Acrylic, Metal Or Paper? The Best Fine Art Print Mediums Explained

Acrylic, Metal or Photographic Paper? The Best  Fine Art Print Mediums Explained

These days, you can have your photographs printed onto almost anything. Care to see your photos printed on a natural plank of wood freshly cut from a tree? No problem. A slab of cold steel? You betcha. How about a t-shirt, coffee cup or a backpack? Consider it done my friend. In fact, you can have it printed onto sequins, that when brushed in the opposite direction, reveal a kaleidoscope of metallic rainbows. Now you know you want to see that! Printing technologies have come a very long way in recent decades providing new and exciting opportunities for both artists and art collectors alike, but which of the mediums available are the best of the best? Keep reading to learn more starting with the more traditional and least expensive option, through a solid mid range choice and ultimately to what I believe is the very best your money can buy.

Dancing In The Darkness

Fine Art Limited Edition of 100 - Antelope Canyon was formed by erosion of Navajo Sandstone, primarily due to flash flooding and secondarily due to other sub-aerial processes. Rainwater, especially during monsoon season, runs into the extensive basin above the slot canyon sections, picking up speed and sand as it rushes into the narrow passageways. Over time the passageways eroded away, making the corridors deeper and smoothing hard edges in such a way as to form characteristic "flowing" shapes in the rock.

1. FujiFlex Crystal Archive Super Gloss | Traditional Photographic Paper Prints

  What is FujiFlex Super Gloss? FujiFlex is a silver-halide digital photographic paper with a polyester-based coating. The  Fuji website describes it as "A white polyester-based material for use with conventional and laser printers, FujiFlex Crystal Archive Printing Material produces rich image color and pure whites, with exceptional surface gloss and flatness." While there are many high quality fine art photographic papers available today, FujiFlex Super Gloss is my personal choice out of all photographic papers due to the high gloss surface and visual depth provided by the polyester-based surface material inherent of this print medium. Visually, the best way I can describe this paper is that it has the appearance of being wet due to the incredible high gloss surface.

 FujiFlex is typically either framed traditionally, or face mounted to acrylic glass prior to being displayed. It is absolutely critical that some type of substrate be used to mount the print prior to framing. The reflective high gloss properties of Flex are absolutely gorgeous, but if hinge mounted or taped without any flat surface substrate prior to framing, the high gloss surface shows ripples in the paper that stick out like a sore thumb in changing light. For this reason alone, I have all of my SuperGloss prints mounted to 2mm styrene prior to shipping to my customers. I have experienced far too many subpar frame shops ruin prints trying to frame these pieces without dry mounting them first. 

Sandamonium

Fine Art Limited Edition of 50 - Mudcracks (also known as desiccation cracks, mud cracks or cracked mud) are sedimentary structures formed as muddy sediment dries and contracts. Crack formation also occurs in clay-bearing soils as a result of a reduction in water content.

 For many years, FujiFlex SuperGloss prints that had been face-mounted to acrylic glass were the go-to choice of high end photography galleries around the world. Many galleries still produce and sell face mounted Flex prints as their premium product. Face mounting Flex can be very challenging, as a single speck of dust or dirt adhering to the polyester surface will ruin the print when mounted. This is a very costly error at any size but especially so in large gallery level sizes of 45" or larger. Because of these challenges and the high operating and material costs, there are a limited number of consumer print shops who produce face mounted Flex prints. 

  While one of the most expensive photographic papers available, this type of print (prior to being face-mounted) is still far less costly than a finished, ready to hang metal or acrylic face-mounted print. The downside of course is that photographic paper prints like FujiFlex need to be mounted to some form of substrate and framed prior to being displayed. Especially true with larger photographic prints greater than 30" wide, this additional cost of mounting and framing brings the final cost up to or even in some cases surpassing the cost of a finished metal or acrylic print. As a result, photographic paper prints like FujiFlex make up less than 10% of my annual print sales. I would much rather see my customers spend their hard earned money on larger, higher quality artwork then to dump needless costs into expensive eternal framing. 

Royalty

Fine Art Limited Edition of 100 - The Maroon Bells are two peaks in the Elk Mountains, Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak, separated by about a third of a mile. The mountains are on the border between Pitkin County and Gunnison County, Colorado, United States, about 12 miles southwest of Aspen. Both peaks are fourteeners. Maroon Peak, at 14,163 feet (4317.0 m), is the 27th highest peak in Colorado. North Maroon Peak, at 14,019 feet (4273.0 m), is the 50th highest. The view of the Maroon Bells to the southwest from the Maroon Creek valley is commonly photographed. The peaks are located in the Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness of White River National Forest.

2. ChromaLuxe Sublimation Metal Prints

  A relatively new technology, sublimation prints produced with ChromaLuxe panels are a favorite of many photographers and there are good reasons for this excitement. By infusing dyes directly into specially coated aluminum sheeting, ChromaLuxe offers a print medium showing results that are outstandingly clear and vibrant with exceptional detail. They are fade, water and scratch resistant. ChromaLuxe prints are also lightweight and are produced with a float mount arriving ready to hang with no additional framing required. The ChromaLuxe Metal prints that I offer can be produced with an additional 2mm styrene backboard and black museum mount for greater weight and a more polished, gallery quality look. 

  The combination of all of these benefits is the reason I recommend ChromaLuxe Metal Prints to a large majority of my business clients. When artwork may come in contact with the general public, the durability of ChromaLuxe is hard to beat and the lightweight nature of this material makes display and transportation a breeze, even for non-professionals. That being said, ChromaLuxe prints make up just over 20% of the work that I sell to my clients around the world.

  Unfortunately, there are a few undeniable issues that must be taken into account when using ChromaLuxe for your fine art prints. The first and most critical of these is the possibility of innacurate color reproduction. While most colors can be produced close to the original image file there are others, most notably the color green, that simply give poor results to the non-discerning eye. Extremely fine details are also lost in some cases during the sublimation process, especially apparent in smaller scale prints. 

  Because a transfer paper is taped down to the ChromaLuxe panel and a heat press used during production, minor slippage of the transfer paper and "overcooking" the print is possible. Due to the relatively simple printing process, there are many "quick print" photo labs out there turning out poor quality prints that often times aren't even looked over for quality control. Finally, due to the way the substrate is produced by the manufacturer, in rare cases, metal prints can chip and flake, ruining a beautiful piece of art with no possible way to repair it. Because of the potential downsides of producing metal prints as fine art, when asked which print medium I ultimately recommend, my answer is always Lumachrome Acrylic Face Mounted Prints. 

Liquidity In Blue

Fine Art Limited Edition of 50 - Meltwater is water released by the melting of snow or ice, including glacial ice, tabular icebergs and ice shelves over oceans. Meltwater is often found in the ablation zone of glaciers, where the rate of snow cover is reducing. Meltwater can be produced during volcanic eruptions, in a similar way in which the more dangerous laharsform.

fine art, abstract, limited edition, blue, photo

Blue Thunder

3. Lumachrome HD Acrylic Prints

 The most incredible finished gallery quality pieces that I offer are original photo prints under acrylic glass produced with LUMACHROME HD technology. Lumachrome HD Prints are consistently my top recommendation to clients and fellow photographers alike. This gallery quality process begins by producing a photographic print as a transparency that is then face mounted from behind to a sheet of crystal clear acrylic glass. Images have an incredible 3d quality full of vibrant sharp details, beautiful tone and incredible color. 

 Light that falls across and reflects off of the face of these prints is visually "trapped" within the acrylic glass and when properly lit, appears to be illuminated or back-lit. A ChromaLuxe (metal) print does not share this same reaction to light. Lumachrome acrylic prints have a silver, almost pearl-like luminescence that adds to the overall luxury feel of these incredible pieces. As various qualities of changing light fall across the walls of your home, the luminescence of the art changes as well bringing the work to life before your very eyes. 

 Each piece is crafted by hand, inspected and polished leaving a lasting brilliance and shine with no detail overlooked. The face-mounted acrylic is back mounted to a sheet of DiBond, an aluminum composite with a polyethylene core that is extremely stable and ridged. Finally, this fine art piece is finished and fixed with a deluxe handmade Italian ROMA recessed float mount on the reverse allowing the artwork to be displayed without the need for an external frame of any kind. This process offers a clean, museum quality presentation and modern look that will dramatically enhance any private home or business.

 Beginning November 2018, all of my acrylic face mounted prints have been produced using TruLife Anti-Reflective Acrylic. This revolutionary product delivers the highest-resolution viewing experience of photographic artwork available today. With incredible depth and clarity, TruLife is the best way to show high end art. TruLife features a single-sided virtually invisible anti-reflective coating allowing viewers to see the finest details of the print without the hinderance of glare. TruLife also is UV-filtering, abrasion resistant, and anti-static offering uncompromising protection and preservation.

These Lumachrome HD, TruLife Acrylic prints make up the large majority of the work that I sell and are far more beautiful in person than I can describe using words. They truly need to be seen to be appreciated. 

    The Fire Within

    Fine Art Limited Edition of 100 - Antelope Canyon is visited exclusively through guided tours, in part because rains during monsoon season can quickly flood the canyon. Rain does not have to fall on or near the Antelope Canyon slots for flash floods to whip through, as rain falling dozens of miles away upstream of the canyons can funnel into them with little prior notice.

    I hope you have enjoyed this summary of the worlds best photographic print mediums available today. If you are interested in the fine art prints that I offer and have other questions not added in this article, please feel free to connect with me directly through my website. If you are a producer of a new exciting print medium that you would like me to evaluate I encourage you to reach out to me to discuss this opportunity. 

    Posted in Fine Art Photography and tagged Fine Art.