How to Measure and Cut Your Own Mat Board

Written by Mark Rogers

Using mat board when framing artwork will not only keep the art from directly touching the glass (which is a faux pas in the professional art world), it is also a great way to draw someone’s eye directly to the focus point of your piece while adding some professional and personal pizazz.

Mat boards are offered in a wide variety of colors, styles and textures, allowing you to add your own creative elements to finished piece. Even though many frame suppliers (us included) offer mat board with the window opening already cut and ready to go in the frame. However, if you want to completely customize your framing project to your own exact specifications, it’s not terribly difficult to cut your own mat board—and it’s also inexpensive.

What Tools and Materials Do You Need?

Measuring and cutting your own mat board doesn’t necessarily mean you will need to break the bank when purchasing all of the materials needed. Some of these materials you might already have on hand at home. The materials needed to frame artwork with your own mat board include:

  • An uncut mat board in your choice of color and texture
  • The piece of art you’re planning to frame
  • A picture frame

Pretty simple, right? As for the tools, you’ll need:

  • A pencil
  • A straight-edge ruler
  • A straight, sharp blade (a box cutter or “X-Acto” knife usually works best; you can find X-Acto knives at any office supply or craft store)
  • A mat cutter

And because you don’t want to cut lines into your dining room table, floors, or kitchen counters, some sort of protective cutting surface is needed. This can be just a piece of cardboard, a large cutting board or a fancy, specialized protective “cutting mat,” which often feature gridlines to make tracing and cutting straight lines easier.

How to Measure Your Mat Board

Now that you have your tools and materials ready to go, it’s time to get started! Measuring your mat board for the frame is pretty simple—no architecture or engineering degree required.

Step One: Place the mat board on top of the back of your frame backing and trace around it with a pencil. After tracing, cut out the section of mat board using your X-Acto knife or other sharp blade.

Step Two: Place your artwork in the center of the mat to measure the location of the opening. To measure for artwork that is perfectly centered on the mat, simply subtract the width of the artwork from the width of the mat and divide that number in half. This number will tell you how much space will be left on each side of the piece. For pieces that are not perfectly centered, measure and calculate all sides.

Related Posts:

Five Craft Projects You Can Do With Mat Board
Understanding Mat Board Types

How to Cut Your Mat Board

Once you’ve done the appropriate measurements, trace lines indicating where you’ll need to cut directly on the mat board based on the measurements you have just taken. After the lines are traced, continue with the following steps:

Step One: Take your straight-edge ruler and place it along the first cutting line you traced.

Step Two: Using your mat cutter, cut along the straight edge, being careful to stay on the line you traced so that it remains even. It’s important to press down firmly on the mat cutter to ensure you get a clean cut.

Step Three: Repeat “Step Two” on all of the cut lines you’ve traced and pop out the center of the mat board.

Step Four: Place the mat board on top of your artwork, making sure the piece is evenly centered in the middle.


Step Five: Using archival tape, which is specially made to ensure it will not damage the piece, secure the artwork to the mat board.

Step Six: Place the entire piece inside the frame and replace the backing.

The final step to this process is to hang your masterpiece on a wall and enjoy your hard work and creativity. Not everyone can afford to have all of their pieces professionally framed, and cutting your own mat board is a fun way to add some oomph to your artwork without going broke—leaving more money in your pocket for art supplies to use on the next great piece you’ve been planning. And, of course, now that you’ve seen how easy (and fun) it is, you can use mat board in those pieces as well!

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4 thoughts on “How to Measure and Cut Your Own Mat Board”

  • Mark Rogers

    You might check with for info about workshops. Cutting mat board requires a mat cutter. This company makes them and has some info about mat cutting and picture framing:

  • Debbie

    Ive been looking for mat cutting workshops. Havent found any. This is great. However, when purchasing pre-cut mats, the inside cut is at an angle, which I like. This doesnt explain how that is done. Any hints??

    • Ira Glunts

      Exactly. I am going to try to cut a guide board at a 45° angle. There are tools you can buy to be this. Some are pretty expensive.

    • Joshua

      Good observation. To achieve this result, simply hold your knife at the desired angle while drawing it along the line you wish to cut.

  • Steve Langer

    Yes, it is quite simple to cut your own mattes and, as you point out, does not require expensive equipment to get good results. I use a hand held Dexter matte cutter and a good solid straight edge also. What should be stressed here is that the mattes should be cut from the back. I pencil two parallel lines 3/16" apart for each cut. The outer is where I place my straight edge while the cutter blade follows the inner line. At each line(s) junction a box is formed by the pencil marks and this is where you start your cut and follow through for a slight over cut. Start at the lower left and rotate until your four cuts are complete. Your matte should come cleanly away from the cut-out. The matte cutter holds the blade at an angle and the depth of cut the blade makes is critical...too shallow and it won't cut through...too deep and it will drag. Sharp blades can not be stressed too much. The flexibility of cutting your own mattes to fit your picture and frame is rewarding.

  • Hank Hirschfeld

    After you take the photo width and height and subtract it from the frame height and width, ADD At least 1/4 INCH TO EACH DIMENTION SO AS TO HAVE SOME OVERLAP OF THE MAT OVER THE PHOTO!


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