Acrylic Prints Buyers Guide: 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 and make an apples to apples comparison when looking at prices.  It’s a guide to help you in forming questions for the company 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 different outcomes – direct printing onto the acrylic substrate and the face mounting method of printing onto the photographic paper, then mounting behind the acrylic.

We’ve been producing face mounted acrylic prints now for nearly a decade so have seen a lot of changes in the industry over the years particularly in the way acrylic prints are produced and where.  When we started it was just a handful of boutique print companies in the USA and Europe producing high quality face mounted prints.   In recent years that has changed completely with just about every company now offering some variation of an acrylic print (including canvas companies) with wide differences in quality of components, craftsmanship, and certainly price.

For gallery quality art, which is what we currently focus on, we wouldn’t consider the direct print method as it leads to inferior results in terms of color accuracy, vibrancy as well as permanence (color fading).  We believe for fine art applications photos were meant to be printed on paper and produced at the highest quality.  You can see more on our acrylic photo mounting process here.

So, Question #1? Where is the acrylic made?  Is it outsourced?  In the last couple years or so we’ve seen a big increase in companies outsourcing direct to acrylic prints to China, India and Mexico.  In fact, at least 3 out of the top 10 companies listed in Google for the term “acrylic prints” outscource the product outside the US.  The result is dramatically lower pricing but at a cost in color accuracy, vibrancy and permanence (ie color fading over time).  Some of the big photo labs are even outsourcing the face-mounted acrylic prints as well but that typically happens in the USA to better control the quality of a difficult process.  Here at Bumblejax, the entire process is in-house at our Seattle facility so that we can control the quality from beginning to end.  Every single file is manually reviewed for print quality, flaws, color suggestions, etc before going to print.  From there, the acrylic print is produced free of defects and inspected before being packaged to ensure the highest quality.  If there is a single bubble or noticeable spec of dust it gets redone.

Question #2? Do you print to the acrylic directly or 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 (particularly if outsourcing outside the US), so if you don’t mind giving up some color accuracy, vibrancy, and permanence this may be a good option particularly for outdoor spaces and signage where it’s not as critical.  The face mount process is more labor-intensive and there aren’t many companies doing it well on a consistent basis.  It isn’t an easy process, but the end result is well worth it.

Question #3?  Does the price include “gallery quality”?  This is only a question to ask if the acrylic print is face mounted.  The machine made direct to acrylic prints won’t have this issue since the ink is added directly to the acrylic.  What is typically considered gallery quality?  While the quality of the components are certainly critical and we’ll get into that in a bit, in this regard we’re referring to the acceptable level of imperfection that can arise during the acrylic face mounting process.  In particular, dust specs and bubbles that can get trapped between the acrylic and the print itself.  This is a common problem which is why most companies won’t take it on and just print directly to the acrylic.  Having to redo an acrylic face mount is expensive especially if it has to be redone a few times!  Most photo labs offering acrylic face mounting get around this in one of two ways – by offering “gallery quality” as a high-priced upgrade option or using a disclaimer that says the price being offered may include visible imperfections.  At Bumblejax, our pricing always includes gallery quality and yes that means that sometimes we redo prints (sometimes more than once).  We just aren’t comfortable offering anything less. 

Question #4?  What kind of backing material is used?   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, dibond or possibly another sheet of acrylic.  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 rigidity of your print, but is more expensive.  Dibond is basically a polyethylene core sandwiched 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.  Another sheet of acrylic is another backing option and provides a really nice high-end look.  We’ve done these types of jobs before, but similar to sintra, it should really only be used on small to medium-sized acrylic prints.  For prints above about 40″ or so, a full box subframe should really be used as well to provide further rigidity for the acrylic print.

Question #5? Do you use stand-off bolts?   Using stand-off bolts to secure an acrylic print to the wall is common, but we prefer the floating off the wall look where all the hardware is completely hidden.  This is the configuration you’d typically see in a gallery setting.   While acrylic prints can be offered much cheaper using stand-off bolts since a backer material isn’t needed, we believe these are a distraction to the image.  That said, we do have customers that prefer it for various reasons (ie to match existing prints they have or for better security), so can provide this option as a custom order.  However, the vast majority of our acrylic prints are produced with hidden floating and hanging hardware.  If security is a concern for you we have a french cleat solution with locking security hardware.

[Images left to right – the first with stand-off bolts, the second is the floating look sans bolts]

Question #6  How thick should I go with the acrylic?   Many companies will offer an acrylic print in thicknesses of either 1/8”, 1/4” or both.  The 1/4″ thickness would be considered a typical gallery configuration while the 1/8″ acrylic still offers a great vibrant look at a more affordable price.  The thicker 1/4″ acrylic will have more of a 3D edge particularly if it’s polished (we offer both polished and routed and recommend polish on the 1/4″).  Far less common is 1/2″ acrylic, but you’ll find it as an option here at Bumblejax up to 40×30″.   Finally, an increasingly popular option are the acrylic photo blocks which at 1″ thickness make for a great standalone art piece.  When we started offering these several years ago there were just a couple companies in the US offering them, but now you’ll see them everywhere as well.  Unique to Bumblejax, we offer these blocks in large sizes such as 18×12 and 20×15 including some great pano sizes for those iPhone shots at 16×4 and 20×6.  We also offer an elegant hanging option.

Question #7 What kind of paper and ink should I use?   An entire article could be dedicated to which paper and ink is best and there are still arguments on both sides as to which is best.  When doing your research on acrylic prints using the face mounting  technique you’ll come across C prints or inkjet prints.  C prints use more traditional chemicals and emulate a darkroom process using LED’s or lasers while inkjet uses dye or pigment based ink with inkjet printers.  Inkjet technology has rapidly improved over the past decade or so and many believe it has surpassed the quality of the C print.  We do not offer C prints and prefer pigment based inkjet prints for better color accuracy and permanence.  The C print process also can be significantly toxic.  As for papers, you’ll typically see two options popular with acrylic prints – some kind of satin/lustre paper and a metallic paper.  The metallic paper is very popular and can provide even more depth and pop to your acrylic print.

Question #8 What type of acrylic is offered?    There are many different brands of acrylic out there with varying degrees of quality.  Acrylic suitable for face mounting should typically be cast acrylic 100% free of impurities.  Our regular acrylic is a high-grade acrylic that meets our guidelines for gallery quality.  There are two other types of acrylic you’ll see out there when looking around – a 100% non-glare acrylic and an anti-reflective acrylic that diminishes it.  We have tested many varieties and everything in between over the years and aren’t a big fan of 100% non-glare acrylic since it diminishes the vibrancy.  However, we can do it custom for you.  A best of both world’s alternative is the TruLife acrylic which by our estimates reduces glare around 25% while providing additional benefits such as more UV protection, better scratch resistance and anti-static properties to minimize dust.  While we do offer it as an option in our online ordering page and it’s a nice option for some of our customers, it does add considerably to cost and is only available in the 1/8″ thickness.

Question #9 Is the company well reviewed?    Many shoppers check the reviews of a company before making the decision to purchase from them and that’s a good idea!  Just be sure the reviews are listed on a 3rd party site such as Facebook, Google, Yelp, Trustpilot, Ekomi, etc.  A good tip when shopping for anything online – don’t trust reviews on the company website since they can be filtered or fake.  This can happen on 3rd party sites as well, but much less likely.  We’ve been completely transparent for many years and every customer that has purchased with us gets a link to review us good or bad.  You can see our 2000+ reviews in various places online here.

We hope this guide has helped you to navigate the complexity of acrylic prints and allows you to make a more informed decision about quality and price.  The old cliche of you get what you pay for certainly applies to the printing industry.  If you have any questions at all about this article or the acrylic prints process feel free to reach out to us via email, live chat or phone.

Resources:

Acrylic Prints Product Page
Detailed Look At All Our Acrylic Prints Options
Order Acrylic Prints Online

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, 1/2 or 1″ 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 look at a 1/4″ acrylic face mount showing the acrylic face and dibond backer with the print sandwiched in between.

We are firm believers in the face mount method which provides greater color pop and vibrancy as well as color permanence (ie far less prone to fading over time).  Photo colors always look best printed on professional grade photo paper and the acrylic face mount takes advantage of the refractive quality of acrylic which helps to illuminate your print in the right lighting.  No other display technique can match an acrylic face mount in terms of vibrancy which is why this technique continues to grow in popularity among professional photographers.

While pictures online 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.  (This was photo was taken by a customer of ours at the Bellagio in Vegas.  It’s the ceiling made of blown glass by Dale Chihuly.  Our customer does license this image if you’d like one yourself – contact us for details).

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 sublimation or inkjet printers in what is commonly referred to as giclee.  The goal is to create the oil painting, old-fashioned look from a digital 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.

To the left here is a shot of the same Chihuly image with our canvas wrap product using a mirrored edge.  We can do a black or white edge as well, but the mirror wrap is the most popular.  The colors remain rich, but there is a bit of texture and it will have a softer look over the acrylic.

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

Durability (Advantage Acrylic)
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 – 99% 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 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 and UPS I’m talking to you!)  That said we bulletproof all our packages and shipping damage is rare as well as fully covered by insurance.  How about scratching?  Both are vulnerable to scratching, but you can use acrylic that is scratch resistant at a considerably higher cost (we have a TruLife acrylic that offers scratch resistance).  Scratching shouldn’t be an issue at all provided the print is packed well, carefully hung and cleaned properly (ie using a damp, soft micro fiber cloth).

Uniqueness (Advantage Acrylic)
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.

[UPDATE:  this article was originally written 5 years ago and since that time we’ve seen an explosion in the number of companies offering acrylic prints .. almost all are direct printing to acrylic and you can even get one at Costco!  Please note though that not all acrylic prints are created equally and you get what you pay for.  Quite a few now or even coming from China and India.  Before considering purchasing an acrylic print please read our Acrylic Prints Buyer Guide.]

Appearance (Depends On Preference, But Acrylic More Impressive By Far)
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 decors while canvas provides more of an old-fashioned look.  Think a log cabin the woods or above Grandma’s fireplace 🙂  Ok that may be a bit of an exaggeration .. canvas can work in a modern decor too.  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 refractive property in that light refracts within the acrylic to provide that near 3-D look and greater color vibrancy.

Transportability (Advantage Canvas)
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 and probably a bit more scratch resistant than most acrylics.

Price (Advantage Canvas)
Canvas in a landslide.  If you’re on a budget, but still want a nice look for your photos, canvas is a great option that will cost about 50% less than an acrylic face mount.

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 🙂

Note About Glare: Since it comes up with this video in particular, I wanted to touch on the reflections a bit.  This video was shot opposite massive picture windows so unfortunately, it doesn’t show the vibrancy as well as we would have liked.  There will be glare with the acrylic just as there is with glass and for most people, this is not an issue.  If it does bother you, we have a Trulife (25% glare reduction) and a P99 (about 75% reduction) available and both maintain good color vibrancy.  Many of the anti-glare, anti-reflective acrylics really diminish vibrancy.

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 which is why we have a nice first order discount of 20% or 50% (see sign up at lower left), volume discounts of 15-20% and permanent discounting for our loyal customers.  The canvas prints are 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 since there are many companies now offering these and producing them in quite a few different ways.   Here is our acrylic product page with more details, photos, video and pricing.

If your decision is canvas, we have you covered here too!  See the canvas prints product details here.  We can do up to 60×40″ and offer a .75″ or 1.5″ frame thickness.

Alternatives To Acrylic & Canvas (Bamboo, Birch, Aluminum, Dibond & Gatorfoam)
What if the acrylic print isn’t in the budget or you don’t care for the canvas look?  You’re in luck!  At Bumblejax we provide a range of options to meet just about any budget and style preference.

Bamboo – beautiful, eco-friendlier product but priced similarly to acrylic
Birch – this is our more budget-friendly wood photo mount product
Aluminum – your photo printed and mounted to 100% raw aluminum
Dibond – basically the same look and thickness as the aluminum product but about 25% cheaper
Gatorfoam – our cheapest product if on a tight budget .. just be careful with these since it’s more fragile

For a detailed look at all our products and more guidance on what product is best for you please consult our buyers guide or contact us.

PS. Since you’ve taken the time to read this far we’d like to offer you a nice discount.  Please use code acrylic20 for 20% off your acrylic order or canvas20 for 20% off your canvas order 🙂

Acrylic Prints: Is Non Glare A Good Option?

If you’ve done any research into acrylic photo mounting you’ve probably seen some discussion around the issue of regular vs non- glare acrylic and wondered what option was best for you, so we thought we’d spend a little time on the pros and cons of non-glare acrylic.

Pros:
Less glare of course!  That’s about it!

Cons:
(1) Diminished vibrancy of the image
(2) Color Cast
(3) Higher cost

It seems some people get overly concerned with the potential for glare.  Look around your home during the day and see how much glare is on your traditional glass framed art.  See it?  Had you every really noticed it before and if you did, did it really bother you?  Most will say no.  If it is a concern for you, proper lighting and strategically placed prints can help.  99.5% of our customers don’t inquire and don’t care about non-glare acrylic mounting.  The biggest disadvantage is the loss of vibrancy of your image which is a trade-off we personally wouldn’t make.  Some can even have a bit of a color cast to it.  It’s up to you though!  If you want non-glare acrylic we don’t provide it through our online system and don’t carry it in stock, but we can certainly provide a custom quote and order some for you.

UPDATE:  We have tested quite a few of the non-glare acrylic products out there over the years and never found one we were happy with due to the reasons above.  That is until now.  Keep in mind there is no acrylic that eliminates glare completely we’d recommend.  It’s best to just go with one of our products that don’t have an acrylic face (for example our bamboo, aluminum and dibond products offer a terrific look with no glare) if you want ZERO glare.  If you love the vibrancy of the acrylic, but want to minimize glare we recommend an anti-reflective acrylic.  You get the best of both worlds really – the vibrancy and reduced glare.  Our choice and recommendation is a product from Tru Vue called TruLife.  In addition to reducing glare around 30% (by our estimates), TruLife offers a bump up in UV protection (from 75% for our standard acrylic to about 99%), scratch resistance and anti-static properties to minimize dust.  You can order the TruLife acrylic for your face mounting over at our configuration page here. 

What Is Diasec Photo Mounting? Evolution Of Acrylic Face Mounting

You may have heard the term Diasec in your research of photo mounting and there is often some confusion about what it is.  Essentially, Diasec is a patented and trademarked process of acrylic face mounting first invented by Heinz Sovilla-Brulhart in 1969.  The process of adhering a print to acrylic without air bubbles, creating stunning color vibrancy, was first achieved by Heinz and the techniques used by several companies around the word today emulate the process.  However, the Diasec process uses patented adhesives and a proprietary process that is licensed by the company.

According to Wikipedia, the exclusive use of the diasec patent expired and the process can now be freely used without royalties. However, the name “Diasec” is a protected trademark held by the swiss company Alrane Inventing AG. The dutch company “Diasec Support BV”, has started in 2009 to support the swiss licensor by offering training and machines. Most if not all processes that face-mount photographic images to acrylic plates cannot use the same process as defined in the diasec patent. Only companies licensed by Alrane Inventing AG are legally allowed to call their process “diasec”.

Up until just a few years ago, the Diasec (or more generally acrylic face mount process), was for the most part only available in Europe, but it’s slowly made its way to the US and is becoming more widely accepted in galleries and studios across the country.  When we started Bumblejax three years ago there were companies offering the acrylic mount, but locating pricing and easily ordering online was non-existent.  For the first time you could easily find pricing and order a gallery quality acrylic face mount online at Bumblejax.  That was late 2009.

Over the past three years, more companies entered the market and began offering an acrylic product by printing directly onto the acrylic.  While it’s a novel idea and companies can offer it at a considerably cheaper price (it’s far less labor intensive), it’s not recommended if you want to display your work in a gallery setting or sell as an art piece on your website.  The reason for this is that it can not achieve the same color vibrancy that you get when you print the image on high quality paper then face mount behind the acrylic.  With the image mounted behind the acrylic, light refracts in such a way that makes the color pop and provides a near 3-D effect.  When proper gallery lighting is used, it almost appears as if the piece is illuminated from behind.  This can not be achieved with direct printing or glass in traditional frames.

At large sizes and further enhanced by printing on metallic paper, an acrylic face mount is unparalleled in the ability to provide that “wow” factor.  It truly adds value to an image that traditional frames and canvas prints can not.  Late last year, a new world record for the most expensive photo was recorded when an Andreas Gursky print sold for $4.3 million at auction.  How was it displayed?  You got it! With an acrylic face mount.

If you’re looking for a high quality acrylic print, you’ve come to the right place.  At Bumblejax we use a mounting technique that uses OptiMount Ultra which is a double-sided, optically clear pressure-sensitive mounting adhesive for face mounting the inkjet print to the acrylic.  The adhesive features UV absorbers to protect images from fading
and creates a permanent bond.  We’re a boutique shop based in Seattle that focuses on nothing but modern photo mounting and every photo mount is checked closely for quality before getting out the door.  We have over 100 rave reviews from our happy customers.  If you’d like to see more details on our process please see our detailed acrylic mounting product page here.

 

Acrylic Face Mount Proofs Now Available!

We have been providing steep discounts on samples for our pro photographer customers for some time now, but we also wanted to provide a way for anyone to get a look at the very popular acrylic product at a very affordable price.  What we’re doing is offering an acrylic product proof without the dibond backer and hanging hardware.  This allows us to offer acrylic face mount proofs at 7×7, 12×9 or 15×10 (the most common ratios at smallest sizes) at a fraction of the price.

Here’s how pricing breaks down…

7×7 – $19  ($40 off regular price)
12×9 – $29 ($70 off regular price)
15×10 – $39 ($80 off regular price)

(these prices reflect a mount without metallic paper)

This provides a great way to see the quality of work and how your print will look behind acrylic.


 

How Do I Clean My Acrylic Print?

Cleaning your acrylic print can be done in two ways really and whatever you do ALWAYS use a very soft micro fiber cloth.  You can simply use a damp cloth and for deeper cleaning, it depends on the acrylic type you have purchased.

Standard Acrylic:  this requires a special cleaner called Brillianize (we sell the kit with the cleaner and cloth for $10).  For removing fine scratches and polishing you can use the Novus products.  Other cleaners such as Windex should not be used on our standard acrylic.

TruLife Acrylic: this acrylic offers some benefits over our standard acrylic such as a little more UV protection, about 20% glare reduction and scratch resistance.  This acrylic does not require a special cleaner and any non-ammonia cleaner such as Windex can be used.

 

 

Joe Fenton’s Amazing “Solitude” Face Mounted On Plexi, Printed On Metallic

Hard at work: Joe Fenton creating his detailed piece titled SolitudeIllustrator Joe Fenton is an incredibly patient and passionate artist from Brooklyn, New York.  His “Solitude” piece consumed him for 10 hours a day, 7 days a week for 10 months, and when you see the detail of this amazing piece you’ll understand why.

‘It took courage to start it as I had never done anything that size before. As you can imagine, you have to invest a lot of your time to complete something like this.  I just had to believe in my process and have faith that it would work out!’ (via Daily Mail)

We just finished up a small sample piece for Joe printing on metallic paper and face mounting the digital reproduction behind 1/8” acrylic with dibond (aluminum composite) backing.  Hope you like it Joe!  Video and pictures never do these justice but nonetheless here’s a video of the piece.  A large scale piece taking up a wall would be spectacular.