The Magic of Grouping – Practical Mat Decoration

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

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


The Magic of Grouping

Several of these columns have used Grouping to manufacture a new shape from two overlapping shapes.  In one example we overlapped a plain rectangle to cover unwanted decorative elements in a shaped opening.  In another example we overlapped a rectangular opening onto a shaped opening in order to extend it and make it the correct size. 101

A more exciting use of grouping is to create an artistic shape.  Everyone knows that you can overlap a CutArt, a letter, or a decorative shape onto an opening, then group them.  The program will integrate the overlapping shapes and the machine will cut he perimeter of the new shape.

The Mundane Side of Grouping: An Alignment Tool

The most practical use for grouping is when the openings do not overlap, though.  Some multiple opening layouts are complicated – particularly when openings have associated items like captions or auxiliary openings that need to remain aligned with their respective openings.  Grouping locks each pair of items together so that they can be moved around as a unit.102

Here is a simple example of how grouping helps with a multiple opening design.  There are four double mat openings.  Each opening has a caption centered under it.  Each opening with its caption must be lined up and spaced to make a tidy layout.

Begin with One Opening

The first opening-caption combination we work with will be the one at the top right.  The opening is 3.25 x 5.25 inches.  The dark inner reveal is 3/16 inch.  The pen caption is 0.3 inch high.  Adjust the Kerning (the size of the spaces between the letters) and Tracking (the size of the spaces between the words) to your liking.

The normal alignment tools will center and space the caption under the opening.  The top of the caption is 0.25 inch away from the bottom of the opening’s top layer.

Now group the opening and the caption so that, as we add more openings and move items into place, this opening and its caption remain accurately aligned.

The Grouping Process

First, select both the opening and the caption.  You can click on the Advanced tab at the top and click the Group Selection button at the left, but it is also handy to know that you are able to right-click on the selected items.  In the middle of the menu that pops up, click on Group Selection.201

When the items are grouped, there will be a dotted blue line around the grouped items.

It is important to note that the size of the grouped item is now 3.625 x 6.175 inches.  The width is measured from the outside of the top layer of the opening.  The height is measured from the top of the top layer of the opening to the baseline of the caption.  Note that the tail of the y in Mary dangles below the dotted blue outline of the grouped item.  All the alignment tools will reference this dotted blue line.

Adding More Openings

Copy the first grouped opening-with-caption and paste it twice so that you have two more openings with their captions.  Copy and Paste eliminates a big part of the work.  The copies have the proper size reveal around the opening.  The captions are the proper size, font, and distance from the opening, though the names will be changed.202

Move the copies to the left.  Ungroup one of them in order to change the name in the caption.  Either click the Advanced tab where you will find that the Group Selection button has become the Ungroup Selection button, or right-click on the item.  On the menu that pops up click Ungroup Selection.

When items are ungrouped, all the items remain selected.  Either click the Escape key on the keyboard or click on the background to de-select the items.

Select the caption, change the name, and re-center the new caption under the opening.  Its distance from the bottom of the opening will not have changed unless you have altered the height of the letters.  Group this opening with the new caption.203

Ungroup the middle opening.  Here, you will need to change the name - plus, the size of the opening needs to be 3.75 x 5.75 inches.  When you enter new values into the height field, you will see that the bottom remains in place and the top grows.  So once again, the caption’s distance from the opening will not have changed.  After you change the name in the caption, you will only need to center the new caption under the opening.  Group the middle opening with its new caption.

Aligning the Top Row

We now have three groups.  Each group is an opening with its caption centered under it.

Select all three groups.204

Click the Alignment tab at the top.

On the left there are nine buttons in the Aligning section.  Click the middle one in the bottom row.  This will line up all the groups’ centers.

Now we need to make sure the groups are evenly spaced.  Enter 0.75 in the field at the left of the Space Horizontally button.  When you click the Space Horizontally button the groups will be three-quarters of an inch apart – as measured on the top layer of the mat.

Why Do We Use Grouping?

To see the magic of Grouping, try these steps without grouping.  When you click the Space Horizontally button, there will be six items evenly spaced along the row – an opening, a caption, another opening, another caption, etc.

Now try it a different way: align and space just the openings.  Then center each caption under its opening.  You will find this tedious at best.  And on larger projects, you will not be able to zoom in closely enough to see clearly.  This may be Grouping’s mundane application, but it streamlines a layout like this.

Once these three groups are aligned, select them all and group them.  This allows us to continue to work with the layout without accidentally knocking any of these openings or captions out of position.  You now understand that you can have groups, groups of groups, and groups of groups of groups if necessary.

Adding the Bottom Opening

On the clipboard is still the original opening grouped with its caption.  Paste one last time and move the copy so that it is below the top group.

Ungroup this last opening and caption.  Change the size of the bottom opening to 10 x 4.5 inches.  Change the caption.  The letters for the caption along the bottom picture are 0.4 inch high and they are 5/16 inch below the bottom of the opening.

Center and space the caption with its opening, then group these two items, just as you did with the other three openings and their captions.

The Final Alignment

In the layout we now have two groups.  The top row is one group of three groups – and, yes, each of these three groups is also a group consisting of an opening and its caption.  The bottom row is another group consisting of the large opening and its longer taller caption.205

Select both these groups.  Use the Aligning buttons to center the bottom group below the top group.  Use the Spacing tools to make the bottom row 7/8 inch away from the top row.

While the artistic uses of any tool always garner the most attention, it is enlightening to see how this more pedestrian use of grouping makes this involved – but common, effective, and practical – layout efficient.

Brian Wolf has been a picture framing educator since 1979, specializing in decorative matting techniques. He is the artistry ambassador for Wizard International, Inc. Contact him at  Brian’s column is sponsored by Wizard. or call 1-888-855-3335


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