The Amazing Longevity Of Metal Photo Prints
Metal photo prints have been popular for quite a while now & it’s not surprising that they are still growing in popularity.
Whether you’re a photographer printing your images, or somebody looking for photographic art for your walls, metal photo prints offer amazing depth, colour & overall stunning image quality.
Good quality metal prints can be more expensive than other print mediums, so you want to make sure that your investment is going to last the distance.
So how long will a metal photo print last? A quality print displayed in the right conditions will last at least 40 years, but possibly up to 100 years.
Studies have shown they can last 4 times longer than an archival photographic print.
Like most things, it partly depends on how well you take care of your print, but the main factor depends on the printing process & dyes & inks used.
Beware of cheap metal prints if you’re looking for top print quality & materials used.
I’ve seen cheap prints that you can literally bend with your own hands as they are made with thin aluminium.
A metal print from a reputable lab that uses quality aluminium, inks & a clear coat is going to last longer than a cheaper print.
So as you can see, metal prints are worth the extra cost for their longevity alone.
Match that with their stunning image quality & you have a beautiful piece of art that can last a lifetime.
Why Do Metal Prints Last So Long?
The metal used is aluminium & a quality printer uses a decent thickness so as not to be prone to bending, buckling or being damaged by any minor knocks.
Aluminium, or metal prints as they’re commonly called, are also highly water & moisture resistant.
This makes them a great choice for bathrooms & other high humidity areas.
They can’t rust, but aluminium can oxidize in extreme circumstances.
It’s unlikely you’ll want to hang your print in an area that’s exposed to the weather all day.
But they are a great choice for covered entertainment areas provided they’re not in any direct sun or prone to grease build up from a BBQ for example.
Although, they can be easily wiped clean on a regular basis.
The printing process is the main factor in the actual lifespan of the image itself.
There are 3 methods for printing onto an aluminium sheet.
Each has their own pros & cons, some can be more durable & longer lasting, while another can produce slightly higher quality.
The 3 Print Processes & How They Impact the Longevity Of A Print
This is the most common method, as well as the most preferred by print labs.
This is because it offers the most depth & that almost 3D quality that metal prints are famous for.
Instead of inks, dyes are infused into the aluminium.
This is achieved by the image being transferred onto a special paper.
Then the paper is laid onto the aluminium under a heat press which infuses the dyes into the metal.
Technically, this method doesn’t produce as sharp an image, for when looked at under a loop, you’ll see the ink dots are more spread.
But under normal viewing conditions, the human eye won’t even notice.
It’s like the super high definition video & TV’s that are available nowadays, it’s beyond the eye’s capability to see the extra detail.
Dye-sublimation is also the most durable & long lasting print method.
This is because the inks are infused into the aluminium & not sitting on top.
This makes this type of print fade & scratch resistant.
Add to that, many printers will also use a protective top coat which usually has UV protective qualities.
You can see now why this method is most used & preferred.
2. Face Mounted Prints
This method does produce slightly higher resolution because the image is printed directly onto a high quality photographic paper.
The print is then mounted onto the aluminium sheet & finished with a top coat, which again, can have scratch & UV protective qualities.
Although it does offer slightly better sharpness & colour depth, it loses some of that 3D effect that metal photo prints are famous for.
But there is the option of printing to metallic photographic paper, which does produce really stunning results & an almost shimmer type of effect.
2. Direct Print
This method is as the name suggests.
The individual ink dots are printed directly onto the aluminium, just as an inkjet printer does onto paper.
Again, technically producing a sharper image, it loses the vibrancy & depth that dye-sublimation offers.
But horses for courses as the old saying goes.
Not every image is going to suit as much vibrancy & punch.
The inks are also sitting on the surface of the aluminium making this style of print less durable.
But in saying that, most printers will use a scratch & UV protective top coat.
Do Inks Affect the Longevity Of A Metal Photo Print?
Not really would be my answer.
Different printers may prefer different inks, but a top quality professional print lab is going to use top quality professional inks.
Inks nowadays have come a long way.
Dye based inks used to be less expensive than pigment inks.
The drawback with dye based was they were water soluble & faded faster.
The more expensive pigment inks were water resistant but had less colour depth.
Ink production these days means there’s significantly no real difference between either.
UV resistant inks are available & many printers will use this type of ink.
But with metal photo prints, the dye-sublimation process together with a UV protective top coat means any ink isn’t going to fade in a hurry.
Sure, a UV resistant ink may be a slightly better choice for direct or face mounted prints.
But again, under a protective top coat, unless it was exposed to direct sunlight on a constant basis, you can still expect your print to last.
6 Tips For Making Sure Your Print Last A Lifetime
So you’ve gone to the extra expense to have a jaw dropping quality print, so you’ll want to make sure it lasts as long as it’s designed to.
1. Buy a quality print to begin with!
Maybe it’s stating the obvious, but whether you’re printing your own or buying from a photographer, ask what print process they use & check out reviews for the print lab.
2. Avoid direct sunlight
Even the best print lab using UV resistant inks & UV protective coatings, doesn’t guarantee that a print won’t eventually fade under constant exposure to direct sunlight.
3. Avoid laying face down
If you need to for any reason, like attaching hanging hardware, just use a soft cloth or similar so as the print isn’t directly against a surface that may have grit or dirt on it.
Although they are highly scratch resistant, prevention is always better than cure.
4. Try not to be a butter fingers!
I know it’s stating the obvious again, but don’t drop it!
How annoying to have a bent corner .. cheap metal photo prints have also been known to completely break or crack.
5. Have it framed
Yes, metal prints can be framed & purchased with a frame too.
They can actually look really nice in a frame & is a practical solution if it’s going to be hanging in a high traffic area.
6. Regular cleaning
Metal prints are easy to keep clean.
Usually a regular dusting as you would anything else in the house is sufficient.
If it’s exposed to cigarette smoke or kitchen odours a build up can occur.. simply wiping with a non-abrasive damp cloth on a regular basis will prevent this.
For anything a bit more stubborn use a mild detergent & warm water & make sure to avoid solvents or harsh cleaning products.
There’s no doubt that metal photo prints have given photographic images that extra punch & quality that stands apart from other print mediums.
They make fantastic gifts, as you can feel confident you’re buying a loved one a quality & long lasting product.
They’re also very exciting for photographers.
Seeing your image printed in such colour depth & vibrancy, the right image feels like you could almost dive into it!
Whichever print method is used for your print, with proper care it will still more than likely last longer than you do!
To learn more about this print medium, check out my comprehensive guide.
Final words… if you want a print that not only delivers jaw dropping quality, but is going to last for years to come, the extra expense of a quality metal photo print is well worth the investment.
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