How to mount a photograph on mat board, Part one: The tools


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Mounting a print to mat board is one of the many skills outside of shooting images that is a part of every Photographers tool chest. We are jack-of-all-trades, Renaissance men and women who are artists, business people, printers, computer wizards, software nerds, Weather reporters, travel guides, givers of advice, teachers, searchers and dreamers. We capture small moments of time and then have to figure out the best way to display those moments for all to see.

It can give one a great sense of accomplishment to really be in control of the entire process from capture to display. Learning how to do this however was sort of like trying to figure out who the killer is in a mystery novel. You get bits and pieces of information from various places and once assembled the brain finally kicks in and sees the entire puzzle.

It took me quite awhile to figure out the proper way to mount a print. Like the new guy on the team who wants to impress I said to myself “ This can’t be hard…Who needs instructions?” I am laughing to myself because I quickly found out that improperly matting a print just causes you way too much grief and aggravation, Not to mention cash from wasted prints. Being a person not to be discouraged by my earlier feeble attempts, I soldiered on and with practice and lots of research learned how to properly mat an image. It is actually quite easy when learned and customers who buy your prints will appreciate the fact that the artist captured and mounted the image which gives it more of a handmade quality. I finally feel like the process is complete when the image can finally be displayed.

There are several tools needed for the task which I will outline below. Some are a little more expensive than others but not so much to make doing this project really expensive. A small, clean work space is needed for the task, I used our dining room table which is small but adequate. You want dust kept at a minimum because it has a habit of clinging to the print and the mat so make sure to clean your work area prior to mounting the image. It’s just a precaution as nothing is more frustrating than finally slipping the mat and print into a plastic sleeve only to see dust or other contaminants in the sleeve…Just be wary of this.

1. The print – The print used here came from Shutterfly.com. I use them for all of my printing and have never had a problem or issue with their service. They use Fuji film crystal archival paper and inks and the prints look great. The print in this article is 11×14 inches in matte format, Shutterfly does not do glossy in any print over 8×10. My only complaint with them is that any print over 8×10 is shipped in a roll tube and not flat, When the print arrives you have to press it flat for several days to remove the curl. It is actually a pain because the print takes longer to deliver to the customer and it is very difficult to mount the print unless it is flat. 11×14’s at Shutterfly cost $7.99, I have a print package plan of 30% off any order so the total cost for this print with shipping was $8.58.

11×14 matte print from Shutterfly.com

2. The mat – You want to use a good quality, archival and acid free mat. You don’t want to buy to cheap of a mat as they wont be archival and most tend to yellow with age because they are poor quality. The black mat here was purchased at Creative Habitat for right around $6.00 dollars. It is a good quality mat although not museum grade. Normally I would have ordered it online however it is much cheaper to order several than one at a time so in this case I bought one locally. The same goes for the plastic sleeve, I would have preferred to have bought sleeves online but since I am only doing this one print at the moment I decided to save the sleeve it came in and reused it for packaging.

Black mat board for the image.

3. Hinging tape – Use a good quality, archival and acid free hinging tape. It is the main component for attaching your print to the mat so don’t be cheap here either. Hinging tape comes in two forms, Self-adhesive (pressure sensitive) which requires mineral spirits to remove or the gummed type that requires only water to activate the glue and for removal. I used Lineco’s hinging tape with a 1”x 130′ costing $11.00 dollars. It is a great tape, works well and this small roll will last awhile depending on how many prints you are selling.

Gummed hinging tape that I use.

4. Plastic sleeves – Good quality plastic sleeves of archival quality should be used along with a filler board for support behind the mounted image. The can be bought in all sizes and they are similar to comic book sleeves. Always be sure to purchase ones that are designed to fit a print that is mounted to a mat board otherwise it will be a tight squeeze in the sleeve. They are relatively inexpensive and they come in packs of 100. In this case as I was only doing this one print I reused the sleeve the mat board came in to  conserve resources.

5. Canned air-I always have these around and can be purchased from any computer store or warehouse stores like Costco. They are great for cleaning your computer hardware as well  as blowing any dust off of the print when packaging. Never mount a print without some of this around.

The canned air and the container I used to hold the water.

6. Three small items you will need also are a simple pencil for marking, A small detail paintbrush for brushing water on the hinging tape and in the case here of a black mat, Some type of white marking pen for signing the mat. I used a Pentec gel pen with white ink which worked well here. All can be purchased at an art supply store or office supply store and are really cheap.

Small paintbrush, pencil and signing pen.

7. Water container – Any small container will do and you don’t need a huge amount of water for the hinging tape. Use your best judgement here.

8. Paper towels – Any kind will do and these are cheap as well. You want these to clean up any water spills or for periodically cleaning off your hands. Small bits of glue will adhere to your skin if you are mounting a number of prints, Over time this glue builds up on your skin and creates these black smears on the print and mat. Work clean and always clean your hands every so often.

Cheap, handy paper towels!

9. Drafting T-square – A 24 inch one should be sufficient and costs about $11.00 dollars at staples. A t-square is important for getting straight lines when you mark the back of the mat. You want the print to be square and straight because it will extend ¼ of an inch past the mat opening.

10. Logan mat cutting rail with ruler – While not essential to this task, I have one and use it in the process for measuring. It is simply a long metal rail that either a straight or 45 degree mat cutter sits on allowing you to cut mat board. I like to cut mat board myself with the benefit of it being cheaper to buy than precut mat’s, However pre cut ones are cut by a computer and will always be straighter and look better than I can do myself. The final presentation will look more professional and it will be appreciated. The cost for a 24 inch Logan team system mat cutting rail is about $40 to $50 dollars. Expensive but I do use it enough to justify it.

Household scissors, Drafting t-square and a mat cutting rail with ruler.

11. Self healing cutting mat – This mat is self-healing which means when you cut on it the cuts in the mat close up and it can be reused many times over. This is an essential tool for this task and trust me, You don’t want to do this project or any mat cutting with out one. There is a grid on the mat in 1 inch increments for allowing you to get straight and even cuts. You never want to use cardboard to cut mats on because… As you cut with a mat cutter across the mat board, Cardboard has a tendency to bunch up under the razor blade making it skip on the mat board. Your cuts will be uneven and looked ragged. Always use a cutting mat of this type as it is designed to avoid this problem. I use a plain Staples brand one which cost about $10 dollars. In this instance we are not using it to cut on but  as a guide for marking lines on the mat.

Buy one of these! Trust me don’t cut mat’s on anything else…it wont work. You have been warned.

12. A handy pair of household scissors – Simple and cheap.

13. Business cards or some type of thank you note-While not entirely necessary, I think it’s nice to stick either a business card or a thank you note inside the print when packaged. It’s a nice gesture and you will be remembered for it. I am currently using the mini business cards from Moo.com and a package of 100 costs $20 dollars. These are great as they are a unique product and  you can use 25 different images per 100 for the front of the card, making each one you hand out different.

Moo mini business cards each with a different image.

(Please note – I am not paid nor do I receive any compensation from any of these companies. I list them because I use all of these products and believe in their quality.)

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4 thoughts on “How to mount a photograph on mat board, Part one: The tools

    • Thanks for the comment Catherine…It did take me some time to learn how to mat properly but I do like to do it myself, Especially for signed images. I think it adds a personal touch!

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