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What Are Acrylic Photo Prints? A Detailed Explanation

acrylic photo print above bed

All You Need To Know - A Complete Guide To Acrylic Prints

When it comes to bringing a photograph to life, you can’t go past acrylic prints.

They’re unique in how they create depth & an almost 3D quality to an image.

They can sometimes come at a higher price point than other print mediums, but they offer vibrancy, colour saturation, longevity as well as simply looking really cool!

So I put together this handy guide so you can get a better understanding of this fabulous photo printing option.

What Is Acrylic?

Acrylic is a type of clear plastic.

The chemical name for it is polymethyl methacrylate .. bit of a mouthful .. or PMMA.

Sometimes referred to as Plexiglass, this is just a brand name of PMMA.

Although it's plastic, the type used in photographic printing isn’t a cheap or low quality product.

Sometimes called acrylic glass because of it’s similarity to glass.

We think of glass as being clear, but it can create a green hue.

Absolute clear glass is available & is used for printing & mounting photographs, but at a significantly higher cost.

This is what makes acrylic ideal for photographic prints, as it’s completely clear, won’t break or shatter & weighs considerably less.


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Also unlike clear glass, acrylic has a refractive quality.

This is what creates the effect of an acrylic photo print taking on an almost luminous look.

How Are Acrylic Prints Made?

There’s 2 ways to transfer a photograph to an acrylic sheet.

1. Direct Print

As the name suggests, the image is printed in reverse directly to the back of the acrylic sheet.

This way when viewed from the front it’s the correct way around.

Then a backing substrate is used to seal & protect the inks.

Because the inks are laid directly on clear acrylic, they take on a translucent quality.

Different backing substrates will create a different finished look.

Often white is used, as being neutral, it renders the colours more accurately.

But polished aluminium can produce a lovely shimmer to the image.

1. Face Mount

The most widely used method, the image is 1st printed to photographic paper which is then mounted face forward to the back of the acrylic sheet.

Again, when viewed from the front you’re seeing the image the right way around.

With both methods, the photograph is viewed through a thickness of acrylic.

Because acrylic has refractive properties, it gives the depth & luminosity these prints are famous for.

And the thicker the acrylic the deeper & richer the colours.

If you’d like to delve into more detail about how these prints are made, here’s an article going into more depth:


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Which Are Best - Direct Or Face Mount Prints?

Straight up .. face mount prints deliver better image quality.

It’s for this reason it’s the most widely used method even though it’s more expensive.

They produce more detail in the print, richer colours & better contrast.

This is because the image is printed to photographic paper which offers better sharpness & detail.

Especially when metallic paper is used, an even greater level of vibrancy, deeper colours & overall punch is achieved.

But I always feel the word “best” is subjective.

Not every image is going to benefit from having more contrast, colour depth & punchiness.

Certain landscape images or portraiture may not suit this level of vibrancy for example, a more subtle approach is required.

In which case a direct print may be a more suitable option.

Direct prints can have a more translucent effect & offer their own qualities.

Here’s an article if you wish to explore further the pros & cons of direct printing vs face mount prints:


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How Long Will An Acrylic Print Last?

Acrylic prints are very durable & can last for decades.

Some tests have even shown in the optimal conditions a print will last 120 years.

These prints haven’t been around that long, but even if these tests are being generous, you’ll be enjoying your print for a couple of decades at least.

Of course, the main factor is the quality of the print to begin with.

Like many things, you can spend more & get quality, or buy cheap & get not so good quality.

I can’t speak for the department store bought prints, as some could be made to a high standard whilst the cheaper dollar stores not so much.

But if you’re buying a print through an artist or photographer, we do make sure to use reputable & professional print labs.

If you’re printing your own photograph, then just make sure to use a quality print lab.

Why Acrylic Prints Last So Long

Good quality acrylic glass will offer very high UV protection.

This will prevent fading from exposure to sunlight.

Of course, constant exposure to the sun & any type of print will eventually cause bleaching & colour degradation.

Another factor in their longevity is that the print, whether direct or face mount, is sealed between the acrylic & the backing substrate.

This prevents airbourne contaminants & pollutants, as well as moisture or humidity, from affecting the inks & photographic paper.

Getting back to quality, many print labs now use UV resistant inks.

So quality inks, printed on high grade photographic paper, sealed behind a UV protecting acrylic sheet, you end up with an archival print that’s going to last a very long time.


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Are HD Prints Different To Regular Acrylic Prints?

It’s a term that can be bandied about a bit too often.

HD stands for “high definition” & by definition, any face mounted acrylic print will be HD.

But it’s often an overused term to help promote these types of prints.

The reason these prints are called HD is because of the refractive quality of viewing the image through acrylic.

Light passes through the refractive acrylic glass & creates the effect of illuminating the image.

Add to that, printing the image to metallic photographic paper, which offers a higher level of detail & colour depth, you end up with an amazing product.


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Do Acrylic Prints Need Framing?

The appeal of acrylic prints is their modern, clean & contemporary look.

Also with thicker acrylic, you can see the print through the clear edges when standing side on.

There are prints made with 3mm or 6mm acrylic sheets & I guess if you really wanted to you could work out a framing option.

But because acrylic prints are more expensive, framing one is just detracting from it’s unique frameless look.

If you want that 3D depth to your print but still want a frame, I’d recommend metal prints, as they also produce stunning quality, but are cheaper, thinner, more lightweight & can be framed very easily.

It is possible to create a border though by having the image size smaller than the acrylic sheet size.

The backing board used will determine the colour of this border, but another cool look is using a clear acrylic substrate & having a see through border.


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Are Acrylic Prints Heavy & Are They Easy To Hang?

Yes & yes! .. Not as heavy as glass, but larger prints can weigh in at 4 to 5 kg (9 to 11 lbs).

But your print will come with the appropriate hanging hardware, you’ll just need to make sure you affix it firmly to the wall.

Compared to a framed photographic print sitting behind glass, they’re probably comparable.

If you need details, the article linked below has a weight to size chart, which can be handy for working out postage. or simply having an idea of weight before you purchase a print.


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Are Acrylic Prints Waterproof?

Yes, they’re extremely water & moisture resistant.

I wouldn’t drop one in the bath, but they’re the perfect solution for high moisture & humidity areas like the bathroom.

This is because the acrylic itself is waterproof, then the inks & photographic paper are sandwiched & sealed between the acrylic & substrate.

A direct print may just be slightly more water resistant, as should any moisture penetrate to a face mount, it could damage the photographic paper & potentially cause mould or mildew.

But the reality of this actually happening .. very slim.


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Is It A Good Idea To Hang Acrylic Prints Outside?

It can be, they can be a wonderful addition to outdoor entertainment areas.

With a few simple precautions, you should be able to enjoy your print for many years.

  • As already mentioned, direct sunlight is the enemy of any print.

So providing the print is hung in a shaded area, you’re good to go.

  • Avoid areas that experience excessive heat.

Being a polycarbonate, a print will warp in high temperatures.

  • Although acrylic is highly durable, it’s not scratch resistant.

So avoid grease build up by keeping your print well distanced from BBQs & smokers.

Using harsh cleaners or scourers will scratch & ruin the acrylic.

  • If your print has an aluminium substrate, it may be vulnerable over time to salt air.

Aluminium won’t rust, but it can oxidise.

So if you live by the coast, make sure it’s hung in a sheltered position.


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Taking Care Of Your Print

Most of the time, if your print is living indoors, a simple dusting once a week is all that’s needed.

Fingerprints can simply be wiped off with a non-abrasive cloth.

Most glass cleaners are perfectly safe to use, or a mild detergent for anything a bit more stubborn.

Because acrylic can scratch, harsher cleaning chemicals & abrasive cloths are a big NO NO!

Final Thoughts

Acrylic photo prints are definitely becoming more popular, which isn’t surprising.

I’m seeing them in people’s homes more these days & even some of the shop bought ones look really fabulous.

If you’re new to this style of print, I hope this guide was helpful & convinced you to give acrylic a try for your next photo printing endeavour.

Please feel free to share if you know somebody who could benefit from this article .. remember .. sharing is caring.


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