Mat cutting using metrics and a sense of balance

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April 26, 2017

I finally found a dependable way around most of my mat-cutting issues: Metrics!

When you want to make precise cuts on a stack of mats, metrics makes far more sense then repeatedly dividing fractions and counting off eighths, sixteenths, and thirty-second's of an inch on a hard to read ruler. Cutting mats no longer means hours of frustration and mismatched border cuts resulting in pricey failures that fill up the recycle bin. Compared with all the calculations required when working with fractions, metrics is simple and easy to use.

Trusting my visual judgement

Matting is simply another step in presenting the image I saw when I clicked the shutter release. Though there are formulas for print placement when cutting mats, I've learned to trust my own sense of balance, just as I did when I first composed and then printed the photo.

For a while, I used a phone app that worked well much of the time, but sometimes the mats would come out wrong and I could not figure out why - until I added up the numbers given me by the app and discovered up to an extra sixteenth of an inch in either direction. That's not good enough when you're trying to be precise with your measurements. I guess I was glad to find that my math skills weren't always at fault!

So now, I find a placement I like, then place a weight on the print to keep it from moving around while I measure the borders. Even though the opening size is critical, the top and bottom placements are not. That said, I do try to be consistent with the amount of space I leave at the top so it won't create a wavering line down a wall when prints are displayed side by side. Most of my mats are weighted - having a bit of extra bottom space to visually lift the image up from the lower edge of the frame.

I write the measurements down as Top, Bottom and Sides, along with the name of the print in case I want to repeat the cuts for additional copies. I also write the numbers lightly in pencil on the back of the board to be cut, far enough from the edge so they will drop away with the cutout.

Both side borders must be the same, so when measuring, I make sure that right and left edges of the print edge are exactly the same distance way from the edges of the mat board. Again, this seems much easier to achieve with a metric ruler than one marked out in fractions.

Next step is to place the mat face down in the cutter (on top of a slip sheet) with the bottom of the mat closest to me. Consistency in how I make cuts helps avoid errors, so I always start my cut from the top left (facing down) to the bottom, and then rotate the mat counter-clockwise for each successive cut. The last cut ends at the bottom, and if the blade depth and overcut settings were correct, the mat can be lifted away leaving the cutout behind.

My measurements are now quick and precise, so I no longer have as many frustrating surprises when I place the finished mat on the print. I can also churn out more polished mats than ever without a stack of miscust tossed to the trash.

Thank you, millimeters, for being easy and simple.

Goodbye inches, fractions, and apps, and hello productivity!

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