Aluminum printing has becoming quite prolific over the last few years and with it's rise in popularity we have complied this blog to address some of the common questions, concerns, and queries about aluminum printing.
From a file standpoint, which images are best suited for aluminum printing:
The best images are high contrast and low key with vibrant, dramatic, bold colors. The reason for this is with aluminum printing softer, subtle transitions don't give the smoothest effect, nor are the transitions as seamless (due to the nature of how the images are printed). For example, a soft focus image, fog filled landscape, or image with muted color would not be the best option for a high gloss, vibrant aluminum print. Basically you want to play to the medium's strengths.
What should be avoided for aluminum printing as it pertains to the digital file/image:
It would be best to avoid images with low light, and high amounts of midtone grey (ie. no true blacks or whites). Low light images can have a certain amount of noise (usually because of the ISO and/or shutter speed necessary to capture the image). When it comes to aluminum printing this noise can become extensive and more prominent. For image with high amounts of midtone grey, this can lead to dull (or dark) looking aluminum prints (Although this is also true in photography in general; however, it only becomes more apparent when printed on aluminum).
The easiest way to double check an image is in photoshop with curves: simply open up the curves tab (Ctrl+M, or Image-Adjustment-Curves). If the curves graph consists of a spike on the left-middle of the graph then the image would likely be too midtone. A good image will have a more even distribution.
What is the best viewing application/environment:
Aluminum print are unique when it comes to wall art as virtually every other wall art medium will absorb most of the light which it comes in contact with whereas aluminum is incredibly reflective. The type of lighting the print is viewed in will have an impact on the colors, luminosity, and vibrancy (or at least more so than its counterparts: photoprints, canvas etc). For example, natural light, florescent, LED light or a mix of any of these combinations will lead to a perceived color shift. Ideally, a more natural light setting will yield the closest coloring and the coloring most representative of the original digital file (next followed by LED, then florescent). If the final destination for an aluminum print is in a low natural light setting let your printer know so the correct adjustments can be made prior to printing.
Another common concern when viewing an aluminum print is proximity. Aluminum prints are by nature intended (although not always used as) wall art; further, for this reason they are ideally viewed from a distance of at least a few feet. In the same way an album would not be viewed from across a room, aluminum prints are best not viewed hand distance or closer. The process of printing an aluminum consist of printing small micro dots: these dots expand to fill the gaps but a subtle dot pattern texture can sometimes be visible close up; however, from even a small distance the eye will blend these dots away (like a pointillism microcosm). Conventional printing on photopaper or canvas, will have the print head create overlapping lines to make a smoother transition. This smoother transition will allow the image to be viewed close up without any disruption.
How big/small can an aluminum print be printed?
It goes without saying that the digital file needs to be of a certain size and caliber to accommodate the size of a print, and every lab will have their min/max size they are capable of printing; however, an interesting note about aluminum prints is that (as long as the file size can support the printing size) the larger the image the better resolution (so to speak). This is again due to the unique printing process of aluminum.
A standard image will consist of the overlapping lines, as mentioned, but he pixel size will differ depending on the image size, file size, and resolution. With aluminum prints the micro dots remain the same size. For example a 2x2 grid is made up of 4 pixels, and a 4x4 grid 16. To relate this to printing if you were to print an image on a 2x2 grid you would have 4 square to work with in order to create your image, now if you had 16 squares to create the exact same image it would be much cleared (like how the Super Nintendo operated at 16 bits whereas the Nintendo was only 8 bits: compare Mario from the 2 systems to see the dramatic difference). This is a simplified form of how aluminum printers work: an 8x10 image will have less clarity than if the same one was printed at 30x40.
Why aluminum prints over: photopaper, canvas, acrylic?
Every medium has it's own advantages and disadvantages but aluminum prints have by far the most advantages and the fewest disadvantages. Color vibrancy: Aluminum. Greatest Dynamic Range: Aluminum. Richest Blacks: Aluminum. "Wow" factor: Aluminum.
The biggest advantage for selling aluminum is that clients/customers are less familiar with aluminum so it's "wow" factor it's arguably it's greatest asset. Most people are familiar with photopaper prints (some can even print them at home on their own printer) and canvas (which is available through so many outlets albeit with drastically varying degrees of quality). The wow factor of seeing an aluminum for the first time blows the other mediums away in this, and also in most other regards.
This will conclude part 1 of our blog, please let us know any specific questions you may have for our upcoming part 2!