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What are metal prints and why they’re amazing! Everything you need to know (Buying Guide)

It’s hard to illustrate how superior metal prints are on a computer screen. But, if you were to see them next to a traditional photo print in person, the difference would be like night and day. Follow this buying guide to learn everything there is about metal prints.

There are numerous ways and mediums of printing and displaying art. You can have a piece of art printed on a photographic paper that you then frame and display, you can have it printed on canvas for that classic yet very popular look, you can have it made as an acrylic print for a more modern look, or you could print it on metal and see everyone’s jaws drop.

If you’re a techie, comparing a metal print to a normal photo print is like comparing an old TFT smartphone display to a high end AMOLED display. The blacks are deeper and the colors really pop. So…

What are metal prints?

Contrary to what you might think at first, metal prints, also known as metallic or aluminum prints, aren’t normal prints on metallic photo paper. Metal prints are modern art pieces printed on a sheet of aluminum. Their creation process makes them part art, part science, and the result is an outstandingly clear and vibrant print with exceptional detail and resolution.

If you want to make a huge visual impact and give everyone that jaw-dropping effect, metal prints are the way to go!

Due to the fact that they’re printed directly on an aluminum sheet, metal prints are very durable, scratch resistant, waterproof, and can last a lifetime. But are all metal prints equal?

Metal print thickness

How are metal prints made?

Regarding the printing process, they can be either printed directly on a sheet of aluminum, or heat infused into it through a process known as dye sublimation.

Cheaper metal prints are printed directly onto an aluminum sheet, and of course this will result in an inferior quality product as the ink will reside on top of the metal, will be easily scratchable and directly exposed to the elements.

The dye sublimation method offers a much higher quality product with the ink being infused into the coating to provide the perfect protection. This also gives the print an unsurpassed resolution and color vibrancy. We use the dye-sublimation process and all our images are infused into the metal sheets at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

This printing method is more complex and expensive than an ordinary print, requiring a special sublimation printer and a large pneumatic heat press.

Despite this, high quality metal prints provide an incredibly value. They don’t need framing or glass, are very resistant, come ready to hang, and will easily outlast normal paper prints.

With dye sublimation, the image is first printed on a paper transfer media on a giclee printer with specialized sublimation inks made for the metal print process.

This sheet is then taped on to blank metal photo panel which is then placed in the heat press. The heat and pressure causes the sublimation inks to transform into a gas, which is then absorbed through the pores of the polymer coating of the metal and into the base coating. As the metal cools, the pores close and the metal surface stabilizes. A protective substrate is then applied to protect the image.

LexJet has an amazing video of the process:

The quality of the aluminum is also very important, as well as the actual thickness of the sheet. While other, cheaper prints will wobble and bend, prints from Arkadiant are 0.1 inches thick, making them one of the thickest aluminum sheets available on the market and incredibly durable.

There are a lot of low quality, overly thin metal photo panels that literally wobble when you shake them, not to mention bend, and have flat and inaccurate colors. If you’re planning on purchasing a metal print and don’t know what brand of photo panel it’s printed on, we recommend you look somewhere else. You don’t want your new artwork to be printed on a Pepsi can.

Shameless plug, but you can check out our metal prints, which are made with ChromaLuxe aluminum. ChromaLuxe is the world’s leading manufacturer of high-definition sublimatable photo panels and is used by professional photo labs and high quality printers.

Chromaluxe aluminum

You can learn more about ChromaLuxe and our prints here:

What makes our metal prints special and why you should purchase from us. 

Printing Substrate

Metal prints have two coating options. They can have a white base or a silver base. This coat serves the same purpose as the paper in normal photographic prints. The ink is absorbed in this area of the metal panel, and it is then protected by an outer coating, usually Matte or Glossy.

The white base is opaque and the most popular choice. It is rich in colors and has high contrast. The print will turn out clear, maintaining the whites in the highlights and darks in the shadows. Photos printed on a bright white base are super vivid, showing every detail of the image.

The silver base is also known as clear metal base and it is transparent, exposing the metal behind it. The whitest point available is the metal’s silver, so the images will look darker, with metal being visible in the highlights.

At Arkadiant, we’re interested on the crispy clear look of our photographs, so the substrate we’re using is Bright White.

Matte or Glossy Metal Prints?

The final protective coating of the print can be either Matte or Gloss, with some manufacturers offering a couple other options like Satin or Semi-Gloss.

Each finish can give the print a different look.

Glossy is the most popular and eye-catching option. It has the most vivid colors, but at the expense of some glare or reflections. If you’re going to display the print in a room with a lot of lights, or want to admire the details on it, we’d recommend staying away from glossy.

The Matte finish is the most glare free with reflections reduced to a minimum, although it is a little lower in contrast. On the plus side, with no reflections you can truly admire the details on the print.

Arkadiant only offers Matte or Gloss finishes.

How long do metal prints last?

ChromaLuxe prints have a display permanence rating of 65 years, three times more than Kodak Silver Halide Prints (one of the most archival forms of printing photos), according to Wilhelm Imaging Research.

Under identical testing parameters, Kodak Endura silver-halide prints framed under glass achieve a WIR Display Permanence Rating of 19 years.

This isn’t just marketing, Wilhelm Imaging Research is an authority on archival and preservation for the photographic, digital, and printing industries that provides testing services and conservation advice. They’re widely recognized as the world’s leading independent print permanence testing laboratory, and they’ve conducted comprehensive, multi-factor print permanence tests on ChromaLuxe in 2016. You can read their press release.

But what does the “display permanence” rating mean? And how exactly is it tested?

The rating is equal to the number of years before any noticeable fading and/or changes in color balance occur at a high level of light. Under WIR fade criteria, the naked eye may notice some fade at this time when compared to a newly printed print.

What about prints that last 100 years or more?

You might have seen advertisements of prints that last without degradation for over 100 years, or some even higher numbers. This is where the testing methodology comes in. Kodak, for example, is known for using different testing methods for predicting image life in a way that will benefit them. 

But wouldn’t everyone do it? This is why independent research and reviews are important.

There are some archival papers in the 100+ year range but these are all matte or semi-matte papers. The gloss finish of ChromaLuxe is more vibrant than any other gloss photographic media, and outlasts all of them.

Wilhelm Imaging Research is an independent lab, and their testing is one of the harshest out there, done at 450 lux, while Kodak uses 120 lux in most of their tests.

A lux is a measure of light intensity and is used to measure the amount of light output in a given area. You’ve certainly seen lux as a performance indicator for flashlights. It measures the total amount of visible light present and the intensity of the illumination on a surface.

Since colors degrade as they’re exposed to light, the life of any print will be shorter when exposed to more intense light, and longer when exposed to low light. So if you want to preserve them for thousands of years, keep them in the dark! Although, that kind of defeats their purpose, doesn’t it? Here are typical lux levels found in everyday life:

  • Museums and Galleries: 50 – 150 lux
  • Hotel Room: 100 lux
  • Home: 150 – 300 lux
  • Retail Store: 300 – 500 lux
  • Outdoor (overcast): 1,000 to 2,0000 lux
  • Outdoor (daylight, in shade): 10,000 to 20,000 lux

You may have noticed museums and galleries are poorly lit.This is to preserve the colors of the art pieces or artifacts they display. Since 450 lux is a rare occurrence in any home, you can expect ChromaLuxe prints to last well over 100 years under normal lighting conditions.

Metal prints float mount

Can metal prints be displayed outside?

Due to the fact that they’re printed on aluminum, metal prints are waterproof and weather resistant. They will hold up better than any other type of print.

They don’t have any iron or steel in them, so they are non ferrous and will not rust.

The only thing to keep in mind when displaying metal prints outside is that there is more light outside, which will fade the prints faster.

Looking at the above numbers, overcast has a level of 1,000 lux, while a sunny day will give out between 10,000 and 20,000 lux. Direct sunlight exposure yields OVER 100,000 lux, significantly reducing the lifetime of the print.

So yes, you can display them outside, but we recommend you only do so for a limited time and absolutely avoid direct sunlight exposure. If you want to display metal prints outside permanently, be aware that they will fade faster.

Do I need to frame metal prints?

The simple and quick answer is no. The corners are round and the metal is scratch resistant. On top of that you can clean them with any commercial glass cleaner, like Windex, or just wipe them with a damp cloth.

Do I need to protect them with glass?

Metal prints don’t need to be behind glass! They’re very durable because they’re made of metal (duh!) and our prints use ChromaLuxe aluminum of the highest quality possible. ChromaLuxe’s superior archival qualities provide the peace of mind that your images will be enjoyed for generations to come.

How are metal prints hanged?

Metal prints come with a recessed float mount that gives the impressions of them floating of the wall. Some are made of wood and have a piece of string used for hanging, while ours have their back made also of aluminum.

Metal print mount

How do you maintain or clean metal prints?

No maintaining needs to be done, other than cleaning them from time to time when they gather dust or fingerprints. You can clean them with any commercial window cleaner, like Windex.

We hope this article answers all of your questions on metal prints. If you’re curious how they compare to canvas prints, check out our article on Metal Prints vs Canvas Prints.

The world around us is evolving. 4K TVs are the norm, our smartphones and displays are incredibly high resolution. Time to upgrade your wall art as well!

Don’t forget to check out our store!

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