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

Pencil Captions – Practical Mat Decoration – December 2013

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.

Pencil Captions

There were a few questions about a suggestion made at the end of a recent column.  The suggestion called to mind the fact that small captions under pictures were once hand lettered with a hard pencil.  So many of us learned engineering script as students.  It was never perfect printing, it always had the hallmarks of handwork, but it was always quite small and it was always legible.  This early training in careful letter formation turned out to be useful for writing captions on mats.

101 Date

We use engineering script here as a starting point because so many of us are fairly well practiced with it.  But it remains engineering script in all its connotations – the most disconcerting of which is that it is a trifle sterile.  We can look in many places for ideas to dress up our lettering.

Ornament Ideas

There are a number of thin line fonts we can copy for ideas.  The fonts illustrated here are called Calamity Jane and Speedball 1, 2, and 3.  Look over the details of the letters and you will see a few variations adaptable for your lettering.

04 Calamity Jane01 Speedball 103 Speedball 302 Speedball 2

Keep in mind that there is a fine line between ornamentation and affectation.  A few flourishes on these tiny letters are generally sufficient to give a caption its individuality.  You will find that lower case letters will be almost always the same.  Perhaps you will vary the lengths of the ending strokes of the f, j, or y.  The upper case letters offer many more possibilities for variation.  Finishing strokes like the tail of the R, the Q, or the K can have extensions or flourishes.  Some letters – the A, E, F, G, Q, and S, for example – can take completely different forms from font to font.

The placement of the letters is another variation to consider.  Review the column from a few months ago.  One caption was all upper case letters.  It had larger beginning and ending letters.  The letters were even across the top, too.  Another caption had exaggerated capital letters that floated to where they looked best, regardless of the baseline.  Any of these typographical devices would add a different character to the caption.

Mechanical Hints: Guide Lines

Begin by drawing guide lines for the baseline, the x height, and the top of the upper case letters.  Draw several vertical lines, too, to use as a reference as you draw vertical letter strokes.  Use a soft pencil for the guide lines and draw them faintly.  You will be lettering with a hard pencil and you will be able to erase the faint guide lines without disturbing the lettering.

102 With Guides

Sizes

Everyone will have their own size preferences.  Some people prefer larger letters because slight errors are not quite so glaring.  Others prefer smaller letters because smaller circles and curves are easier to draw accurately when they are smaller.  The x height of the letters in these examples is not quite a sixteenth inch high.  The total height of the upper case letters is about an eighth inch.

The Matboard

Choose the matboard for these lettering projects for its handling properties as much as for the color - Can you erase the guide lines without a trace?  Will the matboard’s surface be marred as you work on it?  Will the matboard’s texture be a factor as you draw?  Heavy textures may force the pencil point into an angled or curved line, rather than the straight vertical line you intended.

The Pencil

Use a 2H, 4H, 6H, or harder graphite for the lettering.  Traditional wooden pencils work better for this than modern mechanical pencils.  The graphite has more support and is much less likely to break as you make small curves or press hard.  Sharpen the pencils with a file or fine sandpaper.

The graphite for these examples was 2H.  This is a bit darker than normal, so that the letters would show better in the photography.  4H graphite is preferable.  It leaves a more understated caption and it still has plenty of contrast to be easily legible.

As you letter, press to deboss as much as to write.  This allows no way to erase a mistake, but you will find that you will letter slowly and carefully enough that mistakes will be rare.

Centering

When you want to center a hand lettered caption, begin by lettering the caption exactly as the final caption will be on a scrap.  Measure its length and calculate the starting point so that the final caption will be centered on the mat.  Realize that with small variations in the letters’ sizes and spacing, the caption could easily end up as much as an eighth inch off center.

With this in mind, consider the option of positioning the caption well to the left or to the right.  The presentation may not have that completely formal look, but it will be clear to all that the caption is meant to be off center.

Write Things Correctly

When you are lettering by hand, you will be writing names, dates, places, and possibly short sentences.  Do not let the extra effort of hand lettering be your excuse for using abbreviations, though.  We are writing captions for pictures to be admired for years to come.  Write entire names.  If there is a military academic designation, write it completely and correctly.  Write out the entire names of months, and write out the entire names of cities, states, and countries.  Always include necessary punctuation.

103 With Lines

This may be the most impractical advice you have ever gotten.  In the face of technological devices that can draw letters for us, what is the sense of presenting ideas on how lettering can be done by hand?  The validity of any answers to this question will depend on the ins and outs of your shop.

How else can we add such a small caption under a picture, though?  The smallest practical CMC lettering is around three-sixteenths of an inch high.  And, how else can we make a caption this understated?

We often overstate the efficiency of computerized processes.  When we want to add a caption under a picture with the computerized mat cutter, there will be design and refinement time.  Once we are practiced and confident with hand lettering, there are guide lines to draw, a little measuring, and the lettering itself.  The time spent will probably be equal.  The obvious difference is that with a computerized mat cutter, everyone in the shop will be equally competent at lettering.

Hand lettering, however, gives every framer an answer to one of the saddest stories in all of our experiences.  A customer presents us with a photo to frame.  It may be beautiful or it may be tattered, but we hear that it is the only known image of some relative.  The customer is probably thinking how nice it would be to add something that would identify the picture to every viewer.  We, at the same moment, might be thinking that without any identification, this could easily become known as “The odd picture Aunt Mabel had hanging in her hallway.”  It would be relegated to a garage sale once its significance is forgotten.

And of course, if we can draw letters by hand with a pencil, why can we not draw pencil lines around the opening?...lines that are broken to include the inscription, lines whose ends have a small decorative element?

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

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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

Step Up Your Game

As a sales rep and a true custom framer at heart, I enjoy seeing the creative designs and problem solving exhibited by you. I wanted to post a "brag column" allowing framers to show off proud accomplishments. A focus of this guild is education, and through the photos posted monthly in this feature, I wish to get our creative juices flowing and hopefully teach an old dog a new trick or even a new pup and old trick every now and then. I promise to always have a camera with me, plus invite you to email your own photos to me at JenniferJPatterson1@yahoo.com

As a sales rep and a true custom framer at heart, I enjoy seeing the creative designs and problem solving exhibited by you. I wanted to post a "brag column" allowing framers to show off proud accomplishments. A focus of this guild is education, and through the photos posted monthly in this feature, I wish to get our creative juices flowing and hopefully teach an old dog a new trick or even a new pup and old trick every now and then. I promise to always have a camera with me, plus invite you to email your own photos to me at JenniferJPatterson1@yahoo.com

 

 

Vangie La Gesse of Puyallup Custom Frame & Art does all her mat cutting old school—no CMC here—yet  has more decorative mat cutting on display than I've seen in ages.  Separated and regular V-Grooves, debossed lines (Again by hand, she used her burnishing bone and a straight edge.) notched corners, applied cut outs, etc. can also be seen the following collection.  As a credit to her, Vangie is not shy about admitting that she is 85 years young and still going strong.  Although she recently admitted that maybe selling her business in the thriving downtown Puyallup area would be nice so she can do other things.


These embellishments add such a nice touch of elegance and design even in their simplicity.

photo 1photo 2photo 3photo 4photo 5photo 6photo 7

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

Oval Top Mat- 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 Oval Top Mat

This is not an opening shape that will transform every design in you shop.  You will likely use it from time to time, but its real importance is as an illustration of how surprises become useful.106 Oval Top Final

Start with the idea of a round top opening.  There are a couple of ready-made ideas in every computerized mat cutter template library.  One template has a curve along the top, but the top corners are angles.  The shape with a semicircular top is intriguing because the top and sides blend as one continuous cut, but it would crop so much less of the image if the top was flat like a half oval.  Sad to say, there is no parameter to alter the shape of the top.  One possibility to make this shape is to join an oval to the top of a rectangle, but it requires the drawing program if you want to make a double mat.  So the idea languishes.

The Surprise

Every CMC program has a template that allows you to change the shape of each corner separately.  In the Wizard program it is called the Quad template.  Change the top two corners to ovals and leave the bottom two corners rectangular.  Now make its height smaller and you will see the shape of the oval at the top become more flat while the vertical lines of all the layers of the sides blend smoothly into the oval top – the exact effect we are looking for.  The height of the opening is now too small, but that is easily enough corrected by joining it with an additional rectangle.  The best news is that we will not need the drawing program for any of these changes.

Step By Step

Begin with a rectangular opening.  Make it the correct final size, adjust the borders, and specify the number of layers you need for the design.  This example is three layers just to illustrate how nicely this idea works no matter the number of layers.101 Initial Design

The hints here will be specific to the Wizard program, but every CMC program will have similar tools and features along the way – both to aid the process and to beware of as we make alterations.  As an example of something to beware of, make sure Dynamic Outsides is inactive as you continue.  Dynamic Outsides is a tool that adjusts the outside size as the opening size changes.  Throughout this project, we want the outside size to remain constant.

Reduce the height of the opening.  The best way to do this is to drag the handle at the bottom center of the opening up.  This way, the top and the sides remain in their proper positions with respect to the borders.  Stop when you are pleased with the shape of the oval at the top. 102 Oval Shaped Top

If You Must Measure

So often, the oval portion of the opening will need to be a specific height.  Measure the picture to see exactly where the oval must stop.  Make the height twice this measurement.  (The top half of the shape will be oval – the size you need it to be, and the bottom half of the opening will be rectangular.)  In this illustration, the total Height of the oval top shape is 4.25 inches.  That means that the height of the oval top is 2.125 inches.  After entering numbers into the Height field, make sure that the top is snapped to the top of the border lines.  Make sure that the sides are still snapped to the border lines, too.

Making the Opening Size Correct

The oval top may look nice, but the overall opening is no longer the correct size.  We will join an additional rectangular opening to the shortened oval top opening and the final size will be correct once more.103 Copied Opening

There are a few ways to add another opening, but the easiest way is to Copy and Paste the existing opening.  The shape and height will not be correct, but the width and the sizes of the reveals of each of the layers will be correct. 104 Second Opening in Place

Change the shape of this duplicate opening to a rectangle.  Snap its bottom to the bottom border line.  Snap its sides to the side border lines.  Change the height of this rectangle so that its top overlaps the bottom of the oval top opening.  Make sure that the openings overlap sufficiently to include all the layers.  But make sure that none of the rectangular opening overlaps onto the oval portion of the oval top opening.

Joining the Two Openings

Every CMC program has its own way to join overlapping openings.  In MatDesigner, select both openings.  Click the Advanced tab at the top and click the Group Selection button at the left.  You will see the perimeter of the joined oval top ready to cut. 105 Grouped

Troubleshooting

It is possible that there would be some anomalies with the joined shape.  There might be some wiggles at the sides because the two openings were not precisely snapped into place or they were not the exact same width.  There might be a stripe across the middle because the bottom rectangular opening did not overlap far enough onto the oval top opening.  To correct any of these troubles, look under the Advanced tab again.  The Group Selection button has become the Ungroup Selection button.  Click it to take the openings apart and you will be able to rectify the troubles.

After you have used this procedure a few times, you will see places where you will want to do certain things another way.  For example, you may not see any advantage to copy and paste to duplicate the opening and you will use another way to add the rectangular opening.  You may like the idea of guides as alignment tools better than the borders.  You may be comfortable enough with the drawing program to make all these alterations.  Some feel that the drawing program is accurate and direct, while the procedure in the design program seems like a prescribed formula.  No matter your assessment of each individual step, we all have ideas for shapes we would like to use.  Now we know that if we do not see them in the template library, there is bound to be another way.

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.