Practical Mat Decoration

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Sometimes our mental image of a decorated mat includes frills and swirls and patterns on every square inch.  However impressive this may seem, a better idea is to add just a small touch.  This column will focus on decorative ideas you might use every day.  We all have skills and we should use them regularly – to keep our work interesting and to keep our customers thrilled.

Unlikely Parameters and their Uses

We have all played with the parameter settings on the templates of the computerized mat cutter just to see the possible variations.  We have discovered that there is no internal check that tells us when we have designed something impossible to cut.  We have entered outrageous values in the parameters and watched with amusement as the shapes turned into something like this first illustration.


This is template 405 in the Wizard program.  Look to see its intended shape, but this is what you get if you enter 2.75 into the Radius parameter and -1.5 into the Notch Width.  Fascinating though it may be, it is not an opening shape to consider.  But before you dismiss the idea of unlikely parameters, do a little more experimentation and you will see some practical applications.


These ideas were designed and tested using the Wizard software.  Every computerized mat cutter design program has similar settings and functions.  You will be able to design openings, grooves, and pen lines exactly like these no matter which system you have.


Corners for Grooves

When you look at the standard parameter settings for this template, it is the familiar elongated double offset corner.  When you enter negative values into the parameters, it turns into this geometric design.  It cannot be used as an opening shape, but it can be cut as a V-Groove.


The Plat Length parameter is set to -0.24 inch and the Plat Width parameter is set to -0.37 inch.  These settings have been tested.  Make sure the V-Groove is set to cut a little less than a sixteenth wide, and the pattern will cut very nicely.

Groove width is important because the two outer vertical lines are only 0.13 inch apart.  If the groove is wider, the space between the two lines will all but disappear.  The internal square formed by the lines of the groove is about as small as you would dare, too.  It is only 0.24 inch on a side.  Begin with these settings to see how your machine cuts this pattern. Then change them a few hundredths of an inch to your liking.


Combination for Pen Lines

We want the details for V-Groove decoration to be as delicate as possible.  It is no different for pen lines except that the details for pen lines can be – and should be – shockingly small.


There are two lines in this design.  The inner line is shaped with template 614.  Its normal use is to include a spike pointing into the picture at each corner.  The parameter settings form the typical spike, but they are very small.  The Height parameter is set to 0.11 inch and the Width parameter is set to 0.07 inch.

The outer line is 0.04 inch away from the inner line.  It is shaped with template 408.  There are two semicircles at each corner of this template.  The parameters move them around and change their size.  Setting the Notch Width parameter to zero moves the semicircles all the way to corners.  Setting the Radius parameter to -0.09 inch draws the semicircles to the inside of the rectangle rather than to the outside.  The semicircles cross over each other to create an interesting pattern at the corners.  With the added elements of the inner line, the corner design appears to be far more intricate than just two lines.

Just as the V-Groove width setting was important in the previous example, the pen width is important here as we work with such small details.  This design will work fine with a 0.5mm or even a 0.7mm pen.  If you have a more broad tip – 1mm tips are common – the details may appear indistinct.


Changing the Design to Use it Again

In order to make all this designing and experimentation pay off, we need to use the results again and again - and we need to design the next mat quickly.  In every computerized mat cutter design program, grooves and pen lines can be attached to an opening.  Then as you change the opening size, the ornaments will automatically resize, too.  Change the opening size, adjust the borders, and the mat is ready to cut.  There is even a field where you are able to adjust the spacing with the opening.  Then save them to an Ideas folder where you and your customers can browse through them to be inspired.

Brian Wolf has been a picture framing educator since 1979, specializing in decorative matting techniques. He is the artistry ambassador for Wizard International, Inc. Contact him at

Brian’s column is sponsored by Wizard. or call 1-888-855-3335.

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One Response to Practical Mat Decoration

  1. Profile photo of RamiRami says:

    Wow, Brian, you just blew my mind with all this. I’m going to give this a try. Thanks for the awesome advice.

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