The Zero Setting – 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.

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.

 

 

The Zero Setting

Normally you read articles in this space dealing with some aspect of the computerized mat cutter.  There is no argument that they are more efficient and more widely used.  Add to that the fact that there are many features – for decoration and for efficiency - that have great potential, but need a little explanation or a reminder, and you see the sense for concentration on the computerized mat cutter.

However, most of us also do a few things regularly with the manual mat cutter.  After all, there is a certain pride in the craft that keeps old skills alive for just about everyone.  There was an occasion recently to cut a multiple opening mat with a manual mat cutter and it brought to mind one clever tip that always made life easier.

Well adjusted stops and a nicely aligned guide take the guesswork out of cutting.  They helped us cut a perfect double mat every time when the manual mat cutter was state-of-the-art technology.  We depend on stops now that we do not use the manual mat cutter every day.  We depend on them even more when we are cutting more difficult things – multiple opening mats, for example – even though their use may be tedious.  The settings of the guide and each stop will probably be different for every cut.  Most of us feel this tediousness is a small price to pay for the assurance stops give us.  The old adage is: If you don’t take the time to do it right, you’ll need to make the time to do it over.

Mat 1

Still, with multiple opening mats, there are always cuts that are out of reach for the stops - settings beyond the 7 or 8 inch maximum for most machines – where you will need to estimate the endpoints.  Most often these will be the cuts that form the separation between two openings.  The arrows on the illustration of the finished mat indicate these cuts.  The trick that follows will cut the guesswork in half.

The Typical Scenario

We always measure and draw pencil lines on the back of the mat for these cuts.  We cut along these lines, but equally important, we use them as the stopping and starting points for adjacent cuts.  In the photograph of the mat in the machine, the two pencil lines on the back of the mat are the lines indicated by the arrows in the illustration of the finished mat.

photo 2

In the photograph, the mat is in the machine ready to make the cuts for the bottoms (or the tops) of the two openings.  The side of the mat is against the guide as normal.  There will be two cuts with the mat in this position.

To begin the first cut, set the front stop as normal and begin cutting.  The stopping point of this first cut is the first pencil line – the upper line in the photograph.  It is out of the range of the back stop, so we must rely on our experience to gauge the exact stopping point.  However, to make the second cut, we will be able use the stops to determine both the correct starting point and the correct ending point - even though the starting point is beyond the range of the front stop’s settings.

Using the Zero Setting

Set the front stop to zero.

Move the foot of the stop – the part of the stop that normally is set to the edge of the matboard – so that it is exactly on the line.

As you hold the foot of the stop in place, tighten the stop into place on the bar of the machine.

The photograph shows the details of these three steps on the Fletcher mat cutter.  Your particular machine will likely be a bit different, but every machine is capable of this.

Photo 3

Making the Cut

Move the cutting head into place against the front stop and begin the cut as normal.  With a simple two opening mat, you will certainly be able to set the back stop as normal.

This works pretty well with most machines, but it is clear that the manufacturers did not intend this.  There is almost always a little clashing of parts - sometimes as the head moves into place, sometimes as you are plunging the blade, sometimes as you are cutting the first inch.  Live with it.  The assurance of stops is worth the trouble.

Another Hint

We mentioned drawing pencil lines a few times.  Drawing and using these lines are the most common stumbling blocks for cutting multiple opening mats with manual machines.  These lines need to be drawn with care.  You will use these lines to position the mat in the machine (when you are unable to use the guide) to make these middle cuts.  So use a precise ruler, a sharp pencil, and a careful eye as you make marks, line up the ruler, and draw.  Draw razor thin lines so that there is never a question of exactly where the blade should cut.  Draw the lines all the way across the mat.

When you are positioning the mat in the machine (without the aid of the guide) to cut along these pencil lines, test with the point of the blade - at both ends of the cut - to make sure the cut will be precisely on the line.

Now…With or without the zero setting idea, with or without the zeal to keep traditional skills sharp, is it any wonder that computerized mat cutters have become so crucial to efficiency?

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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