Acrylic Prints - The Print Process Explained
If you’ve seen a good quality acrylic photo print, you’ll know how amazing they look.
Rich vibrant colours that really pop & a wonderful depth to the image.
With their frameless presentation, they’re a fantastic modern & contemporary piece of wall art.
How are acrylic photo prints made? They are created by either using a face mount print or direct printing to an acrylic sheet, sometimes known as Plexiglass. Each print process will deliver a different result & the thickness of acrylic used will also affect the final image quality.
What Is Acrylic & How Is It Used To Print Photos?
Acrylic is sometimes referred to as Plexiglass, a type of polycarbonate, or plastic.
It’s not any cheap old plastic though! It’s more like glass.
This is why these prints are so long lasting.
A decent print lab is going to use a high quality acrylic.
The options you have are which thickness of acrylic to use.
1/8th inch (3mm) & ¼ inch (6mm) are common sizes, but you can also go to 1 inch (25mm).
Obviously thinner will be cheaper, but depending on your preferred final look, that doesn’t mean any lesser quality.
Also the 1 inch option is going to be quite substantial in the weight department.
The edges are polished, so having a thicker acrylic will certainly create depth as well as being able to see the print through the edges of the acrylic .. a really fantastic look!
Also acrylic offers UV protection, anywhere from around 70% to 99%.
So again, choose a good print lab & ask them the UV rating of the acrylic they use.
The Photo Printing Process
There’s 2 ways a photograph is applied to the acrylic.
1. Face Mount - the most popular & widely used method as it delivers a sharper & more detailed image.
This process is where the image is printed directly to a photographic paper.
Different papers can be used & a reputable print lab will use high quality paper.
A metallic paper can also be used to really deliver that extra wow factor.
The photograph is then mounted face forward to the back of the acrylic sheet, thus when seen from the front, you’re viewing the image through a thickness of clear acrylic.
This is what gives the print rich, vibrant colours & that real depth that these prints are known for.
2. Direct Print - as the name implies, the image is printed in reverse, directly to the back of the acrylic sheet.
So when viewed from the front, you’re seeing the image the correct way around.
Different backing substrates can be used to create a different final look.
Although it doesn’t deliver as high a quality, it’s a less expensive process & can still look really stunning.
Which Print Method Should You Choose?
Some prints labs may only offer one option, either direct or face mount.
Other printers will offer you the choice between the two.
But which one you prefer comes down to the final look you like the best.
Face mounts may have the edge on image sharpness, but direct prints can offer a unique look due to the backing substrates used.
Both are extremely long lasting & durable.
Direct prints are generally cheaper, so budget may be a deciding factor too.
But to really explore the difference between these two methods, I recommend reading the article below as it goes into more specifics.
Types Of Inks Used
Different print labs will use their preferred inks, so providing you’re using a professional lab that delivers high quality products, you won’t need to concern yourself.
UV resistant inks are sometimes used to further enhance the prints archival nature.
If unsure, simply ask or request these inks.
As I always say, you get what you pay for.
Even though this style of print is becoming more popular, it’s can still sometimes be the most expensive print medium.
A cheap print isn’t going to deliver the best quality, so if you’re going to print to acrylic, you may as well get it right the 1st time.
The Finishing Touches
Whether it’s a face mount or direct print, a backing substrate will be applied to seal & protect the image.
With a face mounted print, the backing won’t have an affect on the final look, unless you’re having a border.
This is when the printed photograph is smaller than the acrylic sheet.
The colour of the backing will determine the colour of the border around your image.
Usually black, white or clear are the common options.
A unique characteristic of direct printing is that the final look of the image can be varied depending on the type of backing substrate used.
Because the inks are laid directly to the acrylic, there’s a certain translucent quality.
Usually a white backing board is used as it’s neutral & the image is rendered more true.
But polished aluminium can give a wonderful shimmery effect.
Hanging An Acrylic Print - Is Hardware Supplied?
Last but not least is displaying your acrylic print.
Size & weight of the final product will determine the best hanging method to use.
Your print will come with the necessary hardware, so you’re able to get it up on the wall straight away.
There’s various hardware that can be used.
From a simple metal plate so as to hang from a hook or screw, to larger prints requiring a more sturdy cleat system.
Used in commercial spaces & for signage, but also a very secure mounting method, is the use of stand-off bolts.
Holes are made in the 4 corners of the print, thus allowing it to slip over bolts attached in the wall & finished by screwing on on a metal cover.
This method can look very modern & works well with a more industrial décor.
The stunning depth & colour that these prints offer really make them worth the higher price.
Direct print acrylic may be the cheaper option & is often touted to not be as good a quality as face mounted acrylic.
But I always feel that "best" is a very subjective term & they both deliver an amazing product in their own way.
If you’re unsure, take a visit to your local print lab & compare the 2 side by side.
I think you’ll be surprised at just how amazing they both look.
If you'd like to explore acrylic prints even further, I've written a complete guide.
I hope you’ve found value in this article & I always encourage sharing ..thanks!