Understanding Mat Cutters

Written by Mark Rogers

Framing artwork is an essential aspect of presenting and preserving cherished pieces. It not only protects the artwork from damage but also enhances its aesthetic appeal. One crucial tool that every framing enthusiast should have is a mat cutter. 

What is a Mat Cutter?

A mat cutter is a specialized tool used in the framing industry and by art enthusiasts to cut framing mat board for artwork. A mat, also known as a mat board or matting, is a flat, protective border that surrounds the artwork within a frame. It serves both aesthetic and practical purposes by enhancing the presentation of the artwork and providing a buffer between the artwork and the glass.

What Does a Mat Cutter Do?

A mat cutter allows you to create precise and clean cuts on mat boards, enabling you to customize the size, shape, and design of the mat. It typically consists of a cutting head or blade attached to a handle or a cutting system, along with a ruler or straightedge for guidance. The cutting head or blade is specially designed to make beveled cuts at a precise angle, resulting in a neat and professional-looking edge.

Mat Cutter Differences and Your Needs

Before delving into the world of mat cutters, assess your requirements. Determine the type and volume of artwork you plan to frame. Are you a hobbyist framing occasional pieces, or are you a professional framing numerous artworks regularly? Understanding your needs will help you determine the level of sophistication and versatility you require in a mat cutter.

Types of Mat Cutters

There are generally two types of mat cutters available: handheld and tabletop.

Handheld mat cutters

Handheld cutters are suitable for individuals who occasionally frame artworks or prefer the convenience of a portable tool. They are compact, lightweight, and easy to use. Handheld cutters offer basic functionality, allowing you to cut straight bevels and create standard mats. They are ideal for simple framing projects and beginners exploring the art of mat cutting.

Tabletop Mat Cutters

Tabletop cutters are more robust and versatile, catering to the needs of professional framers and enthusiasts working on larger projects. These cutters usually come with various features like multiple cutting heads, adjustable stops, and extra blade options, enabling you to create intricate designs and custom mats. Tabletop cutters offer precision and consistency, ensuring high-quality results.

Different Mat Cutting Mechanisms

Mat cutters employ different cutting mechanisms, each with its advantages and limitations. The two main mechanisms are.

Straight Edge Cutters

Straight edge cutters are the most common and straightforward type. They utilize a ruler or straightedge as a guide while cutting the mat. With these cutters, you can achieve clean and accurate straight bevel cuts. However, they may not be suitable for complex designs that require curved or angled cuts.

Rotary Cutters

Rotary cutters feature a circular blade that cuts along a curved path. They offer more versatility in terms of design options and can handle both straight and curved cuts with ease. Rotary cutters are well-suited for intricate designs, circular mats, and decorative edges. However, achieving precise straight bevels may be challenging with this type of cutter.

Ease of Use and Safety

When selecting a mat cutter, prioritize ease of use and safety features. Look for cutters that have ergonomic handles, comfortable grips, and intuitive controls. A cutter with a smooth gliding action and secure blade locking mechanism will make the cutting process more efficient and safer. Additionally, consider cutters with built-in safety features such as blade guards to minimize the risk of accidents.

Quality and Durability

Investing in a high-quality mat cutter is crucial for long-term usage. Look for cutters made from sturdy materials like metal or high-quality plastic. Metal cutters are generally more durable and offer better stability during cutting. Check customer reviews and ratings to gauge the reliability and longevity of the product before making a purchase.

Additional Features and Accessories

Some mat cutters come with extra features and accessories that can enhance your framing experience. These may include interchangeable cutting heads, extension arms for larger mats, measuring guides, and built-in rulers. Consider your specific needs and the features that would benefit your framing projects.

Budget Considerations

While it's important to invest in a mat cutter that meets your needs, it's also crucial to consider your budget. Mat cutters come in a range of prices, and the cost can vary based on the brand, features, and quality. Determine your budget beforehand and explore options within that range. Remember, a higher price doesn't always guarantee the best performance, so consider the features that are essential to you and prioritize accordingly.

Research and Comparison

Once you have a clear understanding of your needs, preferences, and budget, it's time to research and compare different mat cutter models. Read product descriptions, user reviews, and seek recommendations from framing professionals or fellow enthusiasts. Look for demonstrations or tutorials that showcase the cutter's performance and ease of use. By gathering information and comparing different options, you can make an informed decision and select the best mat cutter for your framing projects.

Practice and Experimentation

Regardless of the mat cutter you choose, it's essential to dedicate some time to practice and experimentation with regards to cutting mat board. Familiarize yourself with the cutter's features and functionality. Start with simple projects and gradually progress to more complex designs. Practice will help you develop your skills and confidence, allowing you to create professional-looking mats that beautifully complement your artwork.

Mat Cutter Maintenance and Care

To ensure the longevity of your mat cutter, it's important to follow proper maintenance and care instructions. Clean the blades regularly, lubricate any moving parts, and store the cutter in a safe and dry place. Replace blades as needed to maintain optimal cutting performance. Taking care of your mat cutter will not only prolong its lifespan but also contribute to the quality of your mat cutting results.


In conclusion, selecting the right mat cutter for framing is a crucial step in creating visually appealing and professionally presented artwork. Consider your needs, the type of cutter, cutting mechanism, ease of use, safety features, quality, and additional accessories before making a purchase. Remember to stay within your budget and conduct thorough research to find the best mat cutter that aligns with your requirements. With the right tool in hand and a little practice, you'll be well-equipped to create stunning mats that enhance the beauty of your framed artwork.