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Paying Too Much For Photo Mats?

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 4 10


Computer Matted Photo

If you’ve had a picture or photo framed and matted lately at Aaron Brothers, JoAnns, Michaels or custom framing shops, you’re well aware of the high cost involved.  While frames alone can carry expensive price tags, photo mats make up a generous portion of the final bill.  Cutting your own mats would certainly bring down the cost.  A mat cutting tool is easy to use and it produces excellent results.  But again, the tool is not cheap.  Unless you plan to mat a house full of photos and art, or become a professional in this field, you may not realize enough savings on your investment.

One way to save money on your mats is to make them on the computer.  Right now you might be visualizing a rectangle cut from the center of a plain sheet of copy paper, placed on top of one of your photos.  The truth is, computer generated mats are a far cry from this primitive scenario.

Realistic looking paper mats can be produced with mat textures and colors of your choice with very few limitations.  Jump to the “Mat Like A Professional” portion of this article if you’re skeptical.

When created in Photoshop, the “fake” mat and photo are combined and printed together on one page.  You can also use Photoshop Elements to make mats but be aware the steps offered in this article refer to Photoshop menus.  If you’re well acquainted with Photoshop Elements, you may have no problem following these steps to create mats in the program you own because it is so similar. 

The tools used to create the final page give the illusion of a separate photo and mat.   Although the printed page does not have the sturdiness of mat board, you can mount your page on cardboard to keep it from rippling or bending.  Behind glass, the mat looks surprisingly like the real thing, and all for the cost of a printed page.

Mat Like A Professional

horizontal grain

 Professional photo framers often use textured mats that resemble woven fabrics.  Linen canvas mats are a standard in the industry and very popular.

The three samples above, demonstrate how textures provide interesting contrast to framed art or photos.  With Photoshop you can mat like the pros by using tools offered in the program. 

Linen texture can be achieved by exploring the “texture” filter.  


If fabric texture isn’t right for your framed piece, many more options are available.  Craquelure can look like plastic or metal when an appropriate color is applied. 


Grains create interesting contrasts for the right photo or artwork.  A vertical grain, for instance, imitates wood when applied to a natural wood color. 

Vertical grain

These are just a few of the many choices available.  Within each Photoshop " texture" selection is another set of menus.  The grain filter alone offers ten options.  And once you choose one of those you can tweak the texture with intensity and contrast options.  The possibilities for creating unique photo mats are endless.  Follow the steps below to create the dimensional mat.  When you're done, add the texture.

If you're ready to save money on photo mats here are the three things you will need:

Computer with Photoshop




1.  Set Up Guides

Open a blank page in Photoshop with a 300 dpi resolution. The page should be 3" larger on all sides (for a three” inch mat) than the photo you plan to use.  Find your photo on your computer and bring it into Photoshop. In the Layers palette, name the layer "photo". Place guides on each side of the photo. Now place another set of guides 1/8" from the first guides.


2.  Lift Color From The Photo

Examine the photo.  Is there one color in it that’s more dominant?  Would it make a good color for the mat?  If so, pick up that color with the eyedropper tool.  Next, create the mat. From the "layer" menu, select "new". In the Layer palette, double click on "layer 1", and rename it "mat".


3.  Apply Color To The Mat

From the "select" menu, click "all".  The entire screen will be highlighted.  From the "edit" menu click "fill".  You will be given a choice of colors, foreground, or background for the fill.  Click on "foreground" color and click "ok". The selected color fills the screen.

Apply color

4.  Move The Mat Layer

In the Layers palette, drag the mat layer below the photo layer. The mat now moves behind the photo on the screen.

Move the mat layer

5.  Create A White Frame

Create a new layer and give it the name, "white”.  Using the rectangle tool from the tools menu, create a frame the size of the outer guides you set up in step one. Under the edit menu, choose "fill" and select "white" from the drop down menu to fill the frame with white.

create white frame

6.  Create A Dark Outline

Once the box is filled with white, and while it is still selected, go back to the edit menu and choose "stroke".  In that menu, set the options to: width - 4 pixels, color - black, location - inside, mode - normal, and opacity - 55%.  A dark outline appears around the white box.

Create dark outline

7.  Move The White Layer

In the Layers palette, the white layer is now the first item in the list.  Drag it down so that it is positioned between the mat and photo layers. This will move the white box behind the photo on the screen.

Move mat layer

8.  Make A Photo Border

Select the photo layer in the Layers palette. From the edit menu, select "stroke". Change the options to: width - 4 pixels, color - black, location - outside, mode - normal, and opacity - 75%.

Make photo border

9.  Add More Dimension

By now it’s obvious that all these steps contribute to the illusion of depth on the screen.  But you can add even more dimension.  In the Layers palette, double click inside the right edge of the photo layer. On the next menu under blending options, click "inner shadow".  Set the options on the right side of that menu to: blend mode - multiply black, opacity - 75%, angle - 120 degrees, use global light, distance - 5px, and size - 5px.

add dimension

Click "OK".

If you choose to add a texture, click the mat with the magic wand tool then go to the "filter" menu and select "texture".  Have fun exploring the menus.  When you're done print out your matted photo!

If your page is larger than your printer will accommodate, send the file to be printed at Kinko's or Costco.  To achieve a finished page that looks most like a real mat and photo, ask for a matte finish rather than glossy.



Nov 12, 2011 1:08pm
You're so right! Having a photo professionally framed is costly. I have Photoshop but don't use it that often and I've never created a mat (didn't even know I could). I'm printing this article out right now so I can try it later. Thank you diva, you always have the best tips!
Nov 12, 2011 6:16pm
Thanks Introspective! Hope you'll make some cool mats with your Photoshop program.
Nov 12, 2011 1:54pm
Timely instruction, so many give photos at Christmas time. This great DIY: photo mats for picture framing is very useful and well-done as always.
Nov 12, 2011 6:17pm
Thanks ECL! There are so many ways to save on framing including using simple glass pieces as a frame held together with clips. Displaying photos and art doesn't have to break the bank.
Nov 13, 2011 9:13pm
You are absolutely right about how expensive the proper matting can be when you have pictured matted and framed. It never occurred to me to make the mats myself. What a clever idea!! Definitely worth a Stumble and a Tweet!
Nov 14, 2011 12:25pm
Thanks Deb!
Nov 21, 2011 6:00am
Gosh you have some terrific ideas, this will be great thing to do especially with Christmas coming. The only prob is I had that program on my other computer will have to get it for this one now just for this..hha.. rated up up
Nov 21, 2011 11:33am
Thanks Eileen! I've owned both Photoshop and Photoshop Elements and can say that there's not much difference between the two unless you do professional design work with the program. If you're buying a new program, consider Photoshop Elements. It costs a fraction of the Photoshop program.
Dec 3, 2011 6:54pm
This is a great alternative to paying those outrageous prices at craft stores. I don't have photoshop yet, but when I get it, I will definitely try to make my own mats.
Dec 14, 2011 10:32am
Thanks for the comment Aurora!
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