Matting and Framing Your Own Pictures

Or, How Dick Blick Punched Me in the Uterus and Left Me Cowering in a Corner

You’ve likely spent a bajillion dollars on wedding photography and now you want to hang some of it. But, you’re still out that bajillion dollars, right? There’s no room left in the budget for professional framing. That’s where you come in and do it yourself. I haven’t had many of our wedding prints printed, but I do have TONS of posters that I’ve acquired over the years, and figured now was as good of a time as ever to get them up on the walls.

I acquired my latest poster goody at the Brooklyn Renegade Craft Fair: A Peaceful Traveler print of Minneapolis/St. Paul. I’ve been buying a few posters here and there and never took the initiative to hang them, but today pulled out all my random posters and decided to do something with them. At first I thought I might cover an entire wall in our house with every random poster I have, but after laying them all out, I realized they were too hodgepodge and needed a new plan.


(That Los Angeles poster is SO ’80s but I bought one anyway 10 years ago and never put it up… I fear as the decades go on it will never see the light of day, but oh well.)

I decided that I’d take the two food posters and put them up near the kitchen together, and then caved like a good little consumer and purchased the New York City and San Francisco Peaceful Traveler posters, so our little collection grew to this:


images from The Peaceful Traveler


The problem with all of these posters is that they’re all different sizes, and because I am old and boring, I crave uniformity.

DIY matting, to the rescue.

If you’ve ever had a portrait professionally framed, you know precisely how many of your kidneys you need to sell to pay for it. (If you didn’t know, then it’s both of your damn kidneys.) When we moved into this house I bought a mat cutter, and it’s one of the best investments I’ve made. I cut my own mats whenever I need to frame pictures or posters (and I don’t even use pro photo matting board, I just use thick poster board, because I AM CHEAAAPPPP!).

A mat cutting tool looks like this:


I made the mistake of buying a freestyle mat cutter (which allows you to cut curvy lines and weird shapes), rather than a straight edge one, but this one works fine anyway. If you know you’re only going to cut straight lines, you’ll probably want to buy something like the Logan Model 2000 Push Style Bevel Cutter ($22 from Blick, a tiny investment compared to what you’ll get out of it over its lifetime).

Why a mat cutter when you could just use an X-Acto? Bevel, of course.


Here’s how you do it…

But first, a fun story.

I went to the Blick nearby and purchased 5 24″x30″ gallery frames ($30 each) and nice, thick cream poster board ($4.50 each). Blick will make 1 cut per board for you for free, and then the 2nd cut for 50 cents. (Note: this only counts for outer cuts. They don’t do inner cuts for these prices.) The guy that was helping me was totally flustered because he was very busy sitting on his stool twiddling his thumbs, so when I asked if he could so kindly help me (by help me, I mean make the cuts THAT I PAID FOR) cut my 32″x40″ board down to 24″x30″, he ran off and helped 2 other customers find things in the store that had just entered (um… OK) and then when he finally came back to cut my paper, he told me, “I can’t guarantee that I’ll cut the paper to the exact size you need. I can get within 1/2 inch though. OK?”


When I refused to get angry (I only stayed angry on the inside), I smiled and said, “That’s just fine.” 🙂 (Just cut my paper you horrible old man.) At that point he softened and said to me, and I quote, “I’m just really busy so I’m sorry I’m so curt. But it just is what it is.”

Hahahahahahahha. I like how reading between the lines he basically said to my face, “I’m being a total jerk to you and I know it and I’m just going to keep being this way and you have to SUCK IT UP YOU DUMB LITTLE GIRL!”

Anyway. Paper got cut. And miraculously, it was cut PRECISELY correctly. Apparently his ruler DID work just fine. Nice. But the whole exchange made me sad, mostly because I took it up the yang like that. I should have gotten all visibly angry but I just wanted my paper cut and I didn’t want to make a fuss.


So, basically, cutting matting is super easy. Line your print up corner for corner with your mat, and measure the inches to the end. pide that number in half, and give yourself as much “overlap” as you want (I usually go 1/8th inch in from the print on each side) and sketch it all out on the backside of the mat board. You ALWAYS need overlap… don’t think you can cut a perfect mat for your poster. You just can’t.


Below you can see a ton-o-marks because I marked wrong the first time. MAKE SURE AFTER YOU MARK IT UP, you lay your poster down on top of your intended cut-marks, to make sure you’re lined up all correctly. I realized I messed up the math on the first go round and adjusted accordingly. I was SUPER careful because I didn’t want to screw up and return to the hell that was Dick Blick so the scary dude could berate me with his bad attitude again.


This is a one man show here, so I can’t show you me cutting in action, but you just jam your cutter up against your straight edge and zip along the straight edge until you’re all done. With mat cutters, you need to cut past your edge about 1/4 inch or so, so that the inside of the mat will pop out. Otherwise you’ll have to rip it out and it will look bad.


MAKE SURE THE BLADE IS POINTED THE RIGHT WAY. I can’t tell you what the right way is because all mat cutters are different, but you want to make sure that the angle of the blade always points AWAY from the poster you’re framing. This sounds a little abstract until you’re sitting down and matting; when you’re doing it it will make perfect sense. If you go the wrong way, your bevel won’t show up, and you will be super sad.

If you cut with proper overlap, the inside of the mat will pop right out and you will have a nice, beveled edge.


When you’re done you can admire your handiwork and wait for your SO to get home to do the boring hanging part.


And how does this all stack up to professional framing?

We got this blueprint of the Getty framed at Michaels at a 1/2 off framing event for $250 (yes, that was half off of $500. The poster cost $10. Ugh).


The cost to DIY mat and frame my own posters:


$188. For FIVE GIANT PRINTS. (You could even save more if you don’t live in a place with a 9.75% tax rate. Is that normal??? I don’t know. It sounds high.)

I will say that this takes a little practice to master. The amount of pressure you use and where the blade enters the mat all matters, and takes a little bit of time to get perfect. Just get yourself a discount piece of mat board (or use the scraps if you’re cutting down a larger piece of mat board) and practice until you get a little confidence before cutting into your expensive “for realsies” board.

Happy Friday, and happy framing!


Mrs. Penguin

Northern California
Wedding Date:
June 2008
Somebody to Stand by You
Covering all the Bases: Our Bad Weather Back-Up
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