CutArt Variations – Practical Mat Decoration

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.

 

 

Making CutArt Variations

Every framer has their decorative design ideas – the kinds of elements they like to use and the ways they like to apply them.  The challenge is to vary the details of the idea each time you use it to tailor it to the picture and to make it look different to casual observers.  Framers do this even when the design idea is as simple as a triple mat.  The variations can be: change the colors, vary the contrast, change the reveal sizes, put the narrow reveal in the middle, put the narrow reveal to the inside, make the wide reveal really wide, use patterned matboard for the wide reveal…

So it is if you have a favorite CutArt.  This example shows a geometric starburst at the side of the opening.  Perhaps you would like to add a starburst accent like this more often, but there is just this one.  You feel that if you use it too often, your work will begin to look too repetitive.  You can vary the size and the placement, but the element itself remains the same.  Your work would have more variety and each picture could be more individualized if there were a dozen different starbursts you could choose from.

The Original Idea

The CutArt here is Fanlite from the Accents1 folder of the Wizard CutArt.  The decorative elements are about half an inch wide and 1.25 inches high.  The starbursts are a quarter inch away from the opening and slightly below the center.  (The opening is 6 x 8 inches, just for the sake of perspective.)01 6x8 Original

This design formula – the accents close to the opening symmetrically on the sides – is as important as the element itself.  It illustrates probably the most effective formula for using cutout accents.  Now we will make a portfolio of similar elements so that we can use this formula more often and in more settings.

Things We Will Change

The three shapes in a starburst pattern is a very appealing concept.  As we are creating variations in the drawing program, we will retain this concept.  However, there are some other things we would like to change:

It would be an improvement if the elements could be closer together.

We need a variety of sizes but we do not want the triangles to spread farther apart as we enlarge the element.

We would like to preserve the sharp points of the triangles, but change the short sides.  Perhaps the short sides could be vertical lines. Perhaps they could be all in a line, perhaps staggered.

Perhaps there could be curves introduced to soften the stark geometric feel.

In the Drawing Program

In this illustration we have opened the Fanlite CutArt in PathTrace.  The original CutArt elements are the blue triangles. 101 Variation 1

Notice first that the ornament is oriented vertically.  In its original state, it is horizontal, but we will use it vertically in this design formula.  This change in orientation was done in MatDesigner, where rotation is easy.  This illustrates an axiom about drawing projects that bears repeating no matter which program you use: Do what you can (those things that are easy) in the design program, then do what you must in the drawing program.

We have drawn some lines to reshape the middle triangle.  We want the point at the right to be a little less sharp.  Begin by drawing a diagonal line for a new leg at the top, then mirror it across the horizontal center line (the white horizontal line emanating from the midpoint of the short side of the middle blue triangle) so that the new triangle will be symmetrical.  Note also the gray vertical line that will be the new short side of the middle triangle.

How Close Can These Triangles Be?

Next we must decide how close the smaller triangles can be to the new middle triangle.  This is an important design question because we want the grouping of three triangles to read more like one unit than they do in the original.

As we draw, though, spacing is an important cutting question, too.  When two shapes are close together, there will be overcuts on the back of the mat.  If the shapes are too close, these overcuts will cut far enough to weaken the narrow strip of matboard between the shapes.  As the cutting proceeds, the narrow strip of matboard may be pushed out of place.  This spacing question will be decided by making a series of test cuts.

Offset the top leg of the triangle a specific distance.  Enter the distance in the Reveal field at the bottom left.  Here, the top leg was offset 0.18 inch.  (This, in fact, was not the first test.  This drawing does not show the lines from the earlier test that was too close.)

Then construct a new small triangle above the middle one using this offset line as its inner leg.  Draw a new vertical line to be the short side (a departure from the original, but a variation we would like to evaluate) and draw a new outside leg to complete the triangle. 102 Variation 1

The vertical line at the right serves as a guide to help determine where the point of the new triangle must be to be even with the point of the middle triangle.  These points do not need to line up precisely.

Watch, too, that the angle of the point of the new small triangle is a bit less sharp than the point of the original triangle.

Completing the First Variation

Join all the segments of the two new triangles and set the bevels.  Then mirror the top triangle across the horizontal center line onto the bottom.103 Variation 1

You want only the new triangles to cut, but there is no need to delete the original triangles.  They may come in handy as a reference.  Simply explode them.  The lines will remain but they will no longer cut.

Make the test cut and assess the progress.  It is important to make an actual test cut.  When items are this small, do not depend what you see on the screen - either in PathTrace or in MatDesigner.

The lines you see on the screen are the lines at the bottom of the bevel, not the top of the bevel.  As you look at the finished mat, you will judge the space between the triangles first by looking at the stability of the narrow strip of matboard between the triangles, then by looking at the space at the top of the bevels – the colored surface of the mat.  If you like the results, save the new CutArt as the first variation.

How Small Should These Triangles Be?

As you evaluate the test results, note the size of the triangles.  There is no real limit to how small each triangle can be.  All the cuts are straight lines, after all.  The real question is: How small can they be and still look good as decorative elements next to an opening.  The answer will be different for most every framer.  Here, the smaller triangles are a quarter inch from their points to their short sides.  Whether or not you like the look of elements this small, it is good to know that it is possible to cut shapes this small.02 6x8 Variation 1

Again, to get a feel for the proportion, the opening is 6 x 8 inches.

Making a Larger Variation

We have decided that this is a good size for small openings, but for larger pictures, we will want a larger element – but we want the triangles to remain 0.18 inch away from each other.  If we re-size the new CutArt in the design program, the triangles will enlarge, but so will the space between the triangles.201 Variation 2

Open the first variation in PathTrace.  The white vertical line at the right is snapped to the point of the small triangle.  Offset it so that you know how wide the new top triangle will be.  In this drawing, the vertical line is offset 0.30 inch.

The vertical line at the left near the middle triangle will be the new short side of the middle triangle.  Its position is an artistic decision.

Note the horizontal center line snapped to the midpoint at the left of the middle triangle.  It will be the mirror axis in the coming mirroring operation.

Finishing the Larger Variation

Delete the blue triangle at the bottom.202 Variation 2

Explode the two remaining triangles.

Join the new short sides to the original legs to form the new triangles.  The gray lines inside the triangles in the illustration are the original short sides of the triangles in the first variation.

Mirror the triangle at the top across the horizontal center line onto the bottom.

Set the bevels, make a test cut, and save this as a new CutArt if it meets your approval.  This will be the second variation.

Introducing Curves

For a less geometric attitude, we will make the short sides of the triangles into curves.  The blue triangles in this illustration are the elements of the larger variation we just completed.301 Variation 3

We have drawn a single line beginning a little beyond the top of the top triangle and ending a little across the horizontal center line.

Using the Move Point function, move the midpoint of the line to curve it.  Remember that these segments will be very small, so do not curve the line too severely.

Integrating the Curve with the Triangles

We need to break the curve into pieces then join the legs of the triangles with the curve segments to form the new shapes.302 Variation 3

Draw a short line crossing the curve near the small triangle at the top.

Break the curve at its intersection with the short line.  The piece of the curve at the top will become the short side of the small triangle at the top.  The other piece (the white curve in this illustration) will be the beginning of the new short side for the middle shape.

Finishing the Curved Variation

Much has happened in this illustration.  Here are the steps:303 Variation 3

Explode the small triangle at the top.

Join the legs of the small triangle with the top segment of the broken curve.  This new small shape is now complete.  This is the white shape in this illustration.

Mirror the newly joined top triangle across the horizontal center line so that it will replace the old triangle at the bottom.

Explode the large middle triangle.

Mirror the other segment of the broken curve across the horizontal center line.  This new middle shape will have two curves as its crown.  It will now be a curved diamond.

Join the legs from the middle triangle to the two curves of its crown to complete the curved diamond.

Getting Ready to Cut

Delete or explode the original triangle at the bottom.  All the other leftover gray segments can remain.304 Variation 3

Then set the three new shapes to cut.  Make a test cut to make sure these curves cut nicely – but also to make sure that they are dramatic enough.

Often we are so concerned about drawing gentle curves that will cut nicely that we forget that our original intent was to add the excitement of curves to the ornament.  If we draw such gentle curves that they appear to be straight lines, then there is little benefit to our efforts.

One More Idea

Brainstorming about curves and drama always generates another step in the evolution of an idea.  All the variations so far have had the points on the right lined up very nicely, but to add more drama, we want to have the point of the middle shape protrude noticeably farther than the points of the outside shapes.  This will make the middle shape decidedly larger, too.401 Variation 4

Copy the shape at the top.  As you move the copy, the original will remain as a guide.  This is important because you will see how far you have moved the shape – and you will be able to keep the bottom lines lined up, insuring that the new shape will still be the same distance away from the middle shape.

Now, we want to move the middle shape’s crown farther to the left so that the curves of the short sides appear to be continuous again.402 Variation 4

Explode the middle shape.

Join the two curves of the crown.

Using the copy function, move the crown to the left.  Hold the Control key on the keyboard as you move it so that it moves exactly horizontally.

It is not critical that the two curves of the shapes be mathematically continuous.  In fact, it may be more dramatic if the crown were moved a bit farther to the left than necessary.

To finish this variation, join the segments to form the new middle shape and set the bevel.403 Variation 4

Mirror the moved top shape across the horizontal center line onto the bottom of the element.

There is no need to delete the original small shapes.  Just explode them so that they will not cut.

Make a test cut, evaluate the results, and save this fourth variation as a new CutArt.03 6x8 Variation 4

Every framer has had the experience of searching for just the right CutArt to adorn a picture.  When you find something close and a little alteration would make it just right, it should not be a daunting task to make a few changes in the drawing program.  In this space, we have made four variations of the original CutArt – one flowing out of the ideas of the other - using only half a dozen functions in the program.  Just as you do not need to know the entire city to find your way to a friend’s house, you do not need to know the entire drawing program to make a few little changes.  Imagine, then make a few experiments.

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

The Serpentine Top Opening- Practical Mat Decoration

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 Serpentine Top Opening

Probably the most widely used shaped openings are rectangles with shaped tops.  There is a shape with a gentle arc across the top and there is the ubiquitous round top opening.

Serpentine Top Example

In an earlier column, there was a matted example with an opening shape from this family that framers found interesting but elusive.  It was a rectangle with a serpentine curve across the top.  The shapes mentioned above can be made directly using templates, but this serpentine top opening requires an alternative view of this particular template to see the possibility, then one small alteration – an alteration that, happily, can be done in the design program.

Like all templates in most programs, one template can be transformed into several shapes by adjusting the parameters.  This particular template in the Wizard program can make a flared corner opening, a serpentine top opening, and in a previous column we used it to make a Kobe corner opening.

Beginning the Design

When you use this template shape, the default parameter settings suggest the flared corners together with the serpentine top and bottom.  It then falls to the designer to refine the shape by changing the parameters.

01 Temp 314

Design the opening.  In this illustration, we have set the size, the number of layers, the reveal sizes, and the border sizes.  The template is number 314.

Click the Parameters tab at the bottom and look over the array of settings.  What do all these settings do?

Refining the Shape

When you are curious about a particular parameter, click the question mark beside the template ID number at the top.  This opens the Parameter Map.  This particular one is fairly complicated because there are seven parameters, but the illustrations are helpful.

02 Parameter Map

Then click the plus and minus buttons beside each parameter, enter new values in the fields, and watch the changes to get a better idea of how the parameters work.

 

We want to have only the serpentine curve across the top.  No flared corners, no Kobe corners.

03 New Parameters

Change all the parameters to zero except the top one – Arc Height.  You will see only the serpentine curve at the top and bottom.  Change the Arc Height setting to suit your vision.

Experiment with the next two parameters, too.  Side Arc Offset moves the beginning of the curves to the inside of the opening.  Here it is set quite small - a quarter inch.

To complete the project, we want to remove the serpentine curve from the bottom of the opening.

The Auxiliary Opening

We will add another opening at the bottom to simply cover the curve along the bottom.

04 copy opening

Copy and Paste to duplicate the opening.  This is the easiest way to get an opening with the same width and the same reveals.

Its placement does not concern us at this point.  But do not disturb the original opening.

Changing the Shape

Next, change the new opening into a rectangle.  Click the Change Template button and select the rectangular shape from the template menu.

05 changes to rectangle

It is handy to know that you are also able to enter the template number to change the template shape.  In this illustration the yellow field at the top reads 101 – the ID number of the rectangular template in the Wizard program.

 

This rectangular opening must be exactly as wide as the original opening, and all the mat layers must line up, but it needs to be shorter.  Remember that it needs to be tall enough to cover the bottom curve, but not so tall that it covers any of the top serpentine curve.

06 shorter

Either drag the handle at the top of the opening down to make it shorter, or enter a smaller value in the Height field.

Aligning the Openings

Now snap the rectangular opening into place with its bottom against the bottom of the original opening and its sides against the sides of the original opening.

07 snap into place

Actually, you are using the snapping properties of the borders.  If you are not feeling that positive snap as the bottoms and sides pop into alignment, check to make sure the borders are properly against the original opening.

Merging the Openings

The final step is to merge the two openings.

08 openings selected

Select both the openings.

Click the Advanced tab at the top.

At the left there is a button labeled Group Selection.

Every mat design program has a merge feature like this.  The glamour part of this function is to form new shapes with overlapping openings like this example, but its primary use is to lock a number of items together as you are designing a complicated array.

 

When you click the Group Selection button, the program merges the paths of the two openings and the design is finally as we imagined.  It is ready to cut.

09 grouped

It is possible that you would look at the serpentine curve across the top and want to make changes.  If you click the Properties tab for the opening, you will find that the parameters are no longer available now that this is a grouped opening.

You can still adjust parameters.  Note that the Group Selection button is now the Ungroup Selection button.  If you ungroup the openings, you will be able to select the serpentine opening and make further parameter adjustments.

As is normal for this column, this explanation shows the steps in the Wizard software.  Perhaps the software you use has direct parameters for this particular shape – a fortunate turn of events.  But perhaps this device of using an auxiliary opening to cover unnecessary details is just the solution you were searching for in order to accomplish some other design in your imagination.

As is normal for this column, this explanation shows the steps in the Wizard software.  Perhaps the software you use has direct parameters for this particular shape – a fortunate turn of events.  But perhaps this device of using an auxiliary opening to cover unnecessary details is just the solution you were searching for in order to accomplish some other design in your imagination.

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

Decorative Breaks – Practical Mat Decoration

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.

 

Decorative Breaks in a Narrow Reveal

As we are looking for ways to use the computerized mat cutter to its fullest, we see that the standard corner treatments and ornamental cutouts are often not the answer.  How can we include decorative cutting in a different way?

This idea begins as a triple mat.  The top and bottom layers are rectangular.  There is a decorative break in the narrow middle layer.  The eighth inch of color is broken and a decorative element peeks from the break between the top and bottom layers.

201 Beginning Photo

This idea is not part of any standard computerized mat cutter program.  Making a mat like this requires the use of the drawing program – both to draw the decorative breaks and to integrate them into the middle layer of the mat.

Drawing the Decorative Breaks

This is a very good beginning drawing project.  You will learn and exercise a number of the drawing functions.  There are not line by line drawing instructions to follow, but the hints offer a good start as you learn more about drawing.

001 Breaks Graphic

Here is a picture of six variations on this idea.  Copy it and save it as a graphic file.  The first design is the decorative break used in the photograph at the beginning.  The next three variations change only the crown of the break.  The last variation is the break used in the photograph at the end.  They have all been tested and they cut nicely provided they are in these proportions and they are 1.5 inches high.

Using the Image

Put this image into the background of PathTrace and draw lines and arcs that follow the lines and arcs in the picture.

002 Path Trace Drawing

When the image is in the background, make it 1.75 inches high and 3.85 inches wide.  This will make the picture the proper size and proportion so that the images of the decorative breaks themselves will be 1.5 inches high.

This illustration of the drawing in progress is zoomed in on the element on the left to get a closer look.  Note the Height and Width settings of the image at the lower left.

There is an Opacity slider above the size field to make the image more faint so that you can see the lines you are drawing more clearly.  The element on the right is only the image.  You can see the darker gray lines we are drawing on the element on the left.

The Decorative Breaks’ Construction

All these breaks are drawn with only lines and arcs.

The vertical line at the top of each one needs to be exactly in line with the vertical line at its bottom.

The arcs and lines at the tops of all these breaks are identical to the arcs and lines at their bottoms.

A Few Drawing Reminders

To draw perfectly horizontal or vertical lines, hold the Control key on the keyboard as you draw.

To snap the beginning of a line or an arc to specific point, move the cursor near that point and right-click.  The beginning point will snap exactly onto the closest point to the cursor.

Zoom in very close to see that lines and arcs flow together without an angle.

Use the Move Point function to refine the shapes of arcs.

Use the Tangification function and the program will smooth the junctions of lines and arcs.

Draw the top half of the break, then mirror it across a horizontal center line.

Join all the segments and set each finished break to cut as a V-Groove.

Save each decorative break as its own CutArt file.  This is how you will add it to a mat design.

There will be a few more drawing reminders in the details that follow.

Integrating the Break

The decorative break has been drawn and saved as a CutArt.  To use the break in the mat design, we now need to replace the sides of the middle layer of the opening with the CutArt we have drawn.

101 In MD

Design the opening in MatDesigner.

Include the CutArt anywhere in the design.  There is no way to snap the CutArt to the correct spot on the opening here in the design program so its placement is not critical.  We will be able to snap the CutArt into its exact place in PathTrace.

Send the design to PathTrace.

In PathTrace: Positioning the CutArt

Use Copy Object to move the CutArt into place.

103 Snapped to Side

Move the cursor near the top of the CutArt and right-click when you select it in order to grab it by the point at the top.

Hold the Shift key and the original will disappear as you move the copy around.

Move the CutArt near the midpoint of the left side of the middle layer of the opening.

Right-click to snap the top point of the CutArt to the midpoint of the side of the middle layer.

Now that the CutArt is snapped to the side of the middle layer, we need to move it up or down to a place where we think it looks best.104 Positioned

Still using Copy Object, hold the Control key so that the CutArt will move perfectly vertically.  Hold the Shift key, too, so that only the copy remains.

Move the CutArt to its final vertical position.  In this example, it is just a little below the center.

Deleting the Sides of the Opening

The CutArt will replace the sides of the middle layer.  First we need to delete the existing sides of the middle layer.

105 Exploded and Deleted

Explode the middle layer of opening.

Delete the sides of the exploded opening.

Extending the Endpoints

This is not a critical step, but the segments of the opening will join better if the endpoints of the CutArt are extended to be closer to the corners.

106 Extended

Hold the Control key on the keyboard so that the sides of the CutArt remain perfectly vertical.

Use Move Point and move the endpoints of the CutArt closer to the corners.

In this illustration both endpoints have been moved.

Mirroring

Next, mirror the CutArt onto the other side of the opening.

107 Center Line

Mirroring works by using a reference line as a mirror axis, so we need to draw a vertical center line.

Move the cursor near the midpoint of the top of the opening.  Right-click to snap the beginning of the line to the midpoint.

Hold the Control key to keep the line vertical and end the line anywhere.

Mirror the CutArt on the left across the vertical center line onto the right side of the opening.

108 Mirrored

Mirroring is a two step function, but it is very simple.  First select the item to be mirrored, then select the line that is the mirror axis.  The mirrored copy will appear on the other side of the opening.

Finishing

Join the four new sides of the middle layer.

109 Joined

Set the new shape to cut as a normal bevel.

110 Set to Cut

Make sure that you set the new shape to cut as the middle layer of this opening.  At the bottom left, note that the Current Layer is set to Layer 2.

The mat is ready to cut.

As usual, these steps use the Wizard software.  Your program’s functions may have different names, but the process will be the same no matter which program you use.

202 Ending Photo

It appears as if there are many steps to this process of integrating these decorative breaks into the sides of the mat.  Explanations often mask reality, though.  Once you understand the process, you will find that all the steps are quite simple and the procedure will take only a minute.

The fact remains that this idea of mat decoration is outside of the kinds of things computerized mat cutter programs do normally - so of course we are required to do things manually.  New ideas will always require a little extra effort, but the results will be something special.

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

Caption Tweaks – Practical Mat Decoration

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.

 

Caption Tweaks

Framers have always had many opportunities to add captions to pictures.  Customers always appreciate when the people in photographs are identified and there is a long tradition of labeling artwork.  Though writing a caption and centering it under the opening is pretty straightforward using the computerized mat cutter programs, we can take a few extra steps and refine the caption and make it a real attraction.

 

Size

We see captions all day long under pictures of all descriptions.  We do not often stop to measure exactly how small the type actually is.  In mat design, we think a half inch is pretty small, but for a caption under a picture, that is jumbo sized.  Begin by thinking of captions a quarter inch high.  This will help you in a couple ways.  First, it will help the picture remain the focus of the presentation.  Next, it will preserve the vertical space we have – the mat width along the bottom.  If we include a large caption along the bottom, it will create the illusion that the bottom is more narrow.

Also, making the caption less tall will allow us to make longer captions.  With this extra length we can write more correct captions.  When we have used the computerized mat cutter to cut letters as openings, we are abbreviated words and excluded symbols to preserve horizontal space.  When the caption is a date, for example, with smaller letters, we can write out the name of the month, write all four digits of the year, and include punctuation - and the caption will still be a manageable length.

 

Pen Width

Hand in hand with the height of the letters goes the pen width.  When the pen is more narrow, the letters can be smaller.  Experiment with 0.5mm and 0.3mm pens.  With a 0.3mm pen, the x-height of some fonts can be as small as an eighth inch.  Mechanical pencils also draw very nicely in computerized mat cutters.  There are 0.5mm leads available in various hardness grades.  They can easily draw letters less than a quarter inch high.  Plus, the silvery look of the graphite is a softer alternative to the stark black we normally use for captions.

 

Spacing

Few of us are type experts, but we all can see when the spacing between letters is incorrect.  Some typefaces are worse than others, but just about every caption can be made to look more polished by moving a few letters.

These spacing anomalies occur because mat cutter programs use “bounding rectangles” to calculate the space between objects.  This is best because we cut rectangles almost every time we use the machine.  Text programs use “kerning pairs” to accommodate adjacent slanting letters, rounded letters, and letters with horizontal protrusions.

Publication1

Type the word Avalon into the Text field.  You will see that the alon portion looks pretty good, but the Ava portion cold use some refinement.  The slanting strokes of the A and the v, and the roundness of the a create some wide separations between the letters.  Correcting the spacing is easy.

No matter which program you use, begin by separating the letters.  In the Wizard program, click the Advanced tab.  Under Other Options at the left, there is an Explode Font button.  Before you click it, the entire word is one item.  After you click it, each letter will be a separate item and can then be manipulated independently.

Publication2

Select one letter and use the arrow keys on the keyboard so that you are certain to move the letter only right or left.  You can select several letters and move them as a group, too.  Hold the Shift key or the Control key and select all the letters you want.  Most importantly, remember that if you hold the Alt key on the keyboard, items move 0.01 inch per click as you use the arrow keys.  This is much more precise that the usual sixteenth inch.  It will take about 20 clicks to correct the spacing of this word.

Never worry about how precisely you refine the spacing.  First, any improvements you make will make the caption looks better than the original.  Next, no matter how great the caption looks on the design screen, it is important to see how it looks when the machine draws it with the pen you have chosen.  Design a test cut using the newly spaced caption without an opening.  This way you are able to evaluate every aspect of the caption – how nice the pen line itself looks, the caption’s size relative to the picture, and the spacing of the letters.

 

Typography

In printed work, there are a dozen tricks that add sparkle to a caption.  We do not have such programs, nor do we have such a luxury of time, but there are a few things we can do quite easily to add interest to a caption.

 

A Script Caption

Publication3

The first example is obvious.  Make the capital letters overly large.  This is a script font and large flourishing capital letters are almost expected, but the extra size allows the flourishing stroke at the bottom of the L to tuck more comfortably under a.  The extra height allows the details at the tops of the letters to tower above the lower case letters, and the strokes below the baseline can be well below the lower case letters.  Here, the y’s are a little oversized, too, so that their tails can curl under the previous letters more nicely.

 

A Few Hints on the Procedure

Though every decorative caption’s construction will be different, there are a few clues here that may prove to be helpful.  This caption began as two separate LetterMat openings: a capital L and ady.  Set the size and spacing of the lower case letters then make the L large enough so that it nestles nicely with the a.  Adjust the vertical position of the L as you change its size, too.

Copy and Paste the two items then change their text to be F and lorence.  Copy and Paste adds a touch of efficiency because the font and the sizes of the new items will be identical to the originals.  This is easier than adding a new LetterMat opening, then changing the sizes, the font, and the text.  Here, all you need to change is the text.  Adjust the spacing so that the Lady Florence portion of the caption is in order.

Paste the two items again and change the text to be G and ray.  Use the arrow keys and the alignment tools to arrange all six parts of the caption to your liking.  In this example, all the lower case letters are on the same baseline.  The capital letters are positioned at slightly different heights, and they are slightly different sizes, too.

It will be obvious to you at this point that the spacing of the y’s need adjustment.  Explode the font as we explained in the Spacing section.  Then make the necessary spacing adjustments.  Now, as long as the y’s are separate, why not take the opportunity to make them a little more dramatic, too.  Both y’s are a little taller – so that their tails are longer - and they are slightly wider.

 

A Flat Top Caption

The second typography idea could be thought of as little dated - it has an early 20th century architectural look - but it has some practical application to some of the problems of picture framing.  It is a caption in all capital letters.  The letters at the ends are slightly larger and the tops of all the letters are all in a line.

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Most often, we are aligning captions at the bottoms of rectangular pictures.  Very often, we want to place the caption as close to the opening as we can without the layout seeming crowded.  The flat top of a caption like this allows the caption to be as close as it can be to the opening.  The larger letters at the ends give the caption some flair beyond the Spartan feeling of writing in all caps.

As you might imagine, the procedure here is to adjust the Kerning (the size of the spaces between letters) and Tracking (the size of the spaces between words) first.  Then explode the caption, in order to change the size of the letters at the ends.  The classic formula is to have only the letters at the ends larger.  On this longer caption, notice that the V and the final O are also slightly larger – though not quite as large as the A and the L at the ends - to give the caption the look of a rounded baseline.

 

True Type Fonts

Keep your eyes open for other typographical devices that you might use to enhance captions.  You will see clever type everywhere.  Keep your eyes open, too, for interesting fonts.

Computerized mat cutter programs make use of true type fonts for some, if not most, lettering.  These fonts are easy to find and easy to add to your computer.  Some of them are wonderfully decorative and the font itself will be a typographical device without any manipulation.  There is no cutting with a blade, so the only limit to how small a caption can be lies with the pen you choose.

There is one warning here.  O’s and the dots of i’s are generally circles.  Computerized mat cutters cut circles (actually, any shape composed of curves without any angular corners to use as a starting point) with a preprogrammed overrun beyond the initial point of the cut.  You will not notice this as you watch a normal oval being cut, but when you watch the computerized mat cutter draw the dot of an i with the pen, it may go round and round six times before it stops.  This is not a fatal flaw, but it does not always look as nice as it could.

 

The Correction

It is not always necessary to fix this, but when you feel it is best to fix it, the procedure is straightforward.  Send the caption to the drawing program.  In this example in the Wizard program, this is PathTrace.  Here is a thumbnail sketch of the procedure:

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Draw a line through each circle (or curved shape) in question.

Use the Offset Object function under the Prep Design tab and offset the line 0.005 inch. In the illustration you see the pairs of gray vertical lines.

Break the intersections that the lines have with the circles.

Join the segments of the circle, leaving out the 0.005 inch break.

Set the broken circle to draw with the pen.  The circle will now draw only one time around.

In this illustration, the dot of the i and the inside circuit of the o have been set to draw with the pen.  The outside of the o has been broken and joined, but still needs to be set to draw with the pen.  The vertical lines that were drawn to break the circles are still in the drawing.

Once the breaks are made and the bevels are set, save the altered caption and add it to the design.

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This is a good example of a decorative font that works great for captions.  It is sometimes called Calamity Jane.  This particular word required no manual spacing beyond changing the Kerning setting.  All the upper case letters in this font are intentionally oversized and have some very attractive ornaments.

 

Debossing and…

Though these comments were written with computerized pen drawing in mind, all the ideas apply to debossed captions, too.  The spacing anomalies will not appear as severe because debossed letters are not as small as pen letters, but spacing improvements always add to the professional appearance of any captions.

And let us not forget that before there were computerized mat cutters, talented patient people wrote captions under pictures using calligraphy.  One incarnation of this was an adaptation of engineering lettering.  Tiny letters (eighth inch high) were drawn using a hard pencil – 4H or 6H lead, for example.  The idea behind the hard lead was for the pencil to deboss the mat in addition to writing the caption.  The letters were often even smaller and the captions could be quietly ornamented, too.  Surely this is not a lost art, and it comes to mind that these – and other - typographical devices could be put to use in this hand work, 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

The Zero Setting – Practical Mat Decoration

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Drawing Flowing Curves – Practical Mat Decoration

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.

 

Drawing Flowing Curves

Whether we are drawing lines to be cut or to be drawn with the pen, adjoining curves should flow gracefully from one to the next.  We have all had the experience of watching how terribly small angles cut.  There is either a shallow corner where the blade withdraws, twists, and plunges again - or there is a plowed spot where the blade twists in the matboard while it is on the move.  Neither of these cutting scenarios is particularly attractive.  At times these small angles are critical to define an image, but more often the transition could be smooth and the slice would look so much nicer.

 

If we are drawing lines with the pen, so many elements are so small, you would not imagine how a drawing glitch here and there would even be visible.  But when curves meet at small angles, the pen instantaneously changes direction and there could be an erratic wiggle in the line.  We could call these wiggles “character,” or we could smooth them so that there are no wiggles.

 

In either case - cutting or drawing - the fix is pretty easy once you understand how the tools work.  The examples here use Wizard’s PathTrace, but every drawing program has an automatic smoothing function of some description, though the specific operation sequence may differ.

 

The Tangification Function

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Two arcs join each other.  In this illustration, one is gray and the other is white.  Look closely at their junction point.  They meet at a slight angle.  If this is a drawing to be cut, this is the point where the blade may withdraw, shift, and plunge again.  Or the blade may instantaneously change twist as the machine keeps moving.  This angle can be smoothed using the Tangification function.

Here is how Tangification operates.  Click the Prep Design tab at the top and select Join Segments under Choose Operation at the left.  First join the two arcs.

 

 

 

 

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Next, select Tangify Segments under Choose Operation.  At the bottom left is the Maximum Angle field.  You can enter any value and choose the maximum allowable angle here.  Notice that it is set to 22° here.  This means that any angle above that will be left alone.  Any angle less than 22° will be smoothed.  The arrow in the drawing field points to the junction of the two arcs.

 

 

 

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Move the cursor to highlight the joined arcs and click one time.  The transition will be smoothed and the two arcs will now join at a 0° angle.  Again, the arrow in the drawing field points to the junction of the arcs.  After tangification, the angle at the junction is now smoothed.

If the tangified curves were superimposed onto the original curves, you could readily see that tangification works by altering portions of both arcs where they meet.  Most of the change here is seen in the larger arc on the right.

 

There are times when the particular changes made by the tangification function alter the curves in a disagreeable way.  There is a way to take advantage of the tangification function and minimize its impact on the design.  We will do this by cutting away pieces of the original arcs and inserting a shorter curve between the larger curves.

 

Inserting a Transitional Curve

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Here is an example where we could not accept the changes to the curves that tangification might perform as it smoothes the transitions.  There are adjacent curves to be considered for both spacing issues and aesthetic appeal.

The lines in gray are the original pen ornament.  The swirls of the ornament are only a little more than a quarter inch high and the lines that cross in the center are not even a sixteenth of an inch apart.

 

We want to make the larger flourish on the left a little more grandiose to suit another picture more proportionately.  The white curves represent our proposed changes.

 

There are three elements to the new white curve.  There is one curved line at the top and another at the bottom.  At the left there is an arc.  The segments are joined in this step, so they appear as one curve.

 

Arcs are very handsome when you are able to incorporate them, because of their constant rate of curvature.  Curved lines (when you move the midpoint of a line, it turns into a curve) are easy to use because you are able to move the midpoint from one end of the line to the other.  As you do this, the rate of curvature is greater on the shorter end of the line and you are able to blend adjoining elements nicely.

 

These three elements have been joined and tangified and everything looks just as it should except there is a slight disagreeable flat spot on the curve near the arrow.

 

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There is a Move Point function in PathTrace that may help.  Click the Trace and Draw tab at the top.  Select Move Point under Choose Operation at the left.

The illustration shows that Move Point is not always the answer, though.  After tangification, there are more control points along the curve.  The curve sometimes behaves more like a wet noodle than a curve as you move the control points.

 

The illustration also shows that the action of Move Point is only for discrete elements, joined or not.  The angle you see to the right of the arrow is where the curved line at the bottom joins the arc on the left.  Patience and experience with the Move Point function could likely correct this flat spot, but inserting a transitional curve is sure to leave all the other portions of the curve undisturbed.

 

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First, we need to decide where to break the curve.  Click on Draw Line under Choose Operation.  Draw lines approximately equidistant on either side of the flat spot.

The exact position where these lines intersect the curve is not critical.  As you place the lines, imagine the transitional curve and how long it needs to be in order to improve the curve.

 

 

 

 

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Click the Prep Design at the top.  Select Break Intersection under Choose Operation.

Break the intersections that the lines (the lines we drew in the previous step) have with the curve.

In this illustration, the white segment is the piece that will be replaced.  In this zoomed-in view, you can see that it is less than graceful.

Delete this line.  It may possibly be helpful as a reference, but more often, it is in the way of your view as you set to improve the curves.

 

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We will now connect the pieces of the broken curve with a line segment.  We could certainly draw a new line, but we have four broken line segments already snapped to the broken endpoints of the curve.

Click the Trace and Draw tab and select Move Point.  Move the endpoint of one of the broken line segments on the left and snap it to the broken end of the curve on the right.

The white line in this illustration is the moved line segment.

 

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With the Move Point function still selected, move the midpoint of this intervening line.  As you move the point, the line will curve.  This is a small segment and tangification will fix nearly any imprecision at this point, but watch how the curve changes as you move the point left and right as well as up and down.  With a little experimentation, you will be able to bend the line so that it connects the broken pieces of the curve without a hiccup.

In this illustration the white curve makes the transition in the broken spot of the curve.  We have not disturbed the other portions of the new curve that we like so much.

 

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Join all the new segments and tangify them.  Unless there are grievous errors, you will not see a change after you click the Tangify Segments button.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In this illustration, all the leftover pieces of the original ornament have been deleted.  The new ornament has been given its cutting instructions.  It has been set to draw with the pen.  The new ornament can now be saved to use over and over.

 

 

 

 

As you are evaluating this idea for its practicality, you may imagine that all these steps are much more involved than simply refining the curve using the Move Point function, whatever its pitfalls.  This may at times be the ideal answer.  But do not discount the big advantage of this alternative procedure.  Inserting a transitional curve to repair a problem area leaves the other areas of the drawing untouched.

 

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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 hime at WizardU@wizardint.com  Brian's column is sponsored by Wizard.  www.wizardint.com or call 1-888-855-3335