One of the latest trends in high-end art and home décor is the metal print: a photograph or other piece of artwork printed on a metal substrate (see Displate). While this seems straightforward, there is some confusion as to what a metal print is and isn’t, and how it differs from traditional photo prints.
Dye-Sublimation Metal Prints
When people refer to metal prints, they are most likely referring to prints made through the dye-sublimation process. It is not new: dye-sublimation was discovered in France in 1957 by Noël de Plasse, a researcher at textile company Lainière de Roubaix, who noticed that some solid dyes could transition to the gaseous phase without ever becoming a liquid. This was dubbed “transfer printing,” and it is used extensively to print on textiles, paper and other materials to create fabrics, banners, signs and even household items such as mugs.
Printing photographs on metal, most commonly aluminum, is a newer application of this process. Roger Laudy, a professional printer and owner of Image Wizards in Kentucky, is said to have developed the technique for creating metal prints through dye sublimation in 2003.
The most popular brands that create metal prints with the dye-sublimation process include Laudy’s Image Wizards, ChromaLuxe® and Unisub®, the last two of which are brands under the Universal Woods company. While each specific company may put their own spin on creating dye sublimation metal prints, the core process is the same.
To make a metal print made with the dye-sublimation process, the image is first printed in reverse onto sublimation paper using special inks. After the print is cut to size, it is secured on top of a coated aluminum sheet in a heat press. The heat and pressure cause the ink to turn into a gas and bond to the metal.
UV Metal Prints
Another method of printing photos onto metal is UV curable inkjet printing. In this method, an image is directly printed onto aluminum with special inks, which cure under UV light. This deposits the ink on top of the aluminum substrate — rather than combine with it, as in dye-sublimation — so there is no sheen to the ink as in other metal prints.
There are other types of prints that may be referred to as metal prints, but they are actually misnomers. A metallic print is simply a photo printed on metallic paper, which features multiple sheets of paper and laminate, often Mylar.
Where to Hang Metal Prints
Metal prints can be treated like any other framed photo print, except they are a little bit longer-lasting. Metal prints are ideal for bathrooms: they are waterproof, and because no glazing is necessary, there’s no risk of moisture buildup underneath the glass or acrylic.
While they are durable, metal prints should not be hung in direct sunlight — any dye will fade in intense UV light, though perhaps not as quickly as regular photographic paper. Certain ChromaLuxe® metal prints, however, are specifically designed to be hung outside in direct sunlight, thanks to their special UV coatings.
Framing Metal Prints
Because metal prints created with the dye-sublimation process are durable, scratch-resistant and won’t degrade like regular photo prints, they don’t require all of the normally recommended protective framing materials in a complete frame package, such as mat board and glazing.
But you can still dress up a metal print with the right metal or wood frame. Your print may arrive with a hanging block, which is a piece of wood or metal featuring a small hole that allows you to hang an unframed metal print; whether the metal print has a hanging block determines if you’ll need a backing board when ordering a frame for a metal print.
If the metal print has a hanging block — which can make it over a half-inch thick — two-toned metal frame profile 37 and frame profile 94 are great choices to display them. For metal prints without a hanging block, metal frame profile 97 and frame profile 99, with their shallow rabbets, are ideal for those thin metal prints.
Metal prints can be beautifully framed in either wood or metal — after you have your print, it’s simply a matter of choosing what you like best!