Matting Your Photos – Part 1: Precut Mats

In Part 1 of this series, I am covering precut mats. This is the best place to start with the minimum investment. Here is what you will need:

Supplies for Matting Print

1. Print – I am not covering printing in this post, but our members have had good results locally from Costco, Sams, and Wolfs, and online at Bay Photo and MPIX. I recommend getting some sample prints in 5×7 to see what the results are before spending $15 on a larger print.

Print Size - The standard for a 16×20 mat is an 11×14 image, with the mat opening at 10.5×13.5 which is available locally at Texas Art Supply, Aaron Brothers, and other craft stores. There are also precut mats for print sizes of 11×15.5 with a 10.5×15 opening, or 12×18 with an 11.5×17.5 opening available online at  Note that there is a typical margin of ¼ inch on each side of your image that will be covered up by the mat.

For non-standard sizes, you can get your mats cut for you at Hobby Lobby, but they will only do 2 at a time, so if you are getting ready for the portfolio review, this may not be the best option.

2. Precut Mat Board

Do you need a mat? - Well no, you could just mount your image on a backing board or foam core, and for some artistic reasons you may want to do this, but if you are just starting, stick with a mat. The mat helps to isolate the image from the rest of the room, allows the viewer to focus on the image better, and protects the print in handling.

Finished Size - There is no size requirement at the Houston Photographic Society, but I recommend standardizing on a finished size of 16”x20”. This is a standard size in other competitions, it is large enough to see the work well, and you can get 4 pieces from a 32×40 sheet of mat board, backing board, or foam core.

Mat Color – There are no restrictions in HPS, but the judges tend to prefer the neutral color of white to off-white which is standard for other competitions.

Backing – 3. Foam Core or 4. Backing Board There are 2 options for backing your print: Backing Board or Foam Core. The regular backing board is thinner, cheaper, and fits better into standard frames. I prefer the foam core for competition prints because it is lighter and more rigid than the backing board. The best local source for both the foam core and backing board is Texas Art Supply. You can purchase the 32×40 sheets, and cut each down to (4) 16×20 boards. They are not exactly 32×40, so double-check your measurements before cutting. Both the Montrose and Voss Texas Art Supply locations have a blade cutter for the mat and backing boards, and a large cutting table with a utility knife and large straight edge for the foam core. You will need to ask them to unlock the cutter for you, and possibly ask for the utility knife. Don’t be shy!

5. Acid Free Artist Tape – I use this tape to attach my photos to the backing board, and to stick the mat and backing boards together. You can get this at Texas Art Supply or Aaron Brothers locally.

6. Acid Free Pen – You need to sign your work before you mat it. But where, you ask? I struggled with this for awhile. I have decided to just sign the back on the image with the Title, location, year, and my signature. Some folks prefer signing on the front in the margin, or in the lower left side of the print like other art work. I finally decided I was more comfortable with it on the back. It seems less distracting, I could include more info, and I was less stressed with how my signature looked. You can pick up an acid free pen at Texas Art Supply, or other arts and crafts store. Be sure to take a piece of glossy or luster print paper with you to make sure the pen will write on it.

7. Utility Knife (Optional) – This is for trimming prints and foam core.

8. Photo Corners – I just started using these. They hold the image in place without putting tape on your image, which is important if you are using matt/watercolor paper. It also allows your image to expand and contract as the temperature changes. The key here is the mat and backing boards need to be adequately attached to each other to prevent the photo from coming out of the photo corners.

9. Clear Sleeves – After you finish matting your work, you need something to keep the image from getting scratched. I have not found a local source for the large sleeves, but they are available at in the 16×20 size. If you get the sleeves from somewhere else, make sure the sticky part is on the sleeve, and not the flap. If it is on the flap, the adhesive will stick to your print when you are taking it in and out of the sleeve.

10. Acid Free Hinging Tape – There are 2 choices: Gummed or self adhesive. I have the gummed version, but I plan to try to the self adhesive next time. This is the tape you use to hinge the mat board and backing together. This will keep them aligned properly. Once again Texas Art Supply is a good source. I do not use this tape for attaching my prints with the traditional T-hinge. i have not had good results. The image tends to become wavey where I attached the hinge, and so I just use the photo corners or the artist tape.

11. Cotton Gloves (Optional) – These are for handling your prints. These are more important when trimming or mounting to foam board. I also use them when cutting rolled paper for my printer.

12. Self Healing Cutting Mat (Optional) – This is only need if you are trimming prints, or cutting your mat boards. At this point you do not really need it.

Portfolio Carrying Case (Not Shown) Now you need something to carry your images around. You can get an inexpensive, vinyl, 18×24 case at Texas Art Supply for under $10.


Step 1: Check the image and mat size. Double check that your image is the right fit for the mat. If not, you will need to get your image reprinted.

Sign your Print

Step2: Sign Your Print.

Step 3: Hinging. Place the top of the mat and backing on a flat surface and align their edges. Make sure they are at the same height. If you are using 1/8” foam core, you will need to put another piece of 4-ply mat board or backing board underneath the mat board so it will be the same height as the foam board. Make sure they are tight together and there is no space between their edges.

Tear a piece of hinging tape off long enough to cover most of the length of the seam. Use a wet paper towel or sponge to moisten the glue on the back of the hinge tape and then place it along the seam of the mat and backing. Make sure there is a tight fit before applying the tape.

After the tape has dried for a minute, carefully close the mat over the top of the backing, and make sure the edges are aligned on all sides. You have a short period of time to adjust the alignment of the boards before it sets.

Step 4: Align Print. Lift open your mat, and place the photo on the backing. Close the mat, and adjust the print to where you want it.

Attach Print with Tape Step 5: Attach the print. Using either the artist tape or the photo corners, attach the image to the backing. Overtime, expansion and contraction of the paper may create waves in your image if you tape the 4 corners down. I really have not seen a problem with this with the prints I have had matted over 1 year, but using photo corners instead can help, and I have just started using these for things I plan to hang on the wall.

Step 6: Attach the mat to the backing. I use artist tape for this. I can open the mat later, and the tape will mostly come off without too much trouble.

Step 7: Sign the back of the backing.

Step 8: Put the matted print in the sleeve.

And now you are done!

Part 2 of this series will be in a couple of weeks, an will cover how to cut your own mats.