She's crafty, she's got a gripe
July 30, 2017 8:42 PM   Subscribe

I would like to add captions to framed photographs by typing or printing the captions on the mat board. I can't find an easy way to do this. Ideas?

The effect I'm looking for would basically look like this, except the words would only be beneath the photo. The method described on the site seems like it would be time consuming for a large number of photos, and I'd like to do this for one to two dozen. It also seems like it would have the potential to look sloppy unless you were exceedingly careful, and I'm not good with straight lines.

Other options I've explored:
- I talked to the fine folks at American Frame who told me this is not something they do, and they do not know of anyone else who does it either.
- American Frame suggested ordering mats that a slot cut out at the bottom to slide paper behind, like so. I don't really like the way this looks, and all of my captions are different lengths, so it would be difficult and time-consuming to figure out the appropriate size slot for each picture.
- Searching online for some kind of typewriter that could type on a flat surface, without bending the surface. Such a thing does not seem to exist.
- I don't want to hand write it.

Any ideas for me?
posted by unannihilated to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Dry transfer lettering would work. You used to be able to buy a whole lot of different fonts in the old graphic design days. The selection probably isn't that great these days.
posted by Gusaroo at 8:47 PM on July 30 [4 favorites]

Clear stickers? Googling transparent labels brings up quite a few options. I was thinking dry transfer lettering or stenciling but that's going to be waaay more work than the basic decoupage suggested in your link.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:51 PM on July 30

This is kind of a workaround, but how about printing the caption onto some sheer/transparent paper, like they use for wedding invites, and then attach it with decorative pins/corner stickers etc. A little metallic rivet on each end of the caption is quite minimal.
posted by Youremyworld at 8:53 PM on July 30 [2 favorites]

Oh, also, I should mention I did think about printing onto some kind of clear label and attaching to either the mat board or the glass, but if possible I wanted to avoid seeing any kind of edge/being able to tell it's a sticker.
posted by unannihilated at 8:56 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]

I'm with you; I have seen this kind of thing done with clear stickers and I don't like the way it looks. I have a few times considered doing something like this, and I haven't found a solution I like enough to actually bother trying it. That said, I agree with Gusarro that dry transfer lettering could be a decent, if tedious, option. I used it a bit in the old days, and it looks good but takes some practice to get right and I'm not sure I have the patience now.

I think this option would probably be really hard to get right, but I'll throw it out there in case you want to try it (or maybe someone else has a refinement that would make it easier). If your mats aren't too big, you might be able to find some thick paper or cardstock the color and size of the mat, print on that, adhere it to the front of the mat, and then cut the whole thing at once. So basically the entire visible front of the mat is actually your printed paper, not the original mat material. But you'd have to be extremely careful with the adhesive selection and application to make it smooth and not have a visible gap at the cut. And I really think you'd need to wait to cut the mat until after it's all assembled; with pre-cut mats, it seems like an impossible task. If you used a reverse bevel cut, it might be a little bit more forgiving in that if the paper overlaps the cutout a bit, it may not be quite as obvious.

I will be following this thread for other creative ideas!
posted by primethyme at 9:16 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]

Ok, sorry, one more thought. Again, I think this probably is not what you want, but just for the sake of completeness...

If you're ok forgoing a mat, you could add a white border around the image itself, type the text in that, and then have it printed at the final frame size with the text included. Or similarly if you're ok with a double-mat look, add a white (or whatever) color border to the image with the text on it, and add another mat around it. Depending on the aesthetic you're looking for, you might consider doing it as an acrylic facemount or something rather than a traditional frame, since in that context people wouldn't be expecting a mat anyway.
posted by primethyme at 9:25 PM on July 30

Could you use iron on transfer paper? I know it's made for tee shirts, but might attach to mat board. Or decal sheets? If you have a laser printer, a hot iron (or mat press) might transfer a ghost image to the mat, which you could fill in.

You could go to a sign store and have them cut some vinyl labels and stick that to the mat.
posted by Marky at 9:42 PM on July 30

What's your budget? This sounds like a great quick job for a professional calligrapher, who would just write directly onto your mats by hand and be lovely and precise.

Another expensive idea would be stamps. Basically get a whole typographer's set of letters and punctuation and hand stamp your words one letter at a time. Set a straight edge with weights atop the mat to keep your line straight and use an upside down stamp next to the first letter of each word to make spacing consistent. Practice a bunch on scrap card before you start. Time consuming but you should be able to find a good font and do it in literally any color you want; scrap booking and stamping supplies are a huge industry.
posted by Mizu at 9:47 PM on July 30 [7 favorites]

If you have the patience for tweezing tiny letters into place, there are stamps like this.

You can also use acetone to transfer toner-based (copier, laser) prints onto mat board. Print the captions in reverse (mirrored), cut them out, use painters tape to attach them face-down to the mats, lightly saturate with acetone, let sit a moment, and burnish with the back of a spoon or similar. With practice you can get the transfer pretty sharp, but it'll always be a bit faded and usually bleeds a bit—that's part of the charm, but might not suit your needs. This tutorial recommends xylene from a blending marker which looks like it might give cleaner, more consistent results. Pinterest tells me running wax paper through an inkjet printer and doing the same thing minus the solvent achieves a similar effect (without the bleeding or chemicals), but I'm skeptical.

The dry transfer letters Gusaroo mentioned can look great, but aligning them neatly is a nightmare. If you don't mind it looking a little ransom-note, they're perfect. You can get custom printed Letraset, but that's outrageously expensive IME. If you know any aging architects/draughtspeople/research scientists etc. they might have an old pantograph lettering set, but that seems unlikely (I mean I have two in my basement so who knows).

This could also be done with light laser engraving, either by a sign/plaque shop or at a maker space if you have access to one and the relevant skillset.
posted by wreckingball at 10:12 PM on July 30 [3 favorites]

Also primethyme's suggestion would absolutely work! Light coat of spray adhesive on both the print and the mat board, burnish with a clean credit card or plastic spatula, and cut as normal. The paper wouldn't have to be thick (thinner is probably better, but it increases the risk of creases and air bubbles), but acid free if you want it to last any length of time.

A brick and mortar frame shop that also mounts posters could almost certainly do this for you, also. If you find one that prints in-house (and many do) so much the better.
posted by wreckingball at 10:23 PM on July 30

A Cricket cutter could work.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:40 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]

I'm not good with straight lines ... Any ideas for me?

If any of the above solutions involving tweezers and Letraset are feasible for you, so is getting good with straight lines. Most of it comes down to having the right tools, and practice.

For tools, you need

* a large smooth flat board to work on, that you don't mind getting knife scores in; a sheet of thin MDF atop a nice flat table will do for this

* a thin steel ruler

* a craft knife with a scalpel blade

* band-aids

Once those are assembled, grab a stack of A4 printing paper and just practice pricking endpoints into one sheet with the point of the knife, laying the ruler between the endpoints, and slowly and carefully running the knife along the edge to make a straight cut. By the time you've made 100 cuts you should find that the process is coming easier and the results are more accurate and less ragged. After 1000 cuts, move on from paper to the same thickness of card stock that you'll be using for your photo mats and make 100 cuts in that.

I would be astonished to learn that working through that process over the course of about a week would not give you all the skills you need to construct photo mats that look good to other people from a distance of more than four feet.
posted by flabdablet at 10:51 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]

How do you feel about making your own mats? Get some mat board, print what you want on paper large enough to cover the whole mat (for even color) and spray mount it to the board, then cut the mat. In other words, probably how the one in your picture was done, but only putting words at the bottom.
posted by rhizome at 12:19 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]

Must it be matted? You could get a similar effect with a float frame and a sheet of printable transparency film. Print captions on the film, cut to size of glass, position your photo, sandwich between the two plates of glass and insert in frame. Would be limited to size less than 8.5x11 due to transparency sheets though, I think.
posted by evilmomlady at 3:56 AM on July 31

How big are your matted photographs? If they are small enough, I'd suggest printing the captions on a high quality paper that's of equal or larger size than your mats and then using a spray adhesive to affix the paper to the front of the mat. You could then either cut the excess paper away from the center to be flush with the edges of the mat, or leave an extra 1/2 inch or so overhang and wrap it in and around the inside edges of the mat and glue behind.
posted by gennessee at 4:51 AM on July 31

Considering all these options, I honestly don't think the modge podge method in your link or other adhesive method would take all that much time, even for two dozen mats. Since you presumably want two dozen different captions, no matter what method you're doing, most of the work is going to be in prepping all the captions. Then set up an assembly line.

If you wanted two dozen all with the same text, then setting up a silkscreen process would be a lot faster than individually pasting each one, but that doesn't sound like what you want.
posted by muddgirl at 5:46 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]

What gennessee said: I would print the words or pattern you want on nice paper, then spray-glue it flat to the face of the mat, then carefully cut an X in the hole and wrap and glue the paper flush to the edges of the mat bevel. Search for "fabric wrap" in framing how-tos. The only straight lines you need to manage are in the computer and the alignment of the paper to the mat.

You could also print an exact-size transparency with the words aligned where you want them, and then overlay that under the glass. I'm not sure you'd even need to cut out the hole. could pay someone. A local frame shop might be able to handle it. Or you could pay a calligrapher on Etsy.
posted by blnkfrnk at 5:59 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]

If you really need to do it the hardest possible way, you could get a set of metal letter stamps/punches like these:

Lay out a rigid baseline for your text, and then laboriously whack each letter into the mat (after carefully inking it on a stamp pad). Make sure to clean off the packing grease first so it doesn't ruin your mat!

Shortly after the first word is done, you will understand why moveable type was such an advance, and marvel at how it jet-propelled printing into the future. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:21 AM on July 31

I used to have an inkjet printer that had a straight path feed. You could stick the mat in the back and it would pass through without any bends. I wonder if any print shops near you had such a thing.
posted by advicepig at 6:41 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]

Because of course everything exists, you just have to ask for it:

Dissolving paper

Admittedly a very laborious solution.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:10 AM on July 31

Similar to advicepig, I think you will be happiest if you search out the right equipment, which I think is a flat bed printer. I remember using them for charts back in the day. You might be able to get one new for $300, and who knows on eBay, but what you really want is a few minutes now and then on someone else's. I would get on the phone and call around to the places that help with business presentations (e.g. Kinkos as was) and ordinary copy shops.

If you are willing to stand the cost of new matte, ask at picture framers. They must know how to do it.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:11 AM on July 31

Thank you for so many creative solutions! A few additional details that may be helpful.

- The font I am envisioning is type writer font. I don't think a calligrapher would pull that off well. It's also why I was searching for some kind of flat type writer.
- I don't have any kind of printer at home, only at work, which is why I thought the solution I linked to sounded like a pain. If I made a placement mistake I'd have to print a second time and take it home, etc. I'd like to avoid buying a printer since I don't think I would ever use it again.
- I'm in NYC, so if anyone knows of any type of space that would rent this equipment - sounds like a flat bed printer is what I'm looking for - cheaply by the hour (like a coworking/creative space), please let me know.
- If I can't manage to get the correct equipment, I'm leaning toward the stamps. I understand why they are labor-intensive, but I don't understand why Mizu called them expensive. The metal stamp punches wenestvedt linked to are 20 bucks. Do I need a different (more expensive) kind of stamp?
- The mats are all different sizes - from (roughly) 4x6 to something that's long horizontally, like 15x11.
posted by unannihilated at 7:32 AM on July 31

This seems like a job for a screen printer. If there are any T-shirt/poster printers in your area, they can probably do this. You could also have them make the screen and do the actual printing yourself to save some money (I've had screens made for about $20).

Another more DIY option would be to buy a Print Gocco setup, which is basically a tiny home screen-print machine.
posted by adamrice at 7:34 AM on July 31

I'm very fond of Frisket paper and think it might work well for your need. Graphix Frisket. You can roll it through a typewriter, perhaps one title to a page so you can place it like you want it.
posted by MovableBookLady at 7:54 AM on July 31

Typewriter look? It seems worth contacting a print shop that does custom letterpress work. (Imagine an old style printing press and laying out the content letter by letter using tiny bits of metal type)
posted by Gable Oak at 9:09 AM on July 31

I used to have an inkjet printer that had a straight path feed. You could stick the mat in the back and it would pass through without any bends.

Inkjet printers marketed as being suitable for printing onto CDs should work for this as well.
posted by flabdablet at 9:22 AM on July 31

Adhesive vinyl can be cut very precisely, think like artwork wall labels at museums. A vinyl signmaker can make vinyl decals of your text for you, as could a competent scrapbooker with a Cricut or Silhouette cutting machine. Also check etsy for custom decals, but you might have to wade through a lot of people offering giant wall lettering decals.
posted by yeahlikethat at 10:02 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]

Dry-transfer lettering is another option. Should be available at Michaels or other hobby store.
posted by rhizome at 10:35 AM on July 31

Metal stamp punches are a different thing than what I was thinking of. Rubber stamps for scrapbooking are, in my mind, outrageously overpriced. But I've just spent a few minutes looking at the online offerings and I guess they're less pricey than I remembered them being back when I stocked them meticulously by hand during my ill-fated stint as a michael's minion.
posted by Mizu at 2:07 PM on July 31

Find someone with an Epson 9900 or similar large format printer. I suspect a big copy shop (that does posters) in your area might have one. The Googles suggest that these have a straight-through path that can print on mat board just fine.
posted by straw at 3:16 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]

(Barring that, I'd see if your local T-shirt printer would try putting mat board on their T-shirt printer platen for their inkjet printer. I don't know what the resolution is, but it's probably high enough to do lettering, and I know the shirt platen has adjustable height for different thickness fabrics.)
posted by straw at 3:19 PM on July 31

I understand why they are labor-intensive, but I don't understand why Mizu called them expensive.

I read Mizu's post a couple times too, and was wondering the same thing. It's possible she meant (prior to your clarification on the font you're looking to use) you'd have to get a whole set of different stamps, and inks in different colors, under the assumption that you're wanting to use different fonts/ colors/ lettering styles. Given you're envisioning just a single typewriter font, the costs of stamping look to be relatively inexpensive.
posted by Everydayville at 3:34 PM on July 31

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