Drop Shadows-Practical Mat Decoration

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One More Thing - final

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 for matting 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.

Drop Shadows

Mats made with letters.  They come into fashion, then they go out of fashion.  Some folks love them, others hate them.  But there is something we can all agree on.  These openings for snapshots that look like letters need some help to look their best.  We imagine ways to dress them up because otherwise, they are just shapes lined up in a row.  One dramatic typography device is the drop shadow.



We can do this with any computerized mat cutter program.  We will make two layer letters – which, itself, is one of the ways we imagine for dressing up the letters.  The letters on the bottom layer will be shaped as normal.  The letters for the top layer will expose the letters on the bottom layer, plus there will be an offset copy of the letters merged to create a shadow along the bottom and at the left.

The Initial Design

Design the caption.  The letters here are 2¾ inches wide 4 inches high.  Space the letters a little farther apart than normal – probably 5/8 inch. Remember that we will be adding elements between the letters.

MD 001


To make the caption more interesting, the first letter here is larger than the others.  In this example, the E is 3 inches wide and 5½ inches high.  This is a nice typographical touch we can use when the customer’s pictures allow it.

Snap a guide to the left side of the caption and to the top.  These are the red lines in the illustration.  They are snap points we will need later.

Copy the caption and paste it into the design.  The first illustration shows both copies of the caption.

Making the Top Layer

Snap the new copy of the caption exactly on top of the original caption using the red guides.

MD 002


Move one copy about a quarter inch to the left and a quarter inch down.  With most programs, you can use the arrow keys on the keyboard.  In the Wizard program, each click moves an item a sixteenth of an inch.  In this example, the copy was moved 4 clicks to the left and 5 clicks down.  You will decide the size and direction of the shadows for every specific design.

The design might look pretty good to you right now, but looks do not tell the entire story.

MD 003


Merge the two copies.  It will look strange, but have faith.  This will be the top layer of the letters.

Making the Bottom Layer

Paste again, and another copy of the caption will appear.  Snap this new copy into place so that its left is against the vertical guide, and its top is against the horizontal guide.  This will be the bottom layer of the letters.

MD 004


The design would be finished, but right now, everything will cut on one layer.

Setting the Bevels Correctly

Send the design to the drawing program.  In Wizard, it is PathTrace.  Set the bevels so that the ordinary letters cut on the bottom layer, and the merged letters cut on the top layer.

PT 001

In this illustration, the dark blue lines are the circuits set to cut on the top layer.  The faint blue lines are the circuits set to cut on the bottom layer.

A Small Alteration

Before we cut this particular caption, it is instructive to examine it more closely.  Be aware that there will always be a few corrections whenever we make artistic changes to letters.

PT 002

At the bottom of the R, the diagonal stroke and its shadow create a thin tendril of matboard that will certainly not survive the cutting process.

The drawing tools necessary to remove it are pretty simple.  First explode the offending circuit.  Exploding separates a closed circuit into its various pieces.  The gray lines represent the exploded circuit.

PT 003

Join the segments across the bottom of the R, leaving out the diagonal line that created the impossibly thin area.

The white lines show the corrected section at the bottom of the R.  You can still see the gray lines that were left out.

Join the remainder of the segments, set the bevel, and cut the design.

There is an immutable tradition in picture framing of concentric parallel borders of accent colors around openings.  But why not consider drop shadows accenting openings, too?


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 WizardU@wizardint.com.

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












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