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Digital Photography Tutorial – Picture Framing Review

This is a bit of an unusual tutorial for a gadget-themed website like TR, since it’s not really about photography or image editing, nor even much about printing, but several people both in the comments and emails have requested a guide to picture framing, so I’m happy to don my Blue Peter badge and oblige. A well framed photograph makes an attractive and distinctive decoration for any room, and also makes an excellent personal but low-cost gift, which with Christmas looming over the horizon, and many of us still feeling the pinch of the recession, is as good a reason as any.


Although there are many types of picture frame, the most common choices for home framing are simple wood-beaded glass frames with removable backboards, or the beadless clip-frames, which are just a backboard, a sheet of glass and some metal clips. Both are easy to use, although of course you should always take appropriate care when handling fragile glass. Always lay the glass flat on a surface when you’re not using it, and don’t try this if you’ve got kids running around.


As well as a frame, you’ll need some mat card, or mountboard as it is also known. You can buy this in large A1-sized sheets at any art supply shop for a couple of pounds, usually in a very wide range of colours. Of course the colour that you choose is up to you, maybe you want it to match the curtains, but for displaying photos to their best effect I’d suggest using plain poster black one-sided board. It doesn’t distract the attention away from the picture, and it produces the best effect with a bevel-cut edge. Other tools you will need include a sharp pencil, a craft knife or scalpel, some sticky tape, a kitchen cutting board and a metal ruler. Please don’t try to cut along the edge of a plastic ruler, because you will most likely lose a finger, and that may hurt.


It is possible to bevel-cut a mat card with nothing more than a craft knife and a ruler, but it’s far easier with a purpose-built bevel mat cutter. If you plan on framing quite a few prints it’s worth investing in one. There are some professional bevel cutting tools involving rails and rollers that cost upwards of £60, but you should be able to find a small hand-held cutter such as this model by Logan for around £10-12. It’s basically just an angled wedge of metal with a clamp that holds a craft knife blade, but with the help of a metal ruler and a bit of effort it will do a perfectly good job.

The first step is to decide on the size. Frames are usually sold in either inch sizes or in standard paper sizes. You can either buy a frame to match your print size or adjust the print size to match your frame. Personally I think that the larger the print the better it looks, so I’ll buy a frame that’s an inch or two bigger than the largest size I can print, to leave room for the mat border. For this tutorial I’m using a 10 x 12 inch beaded frame, slightly larger than A4, but the same technique should work on most other types of frame, including glass clip-frames. Print your picture out to the required size leaving a narrow border of about 5mm all around it. If you print it borderless, some of the image will be covered by the mat card.


Once you’ve got your print, the next step is to cut out the mat card. Start off by removing the backboard of your frame and laying it out on the reverse side of the mat card. Make sure it lines up at the corners and mark out the size of the backboard with a sharp pencil. If you’re going to do several frames, try to plan ahead and lay out your frames to make the best use of your mountboard. As the old carpenter’s motto goes, “Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near?” Wise words, I’m sure you’ll agree.


Next using a metal ruler and a sharp craft knife, carefully cut out along the marked lines, so that you cut a piece of moundboard the same size as the backboard of your frame. Please be very careful when doing this, as a slip could result in a nasty accident. You might also want to put a kitchen cutting board under your card if you want to avoid marking your tabletop.


Next you need to find and mark the centre of each edge. Obviously just measure the length of the side and divide by two. Mark the centre of each side clearly with a sharp pencil, and using a ruler draw lines between these marks so that you draw a cross through the centre of the card.


Measure the exact size of your print. Not the paper size, but the length of the edges of the actual printed area of the image. Divide the length of each side by two and measure this distance outwards from the centre line of each corresponding side of the mat card. You should end up with a rectangle the same size as the printed area of the image, centred on the mat card.

Next comes the really tricky bit. You’ll definitely need a cutting board of some sort for this part, because the blade of the bevel cutter will go right through the mountboard card. Lay your metal ruler on the card along the line you just drew. You’ll need it to overlap by a couple of inches at the end from which you start cutting, to give the cutter something to line up on. Take the bevel cutter, extend the blade, and lay it along the ruler, so that the bevelled blade is pointing outwards towards the edge of the card. This is very important, because otherwise – obviously – your bevel cut will be backwards. Hold the ruler down with a very firm grip, because you’ll have to use quite a bit of force to cut through the card, and if it slips you’ll end up with a crooked edge. Push the blade into the card, and then slowly and evenly drag it along the ruler.


Go round all four sides with the cutter, making sure to go right up to the corners, and if you’ve done it right you should end up with something that looks like… (* whips out perfectly cut finished example from under desk *) …this one that I made earlier.


Attaching the print to the mat card is easy. Simply turn the print face down and put four short strips of sticky tape around the edges.


Turn the print back over so the the sticky side of the tape is upwards, and position the mat card over the print, carefully making sure that you have it properly lined up. When you’ve got it right press down on the edges to stick the mat card to the tape. You can then turn it all beck over and stick the print down more securely if necessary.


Finally pop the print and mat card into the frame, and replace the back, making sure that any stand or hanging loop is on the right end for the orientation of the print. Re-attach any clips, or bend the staples back into place, to re-fix the backboard.


It it’s all gone according to plan you should have something that looks like this, and hopefully the same number of fingers you started with.


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