Framing & Mounting Your Images
An Inexpensive Do It Yourself

Mounting and framing a photograph has a tremendous effect on the image. It reinforces the visual impact that was always there--but subdued. Mount even a casual snapshot and it takes on a vitality that grabs your attention. A good photograph is worth the effort and doing it yourself is fun and a lot less costly than having it done by a framing store--especially if it gets to be a habit.

Mounting and framing does not have to be difficult or time consuming. I guess it takes no more than 20 minutes to accomplish it. And while a mounting press does the best job adhesives work well, also. And you don't have to spend hours in your woodworking shop constructing frames.

You can find really good ones at your local art supply store or in mail order catalogs. And while I like ready-made wood frames there are systems that allow you to construct them to fit you needs-from panorama to standard proportions. You choose the bits and pieces you need and bolt them together with the supplied hardware. It takes about 10 minutes to make a frame in any size you choose. They are usually made of lightweight metals and come in a variety of colors. My own choice is black since I usually mount my images on white board. Black and white photographs should be mounted on buffered board and non-buffered board is usually used for color. Prices range according to quality, weight (number of ply), and size. Light Impressions advises a two-ply back and four-ply front. The heavier board provides better separation from glass fronts (if you use glass). When you start mounting your prints you'll work out a system that is best for you.

What size matte should I use? Usually a matte that's one size up from the print seems to work best-11x14 for an 8x10 print, for example.

Matte cutters start at slightly under a hundred dollars and go as high as a thousand or more. Most of them do a good job. What you pay for is the cutter's ability to handle the matte size you plan to use. Also the larger units allow greater flexibility in making window cuts.

You can cut matte windows by hand. Manual cutters are okay for two-ply boards but four ply can be a bit difficult. You can adjust a manual cutter for a straight or beveled cut. But there's no doubt that a regular matte cutter is more efficient and much more accurate. There are also matte cutters that create circular windows that are great for snapshots. You may want one that makes a beveled cut window since they look better than straight cuts. A straight cutter is great for cutting large mattes down to the size you want.

Do you have to mount on matte boards? I've mounted photographs on old barn siding, for example. It's fun to experiment but I would stick with adhesive mounting for odd size material rather than a mounting press. Will adhesives eventually damage a print? Make sure that the adhesive is formulated for photography. Cold mounting presses using sheets of an adhesive material do a good, safe job and are slightly less expensive than a hot mounting press. Reading various catalogs from distributors and manufacturers will provide insights into alternate mounting systems. For example, Light Impressions (PO Box 22708, Rochester, NY 14603) and Porter's Camera Store (Box 628, Cedar Falls, IA 50613) have interesting catalogs that contain considerable mounting information. Check Shutterbug advertisers like B&H and Adorama. Your local art supply dealer is a good place to find mounting material and frames. Any frame you buy should have room for backing as well as glass. Non glare glass cuts down on visibility somewhat but regular glass is less expensive. A piece of 16x20 glass can cost as little as $3 or $4.

Mounting is actually a two-stage operation-mounting the photograph on the board and then making a cutout window. The window protects the photograph from direct contact with a glass front and also provides a border that makes the image look terrific.

1. With a tacking iron mount the tissue to the back of the print in a star shaped pattern toward the middle while leaving a flap in each corner open.
Photos © Mike Matzkin, 2000


3. Setting the right temperature for the mounting press is very important. Check with the manufacturer or the manual. The temperature for color and black and white prints are different and not paying attention can cause damage. Use a sheet of craft paper to prevent direct contact of platen with print.


5. With most matte cutters cutting the window is almost automatic. Line up the window outline with the matte cutter retaining system and insert the guides of the bevel cutter in the guide track. Line up the cutter indicator with the 90 mark and make the cut until the cutter is lined up with the opposite side. Continue until the cutout is complete.

8. The Relegate system is acid free and non-toxic. The applicator applies the adhesive coating quickly and with little fuss. Use a sheet under it to allow for complete edge to edge coating.


10. It's a good idea to use two-ply board backing behind mounted prints when framing. Mounting points can be pushed in with a screwdriver although a point driver makes it easier.


12. Components for making your own frame shape from panorama to standard sizes are available in wood or metal. Metal frames use spring-like pieces to hold the matte boards securely.

2. Determine where you want to position the print on the mounting board and mark each corner with small, light dots. Line up the print at the dots and use a T-square to keep the print lined up. Tack the open mounting tissue at each dot.


4. It can be done freehand using a ruler but a T-square makes it a lot easier and much more accurate. Measure the size of the print and then decide how much overlap you want. A safe bet is 1/8" but it can be virtually any dimension that works for you. You may find that the window provides a way to crop the image without actually making the crop permanent.


6. Instruments like the Dexter matte cutter work well with two-ply boards and can be adjusted for straight or beveled cuts. The one I have is right-handed. I'm a lefty but manage somehow with the aid of a T-square.


9. The coating is nonstick and allows time for repositioning the print. The roller burnishes the print for an overall even mounting.


11. The image on the left is in a store bought wooden frame. With photographs simple framing works best. Black contrasts well with a white matte. The frame on the right is a combination of components from an art supply store. The pieces may be as small as 6" or as large as 40" or more.