Acrylic Printing Services: What To Look For
Not all acrylic prints are created equally, so we thought it was important to write up a little guide to help those looking for acrylic printing services. It’s a guide to help you in forming questions for the lab you may use, although we hope you’ll give us strong consideration! First and foremost, it’s important to know that there are two very distinct processes in creating an acrylic print with two very different outcomes – direct printing onto the acrylic substrate and the face mounting method of printing onto the photographic paper, then mounting behind the acrylic. Here at Bumblejax we would never consider the direct print method as it leads to inferior results in terms of color accuracy and vibrancy. We believe photos were meant to be printed on paper! .. not to mention the unique display properties are best achieved with the print behind the acrylic. You can see more on our acrylic photo mounting process here.
So, Question #1? Do you print onto the acrylic directly or do you face mount by printing onto paper first then mounting? You’ll find that companies who print directly onto the acrylic are able to offer it at a cheaper price, so if you don’t mind giving up some color accuracy and vibrancy this may be a good option particularly for outdoor spaces. The face mount process is more labor intensive and there aren’t many companies doing it well consistently. It isn’t an easy process, but the end result is well worth it.
Question #2? Do you use stand off bolts? If I were to take a guess I’d say that 80% of companies offering acrylic prints only offer prints with stand off bolts in each corner which are used for securing two acrylic pieces together into what is known as an acrylic sandwich frame (first image below) or used to separate it from wall and hanging purposes (2nd image). It’s our belief that the stand off bolts in each corner take away from the image so it’s a method of hanging and separating we would NEVER use. We prefer to use a dibond backer (more on this next) with two dry kilned fir boards attached for both the floating look and for ease of attaching to the wall. No tools are required to hang our prints and without the stand off bolts you truly get that “floating off the wall look” (our acrylic print in 3rd image with no bolts). This is a choice you need to make, but we want you to know it’s an important question to ask. Often times it will be easy to tell just from the product images on the site you are looking at.
Question #3? What kind of backing material do you use? Unless the company doing your acrylic print is printing directly on the acrylic and using stand off bolts, there is a good chance that a backing material will be used to attach hanging hardware as well as stabilize the acrylic. This is important. This will generally consist of two materials – sintra or dibond. Sintra is high density plastic and cheaper than dibond, but provides less stability for the acrylic. This may lead to some bowing of large acrylic pieces over time. Dibond on the other hand is more rigid, providing much greater stability of your print, but is more expensive. Dibond is basically a polyethylene core sandwhiched by two pieces of thin aluminum and it’s the material we prefer for stabilizing your print. For smaller pieces, sintra is probably OK, but if you’re ordering larger pieces be sure that dibond is used.
Question #4 How thick should I go? Most companies offer an acrylic print in either 1/8” or 1/4” thickness. We offer both, but at the 1/8” thickness you still get the same stunning look for a lower price and less weight. That being said, some customers like more thickness at 1/4” and it does provide just a touch more depth and vibrancy. Recently we began offering 1″ thick polished blocks in small sizes and they are stunning. The 1″ thick acrylic does provide a significant bump in vibrancy and a 3D look and we provide these without hanging hardware since they are meant as standalone pieces. However, we aren’t far off from offering larger 1″ polished acrylic blocks at 10×10, 12×8 and 12×9! We’ll even have the option of adding hanging hardware!
Question #5 What kind of paper should I use? This is always a tough one for people and a question we get a lot. An entire article could be dedicated to this and often times it depends on the image, but suffice it to say that we prefer a satin paper which is somewhere between a glossy and a matte finish. We don’t like glossy because the acrylic will give it a bit of a glossy look anyway, so glossy behind acrylic is a bit overkill. The matte finish can be a bit dull. In addition to our satin paper, we also offer a metallic paper upgrade which has become very popular. The metallic paper gives the image more a bit more depth and vibrancy than a traditional satin paper and when mounted behind the acrylic, gives the image even more of a pop.
Question #6 Do I need anti-glare acrylic? For this question I’ll refer to an article we wrote a few months ago. In summary, we feel that clear acrylic without non-glare coating provides the best look for your image and isn’t worth the image degradation and cost. Only a very small % of customers want non-glare acrylic as a custom order. We have tested some of the most expensive and supposedly best non glare acrylic and while it may minimize some of the glare, you’ll see it. One thing to keep in mind is that the camera tends to enhance the glare a bit when taking a photo, so you might see some images and video on our site with significant glare. In person, it’s not quite as significant and quite frankly it’s one of those things you don’t notice as much after some time. Most people have traditional frames with glass in their home. You have to ask yourself do those traditional frames really bother you? I’m guessing the answer for almost everyone will be no.