How Do You Make a Photo Mat?

Photo matting on a 12 x 12 layout

Are you new to scrapbooking?  Have a million questions running through your mind?

I was in your shoes several years ago.  I had a ton of questions also.  From the books I read it was clear that photos had to have a background.  What was unclear was “Why?”.  What was the big deal?

Another question was how big the mat should be.  How do you determine the size of the mat behind the photo?

Looking through the books I saw some photos that had more than one colored mat behind them.  So how many background mats do I need?

The whole color selection process will be for a different post.  I don’t want to raise more questions in your mind.  We’ll just work with the photo matting right now.  Let’s just take this one step at a time.

What I am going to tell you applies to one photo or 10.  Makes no difference to the amount of photos on a scrapbook layout.  The principles are the same.

Love Sparkles Designer Series Paper

Why do I need a background mat? It is very likely you have chosen a piece of patterned paper to use for your layout.  And it is also likely that the paper you have chosen has a fairly busy print.   As you look at the papers in the photo here, pay attention to where  your eye goes.  You will find that your eye jumps from one image to another.  Doesn’t settle on any one area.  There is a lot to see and your eye will try to look at all of the images it sees.  All of the images are the same but they are broken up into groups for the pattern.

Take the paper you  have chosen and place it in front of you.  Look at the paper and see what your eye does.  Pay attention to the way your eye shifts from one pattern to the next.

I am sure there is a clinical explanation for what is going on with your eyes.  Chances are good the clinical words will be long and unpronounceable.  So I’m not even going to attempt going there.

In my opinion, it is because your brain doesn’t have a place to “rest” while looking at the patterned papers.  Your brain tells you the print is the same all over the paper but for some reason your eyes bounce from one part of the print to another.

Now put a photo or two on the printed paper.  Just lay them on the paper.  Don’t get fussy and make sure the photos are straight or equal distance from each other or in the exact center if you are using only one photo.  Just put the photo(s) on the printed paper.

What are your eyes doing now?  They are moving around more.  Going to the prints on the paper then to the photo(s) then back again.  After a while you will lose interest in the photos that have brought you such joy and you will just give up on this whole process in frustration.  There is no place for your eye to focus and linger.  No place for it to rest and take in the precious photo.

So the answer to the question “Why do I need a background mat” is to give your eye a place to stop.

Love Sparkles Solid Papers

To give your eye a place to stop you need to have a solid piece of paper surrounding your photo.  This is the photo mat.

Take one of your photos and put it  in the top corner of a solid piece of paper.  Adjust the photo so there is a bit of paper exposed around the top and left edge of your photo.  Now place this entire sheet of paper in the middle of your printed paper.

What happens now?  What is going on with your eyes now?

The hopping from one print to another has stopped and you are drawn to the photo and the solid paper behind it.  You see the patterned paper on the periphery but you are no longer focused there.  You are drawn to the solid paper and the photo.  This is what you want to happen.

As you look at the solid paper and your photo, you might feel the color is not right for what ever reason.  Don’t despair or quit just yet.  Select another piece of paper and lay your photo on it in the same manner as you have just done and “audition” it.  That is what this process is called.  “Auditioning” your paper.  This is the “try out” stage of  your process.  You will find a paper that does not jar your senses as you do this.  When you find that paper then you are ready to move on to the next question.

How do you determine the mat size behind the photo? Generally speaking you will need 1/4 inch all around your photo.  I’m no math whiz so I’m going to keep this simple.  If your photo is 4 x 6 you will cut a piece of the solid paper 4-1/2 x 6-1/2.  Centering the photo after you have cut your piece will give the 1/4 inch border around all sides of your photo.  No matter what size your photo is extend the measurement 1/2 inch on the left to right and top to bottom measurements of your photo.

When I first began scrapbooking I thought this to be a waste of paper.  The majority of the paper will be hidden behind the photo.  This is a good thing, I’ve found.  Your photo is supported and it is not going to bend or become malformed when you adhere it down.  Adhesives will be another topic all together.

Cropping your photos is another topic also that I will cover later.  Right now just measure the photos you want for your layout.  I measure from the top left to the top right of the photo to get the left to right measurements.  Then I measure from the top left to the bottom left to get the top to bottom measurements.  I’m right handed so I do it this way.  Write down each of your measurements and add 1/2 inch.  As I indicated above a 4×6 photo will have a mat of 4-1/2 by 6-1/2.  A 2×3 photo will be 2-1/2 x 3-1/2.  A 5×7 photo will be 5-1/2 x 7-1/2 and so on.

Now that you have this down well, I’m going to toss a wrench in the works.

If you have multiple photos and you find that having a 1/4 inch border around all the photos is too much to fit on the page properly, don’t give up and stuff this project in a box somewhere.

You can decide to make a two page layout, if you have enough paper to do this.  Or you can adjust the mat size behind your photos to have a 1/8 inch border.  Again, keep this simple.  For a 4×6 photo your measurement for the mat will be 4-1/4 x 6-1/4.  This will give you the 1/8 inch border around your photo when it is centered on your mat piece.  As in the example above, a 2×3 photo will have a mat of 2-1/4 x 3-1/4, a 5×7 will be 5-1/4 x 7-1/4.

Now on to the next question.

How many background mats do I need? This question hung me up more than once.  I saw layouts in books where all of the photos had two to three mats behind them.  Not one photo stood out from all the rest because they all were treated the same.

It is my opinion, if you have several photos and one in particular is your absolute favorite then that is the one that will have the added treatment.  That favorite one will be the focal point.

My Grandson's First Birthday

Look, again, at the layout of my grandchildren.  I wanted to make the centerpiece of this layout to be my grandson’s first birthday celebration.  His chocolate smeared face was just way to precious to go unnoticed.  It is the only one that has a different piece of paper behind the photo.  All the rest have the yellow mats, this one had to be just a bit different.

It is my focal point.  The one I want everyone to see first before they move on to the rest of the photos.  It is not singled out so much that you don’t see the rest of my grandchildren who are just as precious to me.  It is just that I want you to see that one first before you go on to the other photos.

The photo you have determined to be your focal point is the one you will do the most to.  It is simple and it is not going to cause you to run screaming from where you sit.

Depending on how many mats you want behind that photo, two or more, the measuring and cutting will be incremental.

For this example lets say you want to have three mats behind a 4×6 photo.  It is best to keep several of the mats at 1/8 inch around.  So the first two mats will be measured and cut in this manner.

  • Mat one – directly behind the photo.  4-1/4 x 6-1/4.  This gives the 1/8 inch surround to the photo.
  • Mat two – will be measured and cut at 4-1/2 x 6-1/2.  This gives the 1/8 inch surround to the layer that will go on top of this (the photo and the first mat).
  • Mat three – will be measured and cut at 5×7.  This gives a 1/4 inch surround to the two mats and the photo.  This final mat will be the “grounding” area of the photo.  It will be the foundation of your focal point.  The other two mats will help to distinguish this photo as being separate from the rest.

There are few hard and fast rules to scrapbooks.  This is an “art form” and as such it is your interpretation of your style and your art sense.  If you like the collage effect then pile your photos on.  Make sure to have a focal point even in a collage.  Give a place for the eyes to rest for a moment before going on to the rest of your piece.

If you are drawn to shabby chic and like the look of papers with inked and torn edges then go for that.  Make sure your focal point is your photo and not a flower or other embellishment.  You don’t want the attention to be taken away from that cherished photo.

If you are drawn to clean lines and straight edges design your page so the focal point  is supported by the rest of your photos and is pleasing to your sense and style.

Learning the process of scrapbooks is a work in progress.  Be kind to yourself as you explore this side of your creativity.  Get a bit out of your comfort zone and try something new.  Have a bit of fun in expressing yourself.

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About Message In A Fold

I am an over the road truck driver in Drive-Away Transport part of the year, and the sole bookkeeper of this operation the other part of the year. I do a lot of whining until I can get in my craft room and play with paper and glue. View all posts by Message In A Fold

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