Photos On Glass Vs Acrylic Face Mounting

In taking customer calls, live chats and emails we see a lot of similar questions being raised about product specifications along with some confusion about what exactly our customer is looking for.  Today, I wanted to clear up a bit of confusion as well as lay out the differences, advantages, and disadvantages between photos on glass and photos on acrylic.

I think some of the confusion lies in the fact that sometimes people see an acrylic print in a gallery and not knowing exactly what it is, assume it is glass.  If the photo you see in a gallery is frameless it will almost always be acrylic.  Adding to the confusion, some companies are using “glass” and “acrylic” interchangeably in their marketing copy so you might be thinking you’re getting glass, but it’s actually acrylic!

So, first and foremost know exactly what you’re buying – acrylic or glass.  There are important distinctions to be made between having your photos printed on glass vs printed on acrylic.  There are also important distinctions to be made with the acrylic photo products so do your due diligence and know EXACTLY what you’re paying for.  “You get what you pay for” absolutely applies in the printing industry!  If acrylic is what you’re after be sure to have a look at our acrylic prints shopping guide which highlights variations in product components and manufacturing differences.

PHOTOS ON GLASS

For the purposes of this article, please note that when I say “photos on glass” I’m not referring to photos framed in the traditional way with a matte, glass and frame.  I’m referring to the companies printing directly to glass with a UV printer.  It’s not a common process and there aren’t many companies in the US offering it, but there are a few.  At the moment, printing to glass with a UV printer is more popular in Europe, but it may become more popular in the States for signage in particular.  For fine art applications, like we provide here at Bumblejax, I don’t see direct to substrate printing (whether it be glass, acrylic, wood, etc) rivaling the quality of printing to high grade photo paper and mounting to acrylic anytime soon.  You just can’t achieve the same color accuracy and vibrancy.

There are some advantages to printing photos to glass, but this process is really best suited for applications outside of the fine art space where transparency is important.  In addition to corporate signage, you might see photos on glass in things like privacy screens, awards and even shower doors.

I view the photos on glass products in the fine art space as more of a novel idea than anything else.  Here are some advantages and disadvantages of printing to glass vs printing the photo to high grade photo paper and face mounting it.

Comparing Photos On Glass VS Photos On Acrylic (Face Mounting Technique)

Advantages Of Printing To Glass

  • It’s unique!
  • More scratch resistant.
  • May hold up better in high moisture areas.
  • Cheaper
  • More rigidity
  • Can be transparent

Disadvantages Of Printing To Glass

  • Diminished color accuracy and vibrancy (light passes through glass, while light refracts within acrylic)
  • Breakable
  • Limited sizes – companies offering photos on glass in the fine art space are very limited in sizes offered.
  • Permanence – questionable although testing is currently underway; with the UV protection of acrylic, acid- free paper and pigment inks rated to last 100 years, acrylic face mounts should last at least a lifetime.
  • UV Protection – again this is questionable with these products .. is there UV protection in the glass used?
  • Imperfections – this is a common issue with direct to substrate printing such as glass.  The tolerance level and what is acceptable depends on each individual company but one company that prints to glass has this in their FAQ: “The materials sometimes contain some small imperfections such as divots or bumps. We inspect each sheet carefully and if there are imperfections, we place them in the most unobtrusive parts of the image.”  We don’t tolerate such imperfections with our acrylic photo mounting product.

In summary, the photos on glass products provide some really unique opportunities where fine art color quality and permanence aren’t of utmost importance.  As UV printing technology continues to improve and more testing is done to determine longevity, it’s possible that printing to glass could come close to rivaling lightjet and inkjet prints in the future, but we’re not there yet.  For  those that aren’t concerned about color accuracy and print longevity, it’s a novel product idea worth looking into.  At Bumblejax, we love unique product ideas and are always exploring new possibilities, but those new products ideas for the fine art market must meet our strict guidelines in terms of color accuracy and longevity.   Many of our customers are professional photographers, interior designers and corporations making significant investments in artwork and need to know it’s going to last a lifetime.  Our process using pigment ink,

Many of our customers are professional photographers, interior designers and corporations making significant investments in artwork and need to know it’s going to last a lifetime.  Our process using pigment ink, high grade acid-free paper along with UV protection in both the ink as well as the acrylic, provide for a product that not only offers true color accuracy and vibrancy, but will last a lifetime.  You can see more info about our popular acrylic prints here.

 

Non Glare, Anti Reflective & UV Protected Acrylic (Plexiglass) For Face Mounting

If you’ve ever gone down the rabbit hole of trying to figure out what all the various types of acrylic (otherwise known as plexiglass) are and what the differences are, then you know it can be overwhelming, to say the least.  For most people, you won’t concern yourself with this and just trust that a high quality clear cast acrylic is going to be a great option for your acrylic face mount.  This kind of acrylic is going to offer optically clear acrylic free of impurities and will offer UV protection.  Our standard acrylic offers about 75% UV protection.

What if you want a few more bells and whistles in your acrylic?  If you’re a pro photographer, a digital artist, painter or really anyone reselling, you might consider a premium acrylic option which can provide additional benefits such as reduced glare/reflection, more UV protection, scratch resistance and anti-static properties.  This is where it gets confusing and difficult to decide on what to use.  Many companies offer these upgrades in many combinations and the naming you often see is non-glare or anti-reflective.  The non-glare or matte acrylic will at times eliminate glare/reflection almost completely but with big tradeoffs such as diminished vibrancy and image distortion.   If you want to avoid glare completely with acrylic there isn’t any getting around those drawbacks.  A better option is the best of both worlds where you get some reflection reduction without any decrease in vibrancy.  We have tried a few of the acrylics out there in various combinations of upgrades and only found one we like, recommend and sell.  That is the TruLife product from Tru Vue.  Not only does it help reduce glare (up to 30% by our estimates), but the vibrancy remains, and you get the added bonus of being scratch resistant, anti-static (which diminishes dust) and more UV protection at 99%.

While the TruLife adds to the price and is only available in 1/8″, it may be just what you’re looking for.  You can configure an order for your acrylic face mount with this option and many others over at our super simple upload and configure page.

What Is An Acrylic Print?

We see many people searching for and asking about “acrylic prints” and there is still quite a bit of confusion about the differences that each company provides.  An acrylic print is produced in one of two ways – either by printing directly to the acrylic OR by face mounting, where your photo gets printed to high grade photo paper and reverse mounted to the acrylic.

The direct to acrylic printing option is what many of the large print houses do and it’s a much cheaper option since there is far less labor involved and it’s mostly machine produced.  Any company can get into the manufacturing of acrylic prints this way and many have.  They can churn out quite a few per hour this way.

acrylic prints

Acrylic print closeup and annotated with components. Shown is 1/4″ acrylic print with polished edge.

The acrylic face mounting method (components shown at left) is how it was always done (starting in Europe with the Diasec process) before machines were used to try to replicate the look.  The acrylic face mounting method is far more laborious and difficult to achieve without imperfections.  So, why go through the difficult multi-step process of hand making acrylic prints using the face mounting method?  Simply put .. quality.  No machine produced acrylic print will match the vibrancy and quality of an acrylic face mount.

To wrap it up, know which way your lab is producing the acrylic print.  Not all are created equal.   As the ‘ol cliche goes .. you get what you pay for and that is certainly true with acrylic prints.  Here at Bumblejax, we pride ourselves on being one of just a small handful of labs in the US who can create gallery quality acrylic face mounts and we’d love to produce one for you!  You can see more about our face mounted acrylic prints here.

Now Offering Tru Vue Premium Acrylic For Face Mounting

trulifelogo
We are pleased to announce that we are now offering Tru Life acrylic from the leader and innovator in photo display conservation.  Tru Vue’s acrylic product offers a few enhancements over our standard clear cast acrylic that might be of interest you.

  • Anti-reflective.  In our testing we put it at about a 30% reduction in glare over standard acrylic.
  •  Scratch resistant.  It can still scratch, but not quite as easily.
  • Anti-static properties greatly reduces dust, therefore less cleaning of your acrylic art is needed.
  • 99% UV protection vs about 75% UV protection of regular acrylic.
  • Cleans like glass so can use regular glass cleaner (must be ammonia free).  Special acrylic cleaner should not be used.
  • Optical Coating – optimal clarity for truer color transmission and the greatest color neutrality.
  • Over 98% light transmission vs 92% of standard acrylic providing a touch more contrast and brightness.
 Currently, the Tru Life acrylic product is offered as custom and not yet available for ordering online.  Contact us today for a quote!  It’s about 10-15% more in price and only available in 1/8″ thickness, but we can do any size up to 96×48″.  You can see more about our acrylic face mounting process here.

Photographer Review: Acrylic Prints vs Metal Prints

A little while back we sent Keith (aka Captain Photo) a complimentary sample of our acrylic face mount product since he hadn’t seen this kind of presentation before.  He was under no obligation to provide a review and certainly not review it positively.  We’re very confident in the quality of our products, but you never know how someone might feel about it.  Fortunately, Keith was very impressed saying “Once you go Bumblejax, you never go back!”  Ha, now that’s a great slogan 🙂  In the video below he compared our acrylic print product to his previous standard of excellence – the metal print.  It’s nice to know Keith now has a new standard of excellence!

You can get all the details on our acrylic face mounting process here.

Acrylic Photo Blocks Are Here!

It hasn’t been an easy road to get to this point, but we’re thrilled to finally announce our newest product – acrylic photo blocks.  These 1″ thick beautifully polished acrylic works of art bring your photos to life in extraordinary fashion.  The thick acrylic refracts light in a way that illuminates your image in the right light and provides for a 3-D effect.  They are free standing so are perfect for a desk or mantle.   With Mother’s Day around the corner this would make a perfect gift and we’ll give you a little extra incentive with a 10% launch discount.

We are currently offering these in 3 sizes with the common digital camera aspect ratios of 4:3 (6×8″) and 3:2 (6×9″) as well as a square format for you Instagramers out there (7×7″).  In the future we may offer additional sizes depending on what our customers want.

Retail pricing for these pieces begins at $59 and goes to $75 depending on size and whether there is an upgrade to metallic paper (for even great vibrancy!)  We may be able to accommodate custom sizes, but we would require a minimum order of $500.

====> Check out all the details of our new acrylic photo blocks here

acrylic photo blocks
 photo credit: Janice Phenix

 

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.

acrylic_sandwhich_frame acrylic_print_stand_off_bolts Acrylic300crop

 

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.

Acrylic Prints Vs Canvas Prints

It’s a question we get every so often.. what is the difference between an acrylic print and a canvas print?  There are significant differences and advantages/disadvantages to both but before we get into those let’s discuss the materials and process involved in each.

Acrylic Photo Prints
The acrylic print is referred to by several names such as acrylic face or photo mount and the general acrylic name is often referred to as plexiglas (plexiglass), lucite or perspex which are just brand names of acrylic (everything you wanted to know about acrylic here!).  There are also two distinct processes of creating an acrylic print – direct printing on to the material vs printing onto paper and then face mounting to acrylic (the acrylic and print are adhered with 1/8 – 1/4″ acrylic in front of the print.  The face mount process is a more difficult process and more expensive, but well worth it.  Here’s a detailed post we covered on this subject over at Facebook.

We are firm believers in the face mount method which provides greater color pop and vibrancy.  Why?  For two reasons really – one, colors always looks best printed on high quality white paper and two, the face mount takes advantage of the reflective quality of acrylic.  Acrylic has the unusual property of keeping a beam of light reflected within its surfaces which is what creates that WOW factor the first time you see an acrylic print done this way.  Great color vibrancy with a near 3-D effect.  No other display technique can match an acrylic face mount which is why this technique is growing quickly in popularity among professional photographers.

While pictures don’t really do them justice here’s a shot of one of our acrylic prints using metallic paper which adds even more color pop and vibrancy behind acrylic.   No, this image hasn’t been photoshopped! .. and it looks even more brilliant in person.

acrylic photo print with metallic paper


Canvas Prints

The canvas print process has been around for a long time first using an offset printing process, but in more recent times canvas prints are created by dye sublimination or inkjet printers in what is commonly preferred to as giclee.  The goal is to create the oil painting, old fashioned look from a photography and many people like this style.  The canvas gallery wrap has become one of the popular mainstream ways to present a photo because it’s much cheaper than traditional framing and modern photo mounting.  With a canvas gallery wrap, the canvas image wraps around the frame and is attached to the back creating a frameless piece.

Here’s an example of a canvas gallery wrap which I think is a good representation.  Again, you won’t get the vibrancy and resolution with canvas, but it can be a nice look depending on the image and of course it is cheaper.  You can purchase these with the image wrapped around the side, but I like this look better with just a solid color on the side.  The image wrapped around the side in my opinion looks  a bit cheesy.

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Here’s a closer look at how the two products compare..

Durability
Acrylic has the advantage here for both the print directly on acrylic and print on paper then face mount behind acrylic methods.  The acrylic provides UV protection typically from 70 – 98% depending on the type of acrylic used and 100% moisture protection if going with a direct print on acrylic (less so with face mount).  That’s not to say there is no protection with a canvas wrap.  You’ll want to ask your print shop, but I’d imagine most will apply a post-print varnish to help protect against UV rays and moisture.  How about dropping?  Well, not recommended for either medium, but canvas has the advantage of being light so collateral damage is minimized 🙂  Acrylic is shatter resistant and lighter than glass, but it can chip in the corners or edge if dropped or abused (FedEx I’m talking to you!).  How about scratching?  Both are vulnerable to scratching, but you can use acrylic that is scratch resistant at a considerably higher cost.  We’re of the opinion that scratching shouldn’t be an issue at all provided the print is packed well, carefully hung away from the hands of potentially destructive little ones and cleaned properly.

Uniqueness
Not much of a contest here.  Acrylic in a unanimous decision.  Obviously, you’ve heard of the acrylic process for displaying your photos or you wouldn’t be reading this 🙂  But ask your friends, family and co-workers if they have ever heard of an acrylic face mount and you’ll get a dazed look of confusion.  While the process is becoming more popular it still hasn’t hit the mainstream yet.  Photographers looking to stand out from the crowd are having great success with the acrylic presentation.  When you walk into an art gallery  and see traditional frame after traditional frame with a few canvases mixed in, then see an acrylic photo mount, it does stand out.  We’ll get into that a bit more in the appearance section.  On the other hand, canvas has exploded in popularity in the past five years and in the past couple years the big boys such as Costco, Walmart, Walgreens and even FedEx has gotten into it.

Appearance
No doubt, appearance is a matter of preference.  Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.  Acrylic provides a sleek, modern and vibrant look which looks terrific in modern decor while canvas provides more of an old fashioned look.  Think a log cabin the woods or above Grandma’s fireplace 🙂  With the canvas print you get a purposefully grainy look to give it the oil painting look, while acrylic is sharp and vibrant particularly when combined with metallic paper.  The blacks will be much more pronounced and you’ll see a 33% increase in color gamut over canvas.  In addition, the acrylic provides a rare reflective property in that light reflects within the acrylic to provide that near 3-D look and greater color vibrancy.

Transportability
Hopefully you won’t have to do much moving of art or any moving at all for that matter.  I think we can all agree that moving sucks!  I’ll give the edge to canvas in the transportability department.  It’s lighter, enough said.

Price
Canvas in a landslide.  If you’re on a budget, but still want a decent look, canvas is a great option to traditional frames and modern photo mounting using acrylic.  It will generally cost about 50% less and considering there are price wars going on every day in the canvas market we suggest you sign up to  a few newsletters of canvas print providers and you’re sure to get a screaming deal.  There are sales every week it seems and the big companies are driving prices even lower.  In my opinion you will see prices drop over time for acrylic pieces, but only for those companies that print directly onto the acrylic because it is less labor intensive and less prone to “breakage”.  The traditional diasec acrylic photo mount process that we model our process after is not as common because quite frankly it’s not easy to master the face mount process to the point where you can consistently produce them bubble and dust free, particularly with large pieces.  It’s an involved process we have spent quite a bit of time perfecting and there just aren’t that many companies doing it particularly in the US.  It’s more common in the UK.

While we have changed a couple things in our process and can’t reveal ALL our techniques, here’s a video demonstrating our acrylic face mount process that many have found very helpful.  No we don’t recommend you try this at home 🙂

The Bottom Line
If you have the budget for acrylic it’s well worth the extra cash and you will not be disappointed, particularly if you’re a photographer trying to sell your work.  With so much competition today, it’s imperative to stand out from the crowd and unique display techniques such as acrylic photo mounting provide that unique wow factor that will help you stand out in the crowd.  In corporate settings, acrylic prints will provide a higher end, more professional look.  First impressions are everything and acrylic will make a statement.  There is a reason that many are calling acrylic mounts the next big thing in photo displays (actually it’s been around for a long time, but far from the mainstream).  For families, the decision is more difficult and we understand that cost is a big factor especially in tough economic times.  If you have a modern decor. the budget and/or a feature spot in the house, then acrylic is also a great option for you.  The canvas print as I’ve said before still looks nice and is much more budget friendly for families that want to stretch the art budget a bit farther.

If you have your mind set on going with acrylic, then you’ll want to check out our feature article on what to look for when searching for an acrylic printing service to do your work (of course, we hope you’ll allow us the pleasure!).  Here is our acrylic product page with picture samples, video and pricing.

Alternatives (Bamboo, Aluminum & Gatorfoam)
What if the acrylic print isn’t in the budget or if you don’t care for the canvas look?  You’re in luck!  At Bumblejax we provide a range of options including our bamboo photo mount product (although similar in price to acrylic), the aluminum photo mount (another sleek and modern look, but more affordable than acrylic) and finally our gatorfoam product which provides a modern look at a considerable cost savings (about in line with a canvas print in terms of price).

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