In the digital age sometimes we forget how wonderful it is to actually see a great photograph printed out. That feeling of seeing an image you took grace a wall is exciting and validating.
Ordering or making prints of your images is a relatively simple process. It’s an age-old process.
What’s new, though, is the types of materials that are now available for printing or displaying images on. From glass and wood to metal and canvas, there are more options available to the discerning photographer, which means more ways to make your work stand out.
Here, we take a look at some of the options available from Whitewall and Bay Photo Lab, two printing services that offer alternative materials for printing.
If you consider nonstandard materials for printing, make note of the price difference. For example, at Whitewall a basic 8×10 Lambda Print on Fuji Crystal DP II photo paper, without a frame, runs about $12. Changing the same sized image to a metal, acrylic or wood print jumps the price up by about $20, ranging from $24 to $40, depending on the material chosen. Bay Photo had a similar price jump of about the same amount.
One thing to consider before purchasing is what kind of lighting your piece will have. Most of the materials come in either glossy or matte.
“If it’s not directly by a window or spotlight, glossy is definitely the way to go,” says Marieke Goethe, director of publicity for Whitewall. “If you have a very large window you might want to think of matte.”
Keep this in mind when perusing materials and finishes.
Acrylic glass offers the protection of a framed piece without the need for an actual frame. The flushed borders mean that the focus is on the image itself and not entirely on its presentation.
The most basic display is a photo print that is sandwiched between an acrylic glass face and an aluminum dibond backing. The choice here is between standard acrylic or a matte finish. In comparing samples, matte tends to show off more of the colors of an image, while regular acrylic catches more of the shadows. Images with higher contrasts would do well in the regular form.
One option that Bay Photo offers is the ability to combine metal and acrylic with their Acrylic Metalprints. This option prints directly on a metal surface with the option for an acrylic cover.
“It does give [the image] more depth as far as the dimension of the print,” says Mallory Lawrence, Marketing & Integration for Bay Photo Lab. “It’s a way of adding depth without having the frame.”
However, these prints can only be mounted with steel posts in the corners, so if you’re looking for a clean image, this might not be what you need.
Metal is where printing gets interesting.
There’s the standard photo paper with aluminum backing and a seal, but metal lets photographers bring a sort of naturalism to their prints. Unlike acrylic, which tends to lend a glossiness to images (even the matte versions) metal usually has a grain to it, even when printed in a way to that hides the metal.
One of the more interesting available prints is called direct print on brushed aluminum. What this means is the image is printed on metal using thermal sublimation. Essentially, high pressure and steam seal a print on to the material. With brushed metal, the white portions of the image aren’t printed, instead letting the metal shine through in those areas.
Brushed metal gives images a lived-in feel that adds a lot of a texture to the photo. When looking at samples, we found that this style is best used for images that have a lot of empty space. Outdoor snow images, for example, would work well on this material.
Wood may be the simplest option that’s available. For the most part, it’s just a direct print on the surface of wooden boards. There are fewer options than metal or acrylic, but it does add a certain stylistic quality.
At Bay Photo, Lawrence says that they see a lot of landscape images produced on wood. “It gives your image warmth and just a natural look overall.”
For those looking for a natural look with the grain showing through, it does add a more textured feel to the images. For something that hews closer to the look of the actual image it’s possible to do a photo laminate on wood or have a white subsurface that hides the grain.