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Do Metal Photo Prints Fade?

metal photo print on sunny wall

How To Preserve Your Metal Prints To Last A Lifetime

Metal, otherwise known as aluminium photo prints, are still getting a lot of attention.

This is because they have a reputation for giving superb colour saturation, depth & an almost 3D quality .. some photographs printed on aluminium look like you could dive into them!

But are metal prints prone to fading? Like any photograph, print medium or artwork, yes they can fade over time if exposed to sunlight & other environmental conditions. There’s also different methods for printing onto aluminium & some will be more fade resistant than others.

What Causes Metal Prints Fade?

There's a few factors that can cause fading.

1. Exposure to sunlight

2. Certain light sources

3. Humidity

The main reason for any print fading, including metal photo prints, is exposure to sunlight.

The reason we see different colours is because matter absorbs wavelengths of the light spectrum.

The amount to which matter, in this case inks & dyes, absorbs these wavelengths is what creates the visible colour spectrum we see with our eyes.

Without getting too technical, inks & dyes have colour absorbing compounds & sunlight will eventually break these down.

This is what creates the fading or bleaching of a print.

Indirect sunlight can also cause fading, but not as rapidly as direct sun.

Unless your prints are stored in the dark, it’s nearly impossible to avoid indirect sunlight.

But with UV glass or a protective coating, you will negate any deterioration from ambient daylight.

Other Light Sources

This surprised me when I discovered that certain light sources can contribute to fading.

This is because fluorescent & incandescent lighting emits UV (ultraviolet) light.

You would need to expose an unprotected print to a strong light source over an extended time period to create any noticeable fading.

LED ( light emitting diodes ) lighting emits no UV at all.


Although humidity doesn’t technically cause fading, it can create discolouration.

In the print production there can be residual chemicals, airborne contaminants & mounting materials.

A humid environment can accelerate the reaction of these materials causing the print to degrade over time.

Although metal photo prints are resistant to this due to the print process & protective coating applied.

How To Prevent Your Metal Print From Fading

The 1st tip that I would give is to choose a quality print lab.

The 2nd tip is don’t use a cheap print lab or buy a cheap metal print.

Ask how it’s been printed & if a UV protective coating has been applied.

There’s 3 ways a metal photo print can be produced.

1. Dye-sublimation

2. Direct Print

3. Face Mount

Each has their pros & cons, but the most popular method used by reputable print labs is dye-sublimation .. for good reason.

Dye-sublimation is where the image is absorbed into the aluminium substrate.

This is achieved through the photograph being printed onto a special paper using dyes.

The paper is then laid onto the aluminium & under a heat press, the aluminium opens up to absorb the dyes.

Then a scratch & UV resistant coating is applied.

This process is what gives a metal print that famous 3D effect as well as depth & colour saturation.

The dye-sublimation method also creates the most durable print, as the inks or dyes are actually absorbed in the substrate.

As the name implies, direct print is just that.

The inks are laid onto the aluminium in dots as in an inkjet fashion.

Then a protective clear coat is applied.

Although technically sharper than dye-sublimation, there isn’t the same depth. The extra sharpness is noticeable under a loop glass, but not so much with the naked eye.

Face mounting is where the image is printed to a photographic paper which is then mounted to the aluminium.

Again, a protective clear coat is applied.

This method can produce amazing results when a high quality, metallic paper is used.

It may not be as durable, but if your print is going to be displayed in an optimal environment, it will last as long as any other photographic print behind UV glass.

5 Tips For Keeping Your Print In Optimal Condition

Obviously keeping the print out of direct sun & high temperatures.

1. Sometimes a print may catch a touch of sun at a certain time of day, depending where you hang it.

But where possible, avoid any direct sunlight.


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2. Most home lighting isn’t going to be strong enough to cause any concern.

But there are materials available that can be used over fluorescent tubes to filter UV light.

3. It’s not a cheap solution, but tinted windows prevent ultraviolet light entering a room as well as keeping the temperature down.

4. If you’ve purchased a metal print that doesn’t have a protective clear coat, spray on clear coats are available.

Another way if you feel confident applying it, is to use a clear epoxy resin.

5. A quality metal print from a reputable print lab will be fine in high humidity areas such as a bathroom.


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This is another benefit of these prints, they’re highly water & moisture resistant.

But a cheap print may not fare so well.

Not so much related to fading, but regular cleaning will help to maintain your print too.

Final Thoughts

Although metal photo prints haven’t been around this long, there have been tests done that show that they can last up to 40 years & in the right conditions as long as 100 years.

They are rated to last longer than an archival print.

A quality metal print, like anything else, will deteriorate & fade if left out in direct sun.

But for most people’s purposes & most applications, your metal print will last a lifetime.

If you'd like to learn more about these types of prints, you can check out my comprehensive guide.

I hope you've found this article helpful & please feel free to share.


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