Which Acrylic Print Method Is Best?
Whichever print medium you use to present your photographs, there’s always a number of variations in the material itself to choose from, as well as printing processes.
Acrylic prints are no different.
Perhaps you’re buying a print from a photographer or art shop & not sure which option to choose.
Acrylic prints are becoming popular because of how they create rich vibrant colours & bring a fantastic sense of depth to an image.
They can sometimes be more costly than other print mediums, but they do offer outstanding image quality & a beautifully clean, sleek & modern style.
So that said, you want to make sure you’re going to choose the right option for your needs.
So which acrylic print method is best? Face mount printing can produce extra detail in an image & more colour depth, but at a higher cost. Direct prints are cheaper, but still produce a wonderful product with their own unique benefits.
There’s 2 ways an image can be transferred to acrylic.
1. Face Mounting
2. Direct Print
Producing A Face Mount Acrylic Print
The image is first printed on photographic paper, then mounted to the back of the acrylic sheet facing forward.
So when viewed from the front, you're seeing the image through a layer of acrylic.
The print is then sandwiched between the acrylic & a backing substrate.
The appropriate hanging hardware is then attached.
Advantages Of Face Mount Prints
Face mount prints are always proclaimed as the better quality option & this is true as far as image definition & richness of colour is concerned.
This is because the image is printed onto a high quality photographic paper & gives a greater degree of sharpness, hence detail.
Metallic photo papers can also be used to further enhance the depth & colour.
Pair that with viewing the final photograph through a layer of refractive acrylic & viola! .. you have a stunning piece of art you’ll be proud to display on your wall.
Another advantage of face mount prints is their longevity.
Sometimes UV resistant inks are used, & the photograph is also sealed & sandwiched from environmental damage between the front acrylic sheet & mounting substrate.
This gives them archival quality, & some tests have been done claiming that in optimal conditions, can last 120 years.
Even if that’s an exaggeration, you can be sure your print will last a few decades if kept out of direct sunlight.
Disadvantages Of Face Mount Prints
If you can call it a disadvantage, it would be the extra cost.
I say it in nearly every article & I’ll say it again! You get what you pay for.
This goes for using budget print labs too.
Professional labs use top grade acrylic, photographic paper, inks & materials.
The thickness of acrylic will affect the price too.
Obviously the thicker the more expensive & this goes for direct print acrylic also.
Producing A Direct Print Acrylic
As the name suggests, the image is printed in reverse directly to the back of the acrylic sheet.
The image is seen the right way around when viewed from the front.
A substrate is also used to seal the ink between the acrylic & backing.
Advantages Of Direct Print Acrylic
The cheaper price is the 1st advantage that comes to mind.
But as already mentioned, the thickness of acrylic you choose will have a bearing on the cost.
UV resistant inks can still be used in this print process & acrylic can also offer 70% to 99% UV protection as well.
So as far as longevity goes .. you’ll still have a print that will last a very long time if cared for.
Various backing substrates can be used to create a different final look.
How this works is that the printed acrylic is still somewhat translucent.
So the colour & texture of the substrate will have an effect on the final image.
Being neutral, white is often used, but polished aluminium will give the print a glimmering effect.
Disadvantages Of Direct Printing
The level of image detail may not be as pronounced as an image printed to photographic paper.
But, if you have a high resolution image, it will still print extremely well, as a reputable lab will be using a high quality flatbed printer.
Colours may not be as rich & blacks not as black, but depending on the subject matter, a slightly less vibrant finish may suit the image better.
And The Winner Is ..
I’m always reluctant to say one print method or medium is better than another.
Does it suit the subject matter? Is it going to work in the space you're displaying it in? Are YOU happy with it?
If you’re still unsure which print method will suit your needs, take a visit to your local print lab & ask to view some examples.
Hanging Face Mount vs Direct Prints
Whichever you decide on, acrylic prints are supplied with the appropriate hanging hardware to suit.
Obviously larger prints will need more robust methods of hanging, especially if you’re using a thick acrylic.
Maintaining Your Acrylic Photo Prints
Face mounted prints are generally regarded as being archival, but both types of acrylic prints will last for decades when cared for properly.
The main piece of advice is to avoid direct sunlight, no matter how well UV protected the print may be .. everything eventually fades in the sun.
Cleaning is a breeze, simply use a non-abrasive cloth & mild soapy water or glass cleaner.
Avoid any harsh cleaning products or solvents.
Most acrylic prints aren’t scratch resistant, but some print labs will offer scratch resistant acrylic at a considerably higher cost.
Very high temperatures can warp acrylic, so make sure not to store your print in a shed or somewhere that can get really hot.
It’s a great decision to use acrylic for printing your next photograph, or purchasing one for your home décor.
They really pop! An acrylic print can be a wonderful feature in your home, especially an extra large one.
You can ruminate for days which print option to go with, but through a professional lab either print option will look fantastic.
To explore them even further, check out my complete guide to acrylic prints.
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