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.

Tunnel Vision

Fine Art Limited Edition of 50 - Tunnel vision is the loss of peripheral vision with retention of central vision, resulting in a constricted circular tunnel-like field of vision.

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.

Eternal Beauty

Fine Art Limited Edition of 50 - Mount Rainier National Park is a United States National Park located in southeast Pierce County and northeast Lewis County in Washington state. It was established on March 2, 1899 as the fifth national park in the United States. The park encompasses 236,381 acres (369.35 sq mi; 956.60 km2) including all of Mount Rainier, a 14,411-foot (4,392 m) stratovolcano. The mountain rises abruptly from the surrounding land with elevations in the park ranging from 1,600 feet to over 14,000 feet (490 - 4,300 m). The highest point in the Cascade Range, around it are valleys, waterfalls, subalpine meadows, old-growth forest and more than 25 glaciers. The volcano is often shrouded in clouds that dump enormous amounts of rain and snow on the peak every year.

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. 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 some 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 5% 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. Metal prints are highly reflective and can be distracting in some display environments.

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 or Fujiflex Acrylic Face Mounted Prints.

Firesticks

Fine Art Limited Edition of 100 - Fog begins to form when water vapor condenses into tiny liquid water droplets suspended in the air. Six examples of ways that water vapor is added to the air are by wind convergence into areas of upward motion; precipitation or virga falling from above; daytime heating evaporating water from the surface of oceans, water bodies, or wet land; transpiration from plants; cool or dry air moving over warmer water; and lifting air over mountains.

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 second sheet of acrylic. 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.

    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.