Photo Mat

This photo mat tutorial will show you how to magically transform cardboard into what looks like a rusty old piece of corrugated tin.

There is a junk recycle revolution going on. Have you seen the corrugated tin used in home decor? I don't have any of that; I don't know where I can get it, so I made my own and you can too.


Age: Adult

Difficulty: Easy

Time Scale: 3 out of 5



  • Heavy Cardboard
  • Thin cardboard
  • Scissors
  • Exacto Knife
  • cutting board
  • large square
  • Skewer stick
  • Small sanding stick
  • hot glue gun/glue sticks
  • pen or pencil
  • Ruler or measuring tape
  • paint brush
  • bristle pounce brush
  • old toothbrush
  • masking tape
  • matte finish clear sealer
  • Craft Paint:

           gun metal gray

           silver metallic

           burnt sienna



This photo mat is finally a project that I am happy with. The day before was one big craft wreck after another.  It had me wondering if I really could make craft projects, at all. Sometimes, it is best to put things aside and try again another day. So I did and... TA-DAH!

I have FINALLY managed to create the perfect photo mat for an old outhouse picture. This was better known as "The Windy Blow House." It is not so fondly remembered, from my childhood visits to my Aunt and Uncles farm, WAY up north. Oh how I hated that outhouse. Now, it seems charming, but only because I will never have to use it again!!


Photo Mat How To


Cut the outer measurements of your mat size so it will fit into the frame you plan to use. If you want to make your own frame, you can make it any size you want. If this photo mat is for an existing frame, make sure it is cut to a standard size. An 8x10 photo normally has a mat with an outside measurement of 11x14. 

The picture I used is 12x17, which is a really wonky size. It didn't matter because I was also making my own barn board frame.

There are two versions here... my way and the OTHER way. Pick the one you like, but first, read all the way through, before you start cutting. The standard version has an asterisk beside for the inside and outside cuts. 

My way: I measured the photo and add 5 1/2 inches to the total length and width. 

If you are using a standard frame, adjust the measurements.

*For the standard size 11x14 mat, add 3 inches to the width and 4 inches to the length for an 8x10 picture. (Not 5 1/2 all the way around.)

Use a pencil to mark this measurement on a piece of thick corrugated cardboard. Use a square to get it even.

Place the cardboard on a cutting board and use an exacto knife to cut it out.

Now cut out the same size piece from a thin piece of cardboard.

Inside cut:

Mine: Measure and mark 2 1/2 inches in from the edge, all the way around the heavy piece of cardboard. This should leave a 1/4 inch overlap on each side, to go over the photo.

*Standard size based on 11x14: Measure and mark 1 3/4 inches in on both sides and 2 1/4 inches, for the top and bottom.

Use a square as a guide to mark the inside lines. (Also, only on the heavy piece of cardboard. Do not cut out the center on the lightweight piece.) Check to make sure the opening is slightly smaller than the photo you are using. 


Cut out the center with the exacto knife and carefully remove.

Look at the cardboard to determine which side has the corrugations closer to the top. Place this side up.

Carefully peel the very top layer of cardboard away. There is a difference between sides. One side peels better than the other. It should separate quite easily.


If there are small pieces that didn't come off, you may have the wrong side. It will still work but take longer to peel. There is a super easy way to remove any stuck on, difficult spots...

Shove a skewer stick under the top layer of cardboard between the corrugations and lift.

Smaller, stubborn pieces can be sanded off with a small stick sander.


Paint the entire mat with gunmetal gray craft paint.

Let dry.

After drying for a short time, the cardboard may start curling up. Set something on it to weight it down, while it finishes drying. I used craft paint bottles. Don't use anything too heavy or it will squish the corrugations. A few squish marks, will be okay because it will add to the rusty old beat up look, but you don't want strange designs squished all over it.

Dry completely.


Paint on a small amount of metallic silver in a few spots. 

Here comes the rust:

Mix burnt sienna and a tiny bit of black craft paint. Apply using a pounce brush in random spots on the photo mat.



Water down burnt sienna. Dip toothbrush in paint. Scrape nail over the bristles and splatter the paint here and there.

This free piece of cardboard should now be looking just like a rusty old piece of tin.

Let dry.


Spray with a coat of matte finish clear sealer.

Let dry. Ugh... that again?

Use masking tape to attach the photo to the photo mat.

Attach the lightweight piece of cardboard over the back using a small amount of hot glue to adhere.


Learn how to make this barn board frame with DIY photo frame instructions.

The rusty tin look of the mat and the weathered wood of the frame are the perfect combination for a country farmhouse theme. 

› Photo Mat

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