter, it’s a good idea to use white cotton gloves to avoid getting any oils or smudges from your fingers onto them. For matting, I only use white acid free mats (Crescent 1607) because they will last forever, ready for reuse without the edges “yellowing” after a few years; they will remain crisp and clean for years to come. For exhibits, I always use the same white mat board and metal frame (Nielsen N15 in Florentine Gray – color 154) so there is a continuity throughout. I chose this particular color because it is very dark gray, almost black, so it goes well with all colors as well as black and white images and has a nice cross-hatch pattern etched into the metal. Unlike wooden frames, metal frames can be broken down and reconfigured according to your needs, but I generally keep the sizes pretty consistent for each particular size print.
This allows me, in conjunction with my matting method, to reuse the same frame and mat for any print I choose. In other words, I can take a print out of a frame without damaging either the print or the mat, and replace it with another using the same mat and frame. Although this works well for hanging exhibits, it works well at home as well allowing you to change the photos you have hanging any time you have a new favorite or just for a change of pace. Incidentally, it’s my understanding from the majority of those I’ve talked to on the subject, that prints should never be glued or taped since they can then never be removed without glue residue remaining or damage. The method I now use for mounting doesn’t use any gluing or taping of the print itself. Rather, the print rests in a set of four mounting corners that hold it in place on a mounting board of foam core under the mat. In order to be able to replace prints in a given mount and mat, each subsequent image has to be printed to the exact same size on the same size paper with the same margins. But that is easily done using Lightroom.
So let’s get to the mounting and matting of a print. First, avoid putting a print under glass unless it has air-dried for about 24 hours or longer to allow all the chemicals in the ink to evaporate completely; otherwise they will leave a haze on the glass dulling its clarity. It’s a fairly straight forward process to cut both a mat and mounting board for your particular frame size using a good straight edge (preferably, a framing square) and sharp razor. Then determine the size opening in the mat you want according to the size of your print, and where you want the opening to be positioned within the mat board. There are three options: (1) the mat can overlap the print on all four sides; (2) use a “floating mount” where there is an equal thin white space between the print edge and the edge of the mat on all four sides of the print; or (3) use the same floating mount but with a larger area on the bottom of the image to sign, number and, if you wish, add a title. Once you’ve determined which of the three options you want, then decide where you want the opening to lay within the frame or mat. It is generally easier to have the top and bottom the same and the sides of the mat of equal dimensions thereby centering the image in order to use either horizontal or vertical images in the same frame. However, this will only work either overlapping the image or using the float with all sides equal. Another option is to have the bottom a little thicker than the top to give it a bit more “weight” on the bottom. However, this method eliminates the flexibility of using either orientation for the frame. The options are your choice. My preference is for the thicker bottom mat along with the floating mount that has the larger area on the bottom for signing. To make things easy (since it can be confusing using all the arithmetic to figure out the depth of your mat sides, top and bottom), I use 1/4-inch float on the top and sides, and 1/2-inch for the bottom float. Let’s use an example of an 11-1/4 X 14 inch horizontal print on 13 x 19 paper in a 20 X 22 inch horizontal mat and frame. The sides are easiest: subtract the length of the print (14) from 22 and you get 8. So each mat side should be 4 inches if you want it to just touch the edge of the print, but you don’t want that. If you want the 1/4-in. float subtract 1/4-in. and you get 3-3/4 inches on the sides. Overlapping the print? just add 1/4-in. and the sides are 4-1/4 in. You can also add only 1/8-in. to reveal a bit more of the print. Now the top and bottom, continuing to use the floating mat: the same method applies subtracting 11-1/4 from 20 and we get 8-3/4…since there is a 1/4-in. space between the top of the print and the mat, and a 1/2-in. space below the bottom of the print, both top and bottom are 4-in. To add the weight to the bottom, add 1/4-in to bottom and subtract 1/4-in. from the top…3-3/4 top and 4-1/4 bottom mats, 11-1/4 print and 3/4-in. for the top and bottom float — total 20 inches. You can choose to add and subtract 1/2 inch to have an even thicker bottom as this works well too.
The hard part is over and now we get to the easy part. Next we transfer the measurements for each side that were calculated onto the back (very important!) of the mat board using a small T-Square or measuring tape (fig. 2). Mark which side is the top so you always have a visual reference without actually having to measure. Then place the mat board against the stop of the cutting board and using the straight edge from the mat system set to the proper distance you’ve marked, mark the intersecting points of the opening for each corner (fig. 3), but make the marks just light enough to see easily in order to avoid the marks gravitating onto the bevel of your cut. Whatever position you used to properly place the straight edge for your measurements and markings, you will have to reposition the straight edge one notch lower in order to see your marks and allow for the angled cut when you actually cut the mat.
Now it’s time to make the first cut. As seen above (fig. 4), I place rubber shelf liner between the mat cutting board and whatever it rests on in order to prevent it from sliding while making a cut. Also, place a piece of scrap mat board between the mat you’re cutting and the board itself; this helps in getting a cleaner cut and keeps the razor sharp. With the mat up against the left hand stop of the cutting board and the straight edge placed one notch below your original mark, place the cutter at the corner closest to you. Push the cutter handle down to get the razor through the board (it should line up with your marks), and push it away from you while making sure to stay against the straight edge until the blade passes slightly beyond the other corner. For the second side of the mat, turn the board clockwise and adjust the straight edge distance if it’s different from the previous side. Place the cutter at the uncut corner nearest to you and again, push it towards the corner you previously cut, overlapping just a bit (exactly how far will come with practice). Do all four sides and the center should fall out easily, but if a corner is still slightly attached, you can slide a single razor into the cut and, holding it at the bevel angle, slowly work it toward the corner until it completes the cut and the corner is free.
After the center is out (fig. 6), run your fingernail (no fingernail polish) along the front opening edges to smooth them out a bit and at each corner to “heal” any small cuts that go beyond the corner (fig. 7).
The next step is to join the mat with the mounting board so they hinge. Since the mat and mounting board are two different thicknesses, it’s best to even out their heights by placing foam core under the mat and a spare piece of mat board under the foam core. Then simply lay the top edge of the mat to be hinged against the same dimension of the mounting board making sure you are looking at the back of the mat board (again, very important!) so when it’s flipped onto the mounting board you will see the beveled edge. Once the two are perfectly aligned, run the 1-1/4-in. linen hinging tape along the seam (fig. 10). You can use one piece or several smaller pieces; each seems to work equally well. Now that the two pieces are joined, you’re ready to position the print under the mat so you can add the paper corners (fig. 8) to fix the print’s position (self-stick plastic corners are also available). Once it is properly positioned with even amounts of white around the print and a bit more on the bottom, or the print is completely covered if you’re overlapping, place a small piece of mat board or foam core on the print and add a weight to prevent the print from moving while placing the paper mounting corners (fig. 5). I use a rock I found in a riverbed in Washington State but anything that has some heft to it can be used. Before the rock, I used a large jar of peanut butter!!
Swing the mat out of the way and place your mounting corners on each corner of the print making sure not to move it, otherwise you’ll have to reposition it.
Using a small piece of the linen hinging tape (fig. 9) cut in half lengthwise, tape the corners to the mounting board (fig. 11). After all four paper corners are taped, remove the print and add tape to the inner portion of the paper corners (fig. 12). When that’s done, replace the print, swing the mat back into position, sign the print if you do that and place your clean glass on top making sure there are absolutely no spots, dust or specks of dirt underneath. Slide everything into three sides of the frame (fig. 13), add the last side and screw down the corners. Place the springs (fig.14) around the perimeter to hold everything in place making sure the smoothed part lies against the mounting board. Almost done now, using the handle end of a screw driver to measure distance (fig. 15), attach the hanging wire clips and attach the wire, wrapping it around itself about 7-10 times for security and cutting off the excess with a wire cutter. Using plastic covered wire eliminates end fraying. Don’t leave much slack in the wire to keep the frame hanging close to the wall; otherwise it may tilt away from the wall. Add the final touch of self-stick bumpers (fig. 16) on each corner to protect walls from marring when you hang your print and you’ve successfully finished your own framing project and it’s ready for hanging. After you’ve done a few, the process becomes less daunting and you get a feel where to start and stop the cuts so that the center releases without additional steps. The hard part is always the math!!