A mat cutter is a tool specifically designed for cutting the cardboard mat, or matting, used to mount art pieces. For artists, a mat cutter is a vital tool in the studio, allowing them to mount and frame work much more cheaply than a professional framing company. People who want to mount work that they have purchased may also find a mat cutter useful, since it allows the user to create a customized mounting mat.
A mat is a high density paper product which comes in archival and normal varieties. Pictures can either be mounted on top of the mat, or a window can be cut into the mat to showcase the picture. For fine art and originals, archival mat should be used to ensure that the art is not damaged. There are also a range of mat colors available, and it sometimes helps to bring the mat to the art store to pick out the best color. As a general rule, mat comes in large sheets which must be cut down to size with the assistance of a mat cutter.
A number of different mat cutter designs are available. The most basic is a handheld mat cutter, although many people prefer to use a tabletop model, which also includes mat guides and other tools which will make cutting mats easier. High end electronic and automatic models are also available, but they are extremely costly. Unless an artist plans on handling a large volume of mat cutting, a high quality table mounted model is usually sufficient.
A good mat cutter comes with two blade options. The first is a straight cutting blade which can be used to cut a window in a mat. The other is a blade which rotates to create a bevel. A beveled edge eases the transition from the edge of a picture to the mat, although it is somewhat more difficult to cut. The mat cutter also usually includes guides to help square the mat, and it should be accompanied with tools like rulers and marking pencils for more easy use.
Cutting mat does take some practice. Typically, one starts with the piece to be matted and the frame that it will be mounted in. The size of the mat relative to the picture is an artistic choice, and will dictate the size of the frame. The mat is cut down to size so that it will fit in the frame. Then, the picture is measured so that the window size can be determined. In general, the side borders are even, while there is a little bit more space at the bottom of a picture to add weight. Asymmetrical windows are also perfectly acceptable, depending on the art being matted.
After the location of the window in the mat has been determined, the back of the mat is marked up for the mat cutter. It is important to use a mat cutter with an extremely sharp blade, to ensure that the mat will be cut firmly and evenly, with no dragging or ragged edges. The mat is cut, checked for fit with the picture, and then both can be framed.