What is a metal print?

Blog - Mar 10, 2020

Metal Prints are known by several names such as HD Metal Prints, Aluminum Prints, Brushed Aluminum Prints, DiBond Prints, Metallic Prints and Metal Photo Prints. Printing your photos on metal (typically aluminum) is a sleek modern way to display your work without having to frame it.

Metal Prints really bring your photos to life and if you're a photographer you may already know that it gives you a sense of pride seeing your photography on metal.

With all that being said there are so many different types of metal prints on the market that as a consumer it get very confusing and even down right frustrating when searching for a metal printing company. If your going to invest in printing your photos onto metal you probably want to know what your paying for. We hope to clarify this topic for you so that you can know what to look out for your ordering metal prints and help you to find a metal print that best fits your budget.

So let's go over the most common printing methods and types of metal used when producing metal prints.

Printing Methods

There are 3 common ways to put an image on metal.
Dye Sublimation, Direct Print and Mounting.

What is HD Metal banner
Dye Sublimation is where your image is first printed onto a transfer paper with "dye" inks then "sublimated" into the aluminum sheet with heat and pressure. The inks are bonded with the aluminum. This is the same process commonly used in the clothing industry where patters or images are infused into different textiles.

  • Since the ink is infused into the aluminum your image is scratch and water resistant.
  • If used with the right aluminum (more about this below) they are now archival prints and will resist fading for 65+years.
  • The main con used to be that the image wasn't as clear as a photo paper print until recently. Recent advances in paper and metal quality has made it where the image is now very clear and rivals even the best photo paper prints.
Typically priced in the middle compared to the two other methods. Cheap dye sublimation metal prints typically mean they won't last as long and are not as vibrant.

Direct printing
Direct Printing is done utilizing a Flatbed UV Printer. This is like a giant inkjet printer that propels inks onto the surface of the media. The aluminum sheet is loaded onto the bed of the printer typically up to a 4x8' sheet. Then the image is printed with UV resistant inks onto the surface of the metal.

  • Because the ink is on top of the metal it creates an nice artistic look.
  • The inks are UV resistant and will hold up well outdoors.
  • The image is not scratch resistant
  • The resolution of the print is much lower than all other printing methods even with the best direct uv printers on the market.
Typically priced on the lower end.

Mounting method
The Mounting method is where you take a photo paper print and "mount" it with adhesive onto the aluminum sheet. Typically these prints are also laminated for protection.

  • The prints are very high resolution and typically printed on regular or metallic photo paper.
  • The prints are typically printed onto archival photo paper.
  • They are not scratch or moisture resistant
  • The edges can pull away from the adhesive over time. Not ideal for a print that you want to keep for long term.
Typically priced on the higher end because there is a lot of labor involved.

Types of Metal

Metal prints are typically printed using aluminum sheets.
The two most popular types of aluminum sheets are dye sublimation coated sheets or dibond sheets.

Dye Sublimation coated aluminum sheets

Dye Sublimation coated aluminum sheets basically all start out the same, using imported aluminum panels that then have to be coated. The real magic happens in coating technology used by the different manufacturers. The super thin coating is the layer that the image is actually infused into, not the aluminum itself. So the longevity, durability and vibrance is all dependent upon the coating used.

We can confidently say that the absolute highest quality coated sheets are created by Chromaluxe. They are the only sheets that we are aware that have been independently tested for longevity and durability by Wilhelm Institute. Read More Here

These aluminum sheets are rated to last 65+years and have an amazing depth and clarity that we haven't seen with other brands.

Specs: 1/16" thick and come in white or silver (clear)

White is recommended if you want your photos to appear true to color. Silver is recommended if you are looking for a more artistic look, look great with B&W high contrast photography.

Silver will show through as the whites of your image creating a much lower white point.

Dibond aluminum sheets

Dibond® aluminium sheets are a composite material that comprise of two super thin sheets of aluminum with a rigid plastic core. The term "Dibond" has developed into a generic term also used to describe generic brands of the same, similar to Kleenex describing all tissue brands. These sheets are designed to be printed on with Direct UV Printers.

Specs: 1/8" thick and come in white or silver (clear)

What are HD Metal Prints?
At Artbeat Studios we started out offering direct UV prints on Dibond material but quickly realized how inferior this process was to Dye Sublimation printing. Now we exclusively offer only dye sublimation metal prints. We chose to call our metal prints HD Metal Prints (High Definition) because we wanted to differentiate between all the other metal prints on the market. For us the term "High Definition" describes not only the high resolution of the print but also the vibrance, color accuracy and durability. We have gone through a ton of experimentation over the last 4-5 years to develop what we feel are the highest quality metal prints on the market. This includes using the best transfer paper, inks, image processing software, Chromaluxe® metal, temperature, color calibration to name a few.