Picture Framing's Final Touches

Install a matted photo or artwork like a pro.

You’ve succeeded at making an impressive picture frame, but to give it a professional look you need to dress it up with matting, glass, a back, and dust cover. Following that, you need a means to hang your work. I’ll cover all of these applications and introduce a tool that will guarantee spot-on precision with the fussier final touches, namely, cutting the mat board and glass.

Mat Board Matters

Mat board breaks down into museum board, made from cotton rags (and sometimes called rag board) and conservation board, made from wood pulp. While the former is costlier, the latter, more common product offers good archival protection at a lower price. That’s because a buffering agent is added to the pulp, making it acid free like the museum board.

Colors and textures can vary. When choosing a color, match a color and shade in the photo or artwork. If you made a frame for a standard size photo or artwork (see the Cut List and Sizing Guide on page 42), look for a precut mat board that eliminates the need for a mat cutter. Also note that standard conservation mat board comes in a 4-ply thickness, which works well for a full variety of frames. Sheet size measures 32 × 40". Use the thicker museum board, which is 8-ply, for valuable artwork.

Size and cut the materials

1 Choose a mat board that complements the photo or artwork you intend to frame. See the sidebar, “Mat Board Matters.”

2 Measure the rabbet opening in the back of your frame, and subtract 1⁄8" in each direction for sizing your mat board. This provides installation clearance.

3 Set up the mat board cutter’s stop and rail to cut at the desired location, and slip the mat board in place. Using a mat board straight cutter tool that makes 90° cuts, slice the mat board to length and width, as shown in Photo A. 

4 Determine the size border you want and set up the mat cutter to cut the needed width, locking the stop in place. (While I chose 13⁄4", this particular cutter lets you cut borders up to 6" wide.) Here, you’ll use the pivoting bevel cutter to slice out the mat board opening, leaving a clean bevel cut at corners and around the edges. Lay out the opening on the back side of the mat board using the adjusted mat board cutter rails and stop. Fit a slip sheet (a piece of scrap mat board) beneath the mat board’s good face to achieve a clean, non-ragged edge, and make the first cut (Photo B). Turn the mat board 90°, fit it against the stop, and make the second cut. Proceed in this manner until you cut out the opening.

5 Working with the mat board dimensions, mark a pane of glass, and score it with a single moderate-pressure pass with either a glazier’s glass cutter and straightedge, or a special glass cutter used with the mat cutter system like the one seen in (Photo C). Wear gloves when handling glass. After scoring , place the waste portion of the pane over the edge on your workbench and snap it off.

6 Using the same dimensions, cut a piece of mat board or thin (1⁄8") foam core to serve as the back for the frame.

With the mat board face down on a slip sheet, align the start/stop mark on the bevel cutter with the layout line (Inset); pull the bevel cutter along the rail to the stop.
With the glass pane in position, pivot the cutter down and, using moderate pressure, pull it along the rail to score the glass on the cut line.

Install the layers and prep for hanging

1 Center your photo or art piece in the mat board opening, and attach it to the mat board, as shown in Photo D. You’ll want to cut four pieces of tape: two that attach the photo or artwork to the mat board and serve as hinges, and two that cross the hinging tape at 90°. These secure the hinging pieces to the mat board, forming what’s called a T-hinge.

2 Referring to Figure 1, install the layers in the frame’s rabbet in the order shown. Check to see if your photo or art work is centered from the front of the frame, and then press in glazing points to hold in the layers (Photo E).

Cut pieces of acid-free tape and use them to hinge the photo or artwork to the back face of the mat board.
Press in a pair of glazing points along the rabbet with a screwdriver to hold the glass, mat board, photo or artwork, and back in place.
Lay the dust cover paper over the back of the frame and press it in place all around. Slice off the excess.
Measure down from the frame’s top edge, drill pilot holes into the back, and screw in the hangers.

3 Apply a roll-on adhesive or strips of double-faced tape around the perimeter of the frame’s back face, and then cover the frame with kraft paper to create a dust cover. Trim off the paper waste with a sharp utility or X-acto knife.

4 Finally, locate the picture-hanging hardware one-fourth to one-third down from the frame’s top edge and install  the hardware as shown in Photo G. Add braided wire for hanging, noting the Wiring Detail in Figure 1. Stick a couple of adhesive-backed plastic bumpers onto the lower back corners of the frame to space it away from the wall.  

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