The layers of a frame, from front to back:
- glazing (glass or other transparent material
- mat board with a hole cut in it, to separate the picture and the class
- mount board
- backing board
The above are all necessary for a perfect “archival” framing for precious items, but various components (even the frame and glazing!) can be removed or modified if preservation isn’t your primary concern.
Matboard can be purchased uncut, pre-cut in standard sizes, or cut to custom sizes. Uncut is obviously the cheapest.
Cutting matboard requires at minimum a long straightedge and a knife. If you’re going to do a lot of it, it makes sense to buy a matboard cutter, which will make the results much more reliable and reduce the overall stress of the process.
Custom-sized matboard is something like $10-$30 per picture. The equivalent amount of uncut matboard is something like $1-$2. If we assume $20/picture for custom matboard, $1.50/picture for uncut + $100 for a cutter, at 6 pictures I will have saved money on cutting it myself. At the most conservative estimate of $10 vs $2, I start saving money after 13 pictures.
Still worth considering if less specialized tools are available (or if the matboard cutter is useful for other applications).
Custard on the Framer’s Forum
I started framing my own photographs and cutting the mounts with a hand-held cutter such as the Maped CS 9000. After a year or two I got pretty good at it, in fact the results were indistinguishable from the most expensive mounts that I'd bought. The downside was that it might take the best part of an hour to cut a single mount and I was restricted to basic windows in regular thickness board (although as this covered 95% of my needs it wasn't too bad).
I then "upgraded" to a Logan Framers Edge 650, heartened by tales that many professional framers used the self-same device. I certainly saw my speed increase, but quality plummeted just as fast. My mounts were plagued by "hooking", ragged cuts, overcuts, undercuts, wavy cuts, and just about every malaise in the framer's handbook. These weren't disastrous problems, in fact most people wouldn't even recognise the problem, but they were noticeable to me and likewise would have had most members of this forum laughing with derision (except they're a pretty kindly bunch and too polite to mock the efforts of a newbie!).
Finally I "upgraded" again. But this time it was a proper upgrade, to a Keencut Ultimat Gold, (although I could equally have gone the Fletcher route). And discovered I was getting the speed and the quality and the flexibility to handle 3mm thick board with double mats and all the other fancy stuff that you rarely actually need!
Now maybe I had a bad Logan 650, but I'd say either invest the time to learn to do a professional job with simple, hand-held tools. Or invest the money to get a device like a Keencut or a Fletcher that's proven itself in countless commercial workshops. But whatever you do avoid that tempting middle solution of spending a few hundred pounds on a machine that promises a lot...but in my experience actually delivers very little.
Self-adhesive mountboard comes with an adhesive layer on one side that the art be attached to directly. Obviously, this is permanent, so it isn’t something that should be done with anything precious like unique photographs or original artwork.
Attaching a print to mountboard and then affixing that directly to the wall results in a nice unadorned look, which feels appropriate for the many prints I have that I find charming but don’t feel like they need a whole frame.
It seems like cutting mountboard follows basically the same process as cutting matboard, you just need to make sure your knife is up to the task.