The Beginner Guide to Using a Mat Cutter

by Anthony Clark

A mat cutter is a tool specially made for cutting through cardboards mattings seamlessly. These cardboard mattings are high-density paper materials that come in diver's colours and types. The most common use of mats is to fill up extra space around your photo. Thus you can place your smaller picture in a larger frame. Except you are going for the already cut-down mats in stores, which are not always at the exact size you need. These mats come as large sheets; thus, a mat cutter is required to cut it to the desired size.

The mat cutter can be used for other purposes, as it can cut other paper-based materials. But they are primarily used for cutting mats, as the name implies.

Three types of mat cutters:

There are mainly three types of mat cutters:

1. the high-end electronic cutters are used chiefly for professional businesses,

2. the table-top model, which you can easily use in your home or small business, and

3. the more mobile and pocket-friendly hand-held cutter.

High-end Electronic Mat Cutters

High-end Electronic Mat Cutters
High-end Electronic Mat Cutters

The high-end electronic cutters are automatic models and are primarily used for large volume and heavy-duty works. You would rarely see high-end electronic cutters in a small business or home. This is not only because they are expensive, but these models are seldom needed in that setting.

Table-top Model

Logan 350-1 Compact Elite Mat Cutter
Logan 350-1 Compact Elite Mat Cutter

On the other hand, the table-top model comes with features such as the guide rail, an extension board, guide rail stop, start position stop, and many more makes cutting easier and faster than the hand-held cutter. It's more expensive, but it saves a lot of time.

Hand-held Cutter

WORKLION 45mm Rotary Cutter for Fabric:Safety Lock with Ergonomic Classic Comfortable Handle Suitable for Crafting Sewing Quilting Crafts Includes Extra 5pcs 45mm Replacement Blade
WORKLION 45mm Rotary Cutter for Fabric:Safety Lock with Ergonomic Classic Comfortable Handle Suitable for Crafting Sewing Quilting Crafts Includes Extra 5pcs 45mm Replacement Blade

The hand-held cutter is the most mobile type. Even though it doesn't have the features others may have, you can easily make all your cuttings with a ruler and a clip typical to any workshop.

As a person who has never used a mat cutter, it can be scary initially, especially when your first mat cutter is a high-end cutter meant for commercial use. The same applies to using the hand-held manual cutters, as they require some finesse to handle the tool efficiently.

This article aims to lead you through the procedures necessary to carve out flawless bevels while using a mat cutter. So at the end of this article, you will be able to use your mat cutter just as a professional would. Happy reading!

will lead you through the procedures necessary to carve out the precise bevels

Components of a Mat Cutter

The most typical mat cutter would have these three components. They are:

1. Ruler or rail: This makes it easy for your mat and blade to stay at the correct position when cutting along the marked lines.

2. Two sets of blades. They are:

  • The straight cutting blade is used mainly to cut out the exterior edges of your large mats to fit your frame. While the other is
  • The rotating angled cutter is used to cut out the inner section of your mat in which your picture will be. The reason why this blade is angled is so that it creates a bevelled edge on your mat. This ensures a smooth transition from your picture to the mat.

On the two sides of the top surface of your cutter, you'll find the ruler and the blade set.

Steps to using a Mat Cutter?

Steps to using a Mat Cutter?
Steps to using a Mat Cutter?

1. Cut out the needed material

Cutting out the excess space from your mat is the first step in getting the best cut mat for your photo. That is, cut the map so that it fits perfectly into the frame to be used. This is what the straight-cutting blade of the mat cutter is for. As most hand-held mat-cutter doesn't have a straight cutting blade like the table-top cutter, a utility knife and a ruler can achieve the same end. I recommend the x-acto knife for this.

For hand-held cutter users, this takes a little patience as it is not straightforward as the others. For this, you will need your workbench, a pair of clips, a utility knife, a ruler, and a pencil. To cut out the excess space:

  • mark out the section you want to cut out with your ruler and a pencil
  • close to the edge of your workbench, place your ruler on the line on the map you want to cut off
  • take your clip and hold both your ruler and table together such that the mat is held tight in between
  • with your hands on the ruler, to ensure that the mat is firmly held, cut the mat on the line with your utility knife

Repeat the steps above for all sides of your mat.

2. Mark your Mat

The second step is to mark out the inner part of the mat you want to cut out for your picture. Ensure that your mat is flipped to the wrong side. That is, the non-visible side. This is where you will take your measurements and draw the lines along which the cuts will go. Ensure it is measured accurately so that your picture fits perfectly into the marked-out space.

There are many styles to marking out your mat. Especially about the border size ratio the mat should have. While some like an even ratio around the picture, many framers prefer the bottom-weighted mat.

This bottom-weighted approach means making the bottom border of the mat thicker than the top border. This is done to prevent the photo framing from appearing off balance, which mostly happens whenever a framed picture is hung high on the wall. This trick is, where your eye is focused on lies above the center of the frame, thereby ensuring your photo isn't off-balance, and ultimately, looking awesome! A quarter to half an inch thicker bottom border is just right.

3. Set the Mat

Place your board or mat on the cutter's workspace so that the lines on it line up with the ruler or rail into which the cutter has been clicked. This means you'll have to slide the mat beneath the rail so that its edge meets the line you've drawn on the board.

For hand-held cutter users, follow the steps in (1) above.

4. Cut the Mat

This is when the cutting begins. Note, however, that you need to cut from the inside of the lines. This is so that the beveled edge goes in towards the photo when you're looking at it from the front.

Ensure your mat is in place along the rail, then using your thumb, press the blade through the mat. With your thumb keeping the blade in the mat, move the cutter along the rail. If you're a complete novice, start your cut slowly so you can regulate your movements and make sure your cuts stay within the lines.

Ensure that the ruler is held firmly on the mat before cutting if you're using hand-held cutters to ensure a smooth cut.

Extra Tips on Using a Mat Cutter

Always have an Extra Blade

Blades do not last forever. As blades get used over time, they lose their sharpness and eventually, they can't give the clean-cut you want on your mats. This is quite bad as your mat edges start to get rough, producing a bad-looking framed picture. This can be costly in time and money, especially if you're using your mat cutter as a business tool.

To avoid this, keep at least a blade or two around. So when your blade gets rusty, or there is an unexpected breakage, there will always be a replacement blade, and thus the last-minute rush to get a new blade is completely avoided.

Make a Test Cut

Testing your mat cutting skills is essential before using them on your actual project. Whether you are a beginner trying your mat cutting knowledge for the first time or an expert about to use a new cutting tool or an old one you suspect may not be working as intended. A few minutes of test wouldn't hurt.

Fortunately, many mat cutters come with test mats which you can use to try out the product. So, before cutting straight on the main mat, test the cutter on the test mat to ensure sure it's up to par.

These test cuts will reveal if there are any issues with your mat cutter. Plus, it also helps you to perfect your cutting skills before the main cut. If everything is in functioning order, you can then go to the primary task and make a clean cut through your mats.


Now you know all the tips and tricks of using a mat cutter efficiently, just like a professional. And I'm sure that the tool doesn't look so tough anymore, does it? So why don't you take that picture and make it stand out by surrounding it with any of the various mat colours available in the market today?

About Anthony Clark

Anthony Clark has always had that wierd passion for digital drawing and printing since he was little. He would just wander around in his parents' house in Phoenix, Arizona; drawing various things with his older digital tablet. Be it just a memory collection or a portay of just about anything: object, parents, school, events, etc. He received his BA in Graphic Design at San Jose State Universiry at the heart of Silicon Valley. Now Mr. Clark is really excited to present his expeirence coupling with some colorful dips to help shape it the future of printing.

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