• Ian

How to cut your own mounts

[Repost from old site]

What I'm going to be demonstrating here, is how to make a mount (or mat) for your image. The great thing about making your own mount, is that you can fit any picture into any frame. Just alter the size of the mount. For a few pounds at a charity shop/boot sale, there are some great frame bargains to be had, and you can have a really professional looking mounted image for very little cost once you have the right tools. Once you've done a couple of these, it's also a very quick and easy thing to do. You also get to play with a knife.

Yes. You're going to be playing with sharp pointy things, so if you're irresponsible, get an adult to help!

Finally - all the links here are affiliate links, meaning I get a small percentage of the sale should you buy using these links. it's not much, and it's no extra cost to you, so please consider supporting the site by clicking through if you find this article useful.


First up, the tools:

You'll need:-

Stuff needed to cut your own mounts. First aid kit optional!
  • A sharp stanley knife or something that will cut through mountboard. These can be obtained at pretty much any hardware store for a few pounds. or from Amazon here.

  • A cutting mat. This will prevent your knife from gouging holes in the table. Again, Amazon sell these, as will any large stationary shop. I'd get one as big as you can afford.

  • A tough straight edge with a handle. I got one from the hardware store, because a builders ruler will be good & strong. The handle really helps hold things down. I'd get one that's at least 600mm. The ruler dictates the size of the mount you can cut. With hindsight, I should have got a 1000mm one as 600mm wasn't enough to do a long cut for a panorama.

  • A 45 degree mount cutter. This is the expensive bit. I use a Logan mount cutter as they seem to be the best. You may wish to consider a cheaper alternative, but if you're going to be doing a few frames (and as a photographer, what better way to display your photos than on the wall at home!) it's worth the investment of a decent cutter.

  • Some mount board. Comes in all shapes and sizes, but it's worth getting good quality boards. Amazon is really good here. I order in bulk and can get them for around £2/board (buying 20 though!)

  • Mounting pins. These are small triangles of steel used to hold the backing board in place. I've not been able to find anything online apart from these pins which go in a tab gun (which sounds like fun!)

  • Tape. I use masking tape, but sellotape works just as well. To remind you, this is not a "how to proudly display your fine art prints" - as the acid in the tape will damage the photo eventually (mine are still on the wall after 5 years with no sign of decay) but unless you're saving your prints for your grandchildren's grandchildren, masking tape will do!

  • A frame. Go to the charity shop and pick up a frame. Any frame. As long as it's bigger than your print. Just make sure the glass is intact, and there's a backing board. You don't want to be hacking up hardboard, or cutting glass to size. Or you could get reasonably cheap frames from Ikea.

  • A print. One of your precious photos.

  • The dining table. Or its equivalent. Don't start this at lunchtime!


Step 1: Preparing the frame

Take your frame from the charity shop and turn it face down. If you're lucky, it'll have bendy bits of metal allowing you to get the picture out with ease. If you're unlucky, you'll need a pair of pliers to pull out the old mounting pins. Watch your knuckles, and your language! Pull off excess tape until you're bored.

Take out the glass. Carefully. Give it a good clean with vinegar and newspaper. Or use a glass cleaner...

Have a look at the frame. If it's dented, scratched, chipped, or the wrong colour, then it might need a touch up job. Take it outside and do what you want with it. I've taken some frames as they are, but others benefit from a coat of paint. You may even want to go the extra mile and sand it right down to the wood and varnish it. It's up to you. If you got a good quality frame, you won't need to touch it, but if it was 50p from a car boot and is chipped and cracked, then a thick coat of black paint, followed by a light sprinkling of silver makes a good surround for a monochrome image.

Step 2: Cutting The Mount To Size

Now for the tricky bit. You can take as much time as you want with this, and that will dictate how the finished product will look. In all honesty, you don't need to be that precise.

Make sure your cutting mat is clean. Nothing worse than making a lovely mount only to find it's got black smudges of dirt on the front that you can't shift without sandpaper.

Examine your mountboard. Decide which is the "good" side - i.e. the side that will be facing your audience. Place the good side FACE DOWN on the cutting mat. Write "bad side" in pencil on the back, just so you don't start drawing all over the wrong side.

If you're lucky, you'll have a piece of mountboard the same size as your frame. I'm never that lucky, so the first job is to cut the mountboard to the right size. You can do this one of two ways. Either measure the backing board, and cut the square out, or draw round the backing board. I prefer the latter. I know the backing board fits the frame, and I don't want to be trimming bits off my lovely mount before I'm done.

It's really important that you keep the mountboard square - this is where the lines on the cutting mat come in handy.

Put a lot of pressure on the ruler. That's why you bought one with a handle. Mountboard is quite tough, and you need to cut through it with a sharp blade. If it's not sharp, you'll make a mess if you don't cut through it on that first pass. Practice cutting scrap mountboard first to get an idea of how much pressure you need to apply.

Now, you have a piece of mountboard that fits the frame. All you need to do now is cut out the hole for your print.

Step 3: Marking Out The Window - Horizontally

Whilst you can mess around vertically, your print really needs to be in the centre of the frame horitontally

Measure the width of your mountboard. (m)

Measure the width of your image. (i)

Calculate "x" where x=(m-i)/2.

As you can see from this example, the mountboard is 14" wide, and the image is 10" wide, so 10-14 = 4. /2 = a 2" gap at either edge.

Measure in from the left hand edge of the board at the top, "x" and make a mark.

Measure in from the left hand edge of the board at the bottom, "x" and make a mark.

Draw a line joining them up.

Measure in from the right hand edge of the board at the top, "x" and make a mark.

Measure in from the right hand edge of the board at the bottom, "x" and make a mark.

Draw a line joining them up.

You should now have two vertical tramlines across the back of your mountboard which are in the middle, and are the same distance apart as your image is wide.

Step 4 Marking Out The Window - Vertically

Not so simple this one. The height of the board is just over 10" whilst the print is 8. I went for a 1" gap at the top, with the remainder at the bottom.

Measure the height of your mountboard. (m)

Measure the height of your image. (i)

Calculate "x" where x=(m-i) For example: Mountboard is 20in high. Image is 8in high. x = (20-8), or 12

To put your image in the middle, just divide by 2 as you did above. x = 6

To use the 2:1 ratio divide by 3 to find x. The gap at the top, is x (4), whilst the gap at the bottom is 2x (8)

Another alternative is to have the same gap at the top as you have at the sides. Using this example, x would be 2.5in at the top and (12-2.5) 9.5 inches at the bottom.

Measure in from the top of the board on the left edge, "x" and make a mark.

Measure in from the top of the board on the right edge, "x" and make a mark.

Draw a line joining them up.

With an inch gap at the top, then I measured down 7.25". This allowed for overlap to stick the image to the mountboard, and the fact that the crop of the image left a couple of white bands at the top and bottom of the image

Measure in from the bottom of the board on the left edge, "x" (or 2x if you're using the 2:1 ratio) and make a mark.

Measure in from the bottom of the board on the right edge, "x" and make a mark.

Draw a line joining them up.

You should now have a "box" drawn on the back of your mountboard, and if you're like me, there'll be some sums on there too. The technical part is over. You can turn the calculator off now.

Step 5: Cutting The Mount

Now you have to cut the window. Beware - if you mess this up, your mountboard goes in the bin. Take care!

First - one problem I have with the mount cutter is that it slides really quickly across the cutting mat. One hefty push and you've gone way beyond your guide. To combat this, I ALWAYS rest a bit of scrap mountboard under the cut I'm about to make. The mount cutter then "bites" into the scrap and is much more controllable.

Hold the ruler in your right hand. Offer it up to one of your lines, JUST INSIDE the line. The reason I say "JUST INSIDE", is because you need to cut a hole that's SLIGHTLY SMALLER than your print, so that the print will have something to stick to.

"Roll" the ruler down so it's flat. Don't let it move. Swap hands so that your left hand is now holding the ruler down.

The mount cutter should have a white marker. Slide it up against the ruler so that the marker is level with your perpendicular line.

Push the thumb-slide down. This will make the first cut. Keeping the slide locked down, slide the mount cutter along your line, tight against the ruler, up to the other intersecting line.

Release the thumb-slide

Repeat for the other three lines.

Lift your mountboard and marvel as a small square the size of your image is left on the cutting mat, or swear as you realise you didn't go far enough with one stroke, and the "insert" dangles in front of your eyes.

Almost there... Next step is to attach the print to the mount.

Step 6: Attaching The Print

Lay a piece of (masking) tape, sticky side up, on your mat. You can use acid free tape, or even sellotape. Just think about longevity. If it's a temporary print, or something you're going to change in a month, sellotape is fine. If it's an expensive fine art print - I'd go acid-free.

Offer up your print and half-stick it onto the tape.

Offer up your mount and position it over the print.

Lay the mount onto the print and tape, and press down firmly.

Flip the mount over, and tape down the other three sides, starting with the side opposite to the one you just did. Some people just tape the top, some people do a "t mount", there are various ways of doing it. Find one that works for you.

If you've got bendy bits, you're done. Put the glass back, the mounted print, then the backing board, then press the metal clips back into place.

If you need to re-pin the backing board...

Lay the triangular clip on the backing board.

Using a pair of pliers, grip the frame and the clip, and push the clip into the wood. I find that masking tape on one jaw of the pliers prevents the frame being damaged.

Once you're done, tape it all up again to keep the pins secure.

All finished and done. Bought this frame from a charity shop for £3.99

This really is quite simple, and means that you don't need to crop your images to certain dimensions to fit into shop bought frames. It's also a great way to present your images relatively cheaply.

As you can see. Once you have your tools, the expense of mounting a print in any frame is minimal. This is just your outlay!

Once you're proficient, you can cut double mounts, or even cut titles into the space below your image. It's the same process repeated, just with different measurements for "x". I find it very therapeutic too, and a nice break from Photoshop. Believe me, the end result is well worth it.