The film photography & darkroom work of David Kirby

How To: Mount Your Prints On a Budget

Is there anything that looks as fine as a well-mounted print?  Well, yes - the Aurora Borealis shining high over the distant mountains, a sarry night sky in the remotest regions of Scotland and, of course, Mrs. Kirby (hey, watch it - that's for my eyes only).  But photographically speaking it is a widely known fact that a mounted print is at least 645,723,986% better-looking than an unmounted print.

But how to go about mounting?  Is it hard?  What materials will you need?  Read on, dear reader, for answers to all of these questions and more! 


There are actually quite a few ways to mount prints and, as with the never-ending film vs digital debate, there are constant arguments all over the Internet about which is the best/most archival/least damaging to the print.  Each method has its merits - with some there is a considerable cost saving, whilst with others the archival qualities are greater.  For example it is possible to mount using tissues which, when heated with a small iron, bind to the print and mount board and are archivally stable - this is called dry mounting.  It is also possible to go to a craft store and purchase a photo mounting spray which you can spray onto the rear of your print and then glue the print down onto your board - this is called wet mounting.  Personally I don't much like wet mounting, the risk of the print bubbling, being degraded by chemicals in the spray (hasn't the print been through enough chemicals already) and the permanent nature of the mount is too great a risk.  There is no need to get bogged down in all of this information.  All you need to know is that your mount should be temporary, i.e. you once you have mounted a print you should be able to remove the mount without causing damage to the print.  This is important should you decide to change frames at some point in the future or wish to change your mount style or colour.

As for us, we shall rise above the fray and just crack on with getting our paper stuck onto our card so that people can look at it, ensuring that should we change our minds in the futurewe can remove the print safely.

Right, that's that bit done.  One thing to mention before we get started is, as always, click on the images to expand and see the full thing.  Now, what are you going to need?

Equipment & Materials Required

My first ever attempt at mounting did not go well.  At all.  Not even sightly.  It was one of those things that you look back on years later, shake your head slowly and sigh to yourself.  I was trying to use guillotines to cut mount board and all kinds of nonsense, I ended up with wonky windows in my mount and my print wouldn't stay put - i got very frustrated!  After a great deal of internet research (where I concluded that everyone had a different method for mounting) I paid a local framer to cut me some mounts.  It saved me time but boy did it cost!  Not only did I have to pay for the mount board but each cut of the board cost me. 

The point I am trying to make is that if you are going to try mounting yourself instead of getting a professional to do it then you need the right tools for the job, you'll need patience and you will need practice.  As with so many things in life you can spend a fortune or you can compromise.  There are expensive mount cutting systems that save a lot of time and effort, or there are cheaper alternatIves that will cost you less money but more time and energy.  Whichever you go for is entirely up to you.  Personally, however, I prefer spending a little more time and effort and keeping a little more money in the bank.  With that all cleared up here's what I use to mout my prints...

Mount Board

Arqadia mount board - it's big!

Pretty hard to mount a print without any mount board, no?  When buying there are options - you can go to any art store and pick up mount board in a variety of colours.  There's cheap stuff and there's expensive stuff, what you end up with is up to you.  My advice would be to firstly make sure that you get the right size.  Don't go home with your shiny new board only to discover that it's smaller than your print!  Secondly, don't use foamcore board.  It may be light and cheap but it feels and looks nasty, leave the foamcore for your other hobbies.  Thirdly, choose your mount board colour wisely.  Think about the subject of the prints you are mounting and what colour mount will work best with it.  Black mount board could make the shadows of your print not look less deep, whereas white mount board could make your print highlights look dull.  A neutral grey is quite good for a print with a wide range of tones but can sometimes seem a little distracting.  Failing that you can go for any colour - gold, green, yellow, red etc; the choice is entirely yours and entirely based on preference.  Fourthly, and finally, check the core colour of your mount board.  Mount board isn't actually one solid colour throughout.  The front is your display colour and the rear is normally a pale card colour - the core, however, can be white, black or even the same colour as the front.  The core colour will be on display when you cut your bevelled window into the front of your mount.  The last thing you want is to cut your mount only to find the core is black when you wanted white.

For this tutorial (and because it is my personal preference) I shall be using some white mount board manufactred by Arqadia.  This board is a little more expensive than budget board but I think it is worth it as it does not contain any chemicals that can cause print quality to deteriorate over time and has a nice texture.   From a local supplier I can get a board that is about 1.10m x 0.85m for £7.95 which seems reasonable to me.

Cutting & Measuring Tools

My rulers.  From top to bottom a 1m long flat metal ruler, a 33cm flat plastic ruler and a 55cm aised metal ruler which will be used as the main cutting ruler.

Now it's time to look at how you're going to chop this board up.  As I mentioned before it is possible to go overboard (pun intended) purchasing expensive cutters that combine with rulers and have ergonomic grip handles.  When it boils down to it all you really need are sharp blades, everything else is just a bonus.

As i'm dealing with such large board sizes I have a 1m long flat metal ruler which I got from a DIY store.  This is great for marking out all the lines across your board without having to shuffle along every time you get to the end of a smaller ruler.   I also have a smaller ruler for when measuring out cutting lines on the cut-down mount board.  My most important ruler is my mid-sized raised metal ruler.  This ruler is specifically for use with a mount cutter.  It has a little rail on the back which you can slot your bevelled cutter into, this slot acts as a runner for the cutter giving you a nice straight line.  If you are going to fork out for something, one of these rulers is what you want to spend on.  This one cost me £10.99 and has so far been worth every penny.  You can often buy mount cutter kits which have these rulers and mount cutters together as a package.  If you want to use one of those then feel free to do so.

My Logan mount cutter and spare blades.  An excellent bit of kit for the task at hand.

On the topic on mount cutters, you'll need one!  If you're feeling flush with cash you can fork out for a 90 degree cutter but to me this seems pointless when a ruler and a knife will do the same job for a lot less cost.  Bevelled cutters, however, are a different story entirely.  These are basically a blade sat at 45 degrees with some clips that let you attach the unit to a ruler.  This is what you use to cut your 45 degree window through which your print is displayed.  Fork out for one of these, the cheap plastic ones just aren't good enough.  When I bought my enlarger it came with a load of darkroom gear, amongst which was this Logan cutter.  Thus far it has been great and with blades being around £4 for a pack of 5 I can't really complain.  This cutter doesn't fit on the rails of my raised metal ruler buts that's ok, i've got a work-around.

Once you've got your bevelled cutter sorted it's time for some simpler cutting tools - a Stanley knife with plenty of spare blades and a pair of paper scissors will see you through. 


Wide double-sided tape and masking tape.

I'm not a fan of using spray mount - it's messy and if you're not careful can end up on the front of your print, totally ruining it.  As with mount board you can pay for good quality artists materials which are free from harmful chemicals, or you can go cheaper and run the risk.  I guess your decision will be based on a few factors such as what funds you have available, whether the mount is for short or long-term display, and whether this is a print to be sold/exhibited or just kept in a drawer at home. 

Whatever you decide the first thing you will need is a roll of masking tape.  Masking tape is great because of its low adhesion, meaning you can pull it off the print without tearing your precious masterpiece (if you're careful)!  As well as this you will need a roll of double-sided tape, the wider the better really, make sure the roll you get isn't wider than the border you will have around your print - you will see why as we walk through the tutorial.  Again, you can get specialist art mounting tape or you can use stuff from your local DIY store.  The tape will vary in adhesive strength so keep that in mind.

The last thing you will need is a surface to work on.  I use a cutting mat on a table, you use whatever you wish as long as it is flat and steady.  Oh, and a pencil, you'll definitely need a pencil - HB will do.

The Method

Get your huge board all marked up.

Got all your gear together? Right - let's get cracking.  The first thing to do is figure out how big you want your mounted print to be.  This will be a sum of your print size plus mount border.  For my Iceland project I have opted for mounts 33cm x 33cm so I lay my mount board on the table face down (there should be text on the rear side of the board) and use a pencil and long ruler to mark out as many 33cm x 33cm squares as I can.  On boards this size I can get 6 mounts from each sheet, with some offcuts for use on other prints.  Once you've figured out what size mounts you want get them marked out on the back of the sheet.

Sanley knife - cheap and cheerful!

Once that's all marked out it's time to get cutting.  Using my raised metal ruler I make sure I am lined up as close as possible to my pencil line and well centred over my cutting mat, then I use a Stanley knife with a fresh blade to cut firmly and smoothly along the board.  Make sure you put a decent amount of pressure onto the ruler to avoid it slipping.  Use a smooth cutting motion and instead of trying to go all the way through the board in one cut do your first cut then go back over it once or twice until you're sure you have cut right through the board.  Keep going until all your board is trimmed down and you have your measured mounts cut out. 

Set the mount board to one side now and grab your print.  First things first trim off any excess border areas but make sure you leave a border of at least 1cm or so all the way around the print.  Once that's done take a smaller ruler, preferably plastic or wood, and measure the print area from top-left corner to bottom-right corner, and then do the opposite corners.  Make a note of the length.  In this example my print is 31cm x 31cm from corner to opposite corner.

Now get one of your cut-down boards and, using a ruler, draw a pencil line from top-left to bottom right corner then bottom-left to top right corner.  Make sure you do this on the back of the board!  The point at which the two lines intersect should be the centre of your mount board.  Take the length of your print which you determined earlier and divide it by 2.  For me gives a result of 15.5cm (because 31 divied by 2 is 15.5).  Now, take your ruler again and measure the length of your result out from the centre point of your board along each of the four lines you previously drew.  Now, join the dots up to form a square.  The square you have drawn should be your print size and the area around it should represent your chosen mount border width.  If it doesn't then go and remeasure. 

Now is the crucial part - the cutting of the window! Take your board, raised metal ruler and bevelled cutter.  If your cutter is like mine then you hold it in your right hand and push it forward to cut.  As such you will want to make sure that you are always cutting the left border of the rear of the board so that the bevel is cut in the right direction when placed over the print.

Remember I mentioned earlier that I have a way around using my Logan cutter with an incompatible ruler?  I can use the raised section of the ruler as a guide and just butt the cutter up against it.  If you have purchased a cutter/ruler kit then you should be able to place the cutter clips into the ruler runner and use that.  What I recommend you do is draw a line on a scrap piece of mount board, put the ruler up against it and try a cut.  You may find that your blade cuts a few mm away from the line, in which case you will need to measure this distance prior to doing your final mount board cut and compensate accordingly when doing your final cut.

Once you've done your four bevelled cuts stay calm and whatever you do don't pick up your cut board.  Often the corners of the cuts dont quite meet up, the middle section of the board which you cut out sags and the corners come away from the rest of the board and rip the frot paper meaning that all that hard works has been for nothing.  Instead gently slide your hand uner the cut board and support it, then gently turn it over.  Gently push the centre board up and out and see if it resists anywhere.  If it does then, using your stanley knife, gently slice away the card/paper that is still connected to the board until the central square lifts out.

Congratulations, your window has been cut!  Now to the task of getting it onto the print.  Measure out a strip of masking tape that is slightly longer than the top of your print and lay it down sticky side up on your work surface.  Take your print and (image side up) lower the top border down onto the masking tape until the print covers half of the width of the tape and the rest of the tape is expose.  Take your newly cut (and excellent-looking) window and lower it down over your print.  Make sure that none of the white borders on your print are on display within the mount and that any horizons are perpendicular to the window (you should have printed then straight anyway) and, once happy with the position, press firmly along the top of the window to secure the tape to the window.

Now, turn the window upside down (the print may flap round a little but that's ok) and lay it out flat.  measure out four more strips of tape and, as you pull the print tight onto the mount, tape down each remaining edge ensuring that the print is laying flat within the mount.  Now that that's done turn your mount and print back around and make sure that you're happy with how it is all looking.  If you're happy then turn the print back around and put a strip of double-sided tape along each edge.  Make sure that the double-sided tape doesnt go over the rear of the print as this will make it very difficult to remove the print at a later date should you desire to do so.  Now take another one of your prevously cut bards and gently lower it down onto the window and print, making sure that the back of the board is going down onto the tape so that the colour of the mount is showing to the rear of the print/mount combination.  Once lowered one gently manouvre the rear board until it lines up with the window mount alng the edge, then press down firmly all over to secure the two boards together.

Now flip the board over and soak in your mounted print - doesn't it look better?!

If you ever need to remove the print it is simply a case of puling apart the backing board and window mount and removing the print from between them.  Easy!

Here's an example of how the finished article can look.  And this is just a simple version, there is nothing to say you can't have multiple overmats in different colours stacked on top of each other - go experiment!

Some of you reading this may be reeling in horror at my method and the materials I use and that's fine, if you have a better method then by all means use it.  For now though this is suiting my needs and giving me the look I want for my final prints.  If you decide to use this method then by all means get in touch and let me know how you get on.  And, as ever, if you have any questions feel free to contact me via email or just comment on this article and I will respond.

Instead of my usual sign-off I will go for something more appropriate - happy mounting!