Printing photos on sheets of aluminum in contrast to printing them on paper is an option offered by some photo labs. These metal prints, as they are called, present colors in all their vibrancy and show texture and detail so well that most photos “pop out” at the viewer in an effect that’s almost like 3-D.
Photo labs use the dye sublimation process to produce them. In that process, the lab prints the customer’s photo on a transfer, which is a special paper infused with color inks called sublimation dyes. Then the lab places a sheet of aluminum atop the transfer and applies pressure and heat of about 400 degrees Fahrenheit to the “sandwich” of aluminum and transfer. Under this heat and pressure, the dyes turn into gases and infuse the aluminum’s special coating with the image. (Metal prints are also available in black and white.)
Metal prints come in a variety of finishes, including glossy (shiny and reflective) and matte (dull and non-reflective). Once the customer chooses a photo lab, he should ask which finish is best for the photo he wants to reproduce. Sometimes the best finish for a
portrait is different from one for a landscape.
The aluminum these photos are printed on is thin yet rigid. Available print sizes range from business-card size to 40 inches x 60 inches or larger depending on the lab. Metal prints come in a greater variety of shapes than paper prints. Besides square and rectangle, available shapes are circles and ovals and prints with irregular edges.
The makers of metal prints say they will last longer than paper prints, although they do not give an estimate in years for how long the colors will last before beginning to fade. However, as with paper prints, metal prints should not be displayed in direct sunllight. Even though some come with a scratch-resistant coating, they can be scratched. Handle them carefully. To prevent scratching, display metal prints as quickly as possible and leave them on display. Do not pass them around among family and friends as is done with paper prints. If it will be awhile before the prints are displayed, cushion them well in soft material.
Since metal prints are waterproof, they are a good choice for damp areas such as kitchens and bathrooms. As for cleaning, get instructions from the photo lab where the print was purchased. However, cleaning a metal print with a soft cloth dampened with water will usually do no harm. To remove fingerprints, use a cloth that is soft and dry.
Photo labs offer many ways to display metal prints. For one, they offer special frames for metal prints, since traditional frames for paper photos are not suitable. An inexpensive way to display a lightweight, moderate-size metal print is to use double-sided tape to attach it. If the customer does not want to mar surfaces with tape, he can use an easel. If the customer wants to hang the photo, different photo labs offer different
hanging systems. Some hanging systems allow the customer to “float” the print away from the wall in fractions of an inch. Customers can also display metal prints by hanging them up by the corner holes they requested the lab to put in them. Just like framing artwork, certain display systems can add significantly to the cost, although prices vary by lab.
Metal prints are more expensive than paper prints. An online search shows a number of national photo labs that make metal prints, among them Adorama Pix, Aluminyze, Bay Photo, Fromex, Image Wizards, Imaging Resource, Large Metal Prints, Magna Chrome, Picture It On Canvas, Walgreens and White Wall. Some freestanding local labs make them too. If the customer is not in a hurry, he can save money by waiting for sales. Typically, photo labs offer savings around holidays such as Christmas, Mother’s Day,Father’s Day and at graduation time. Do regular online searches to catch sales.