by Zack Schnepf
I’ve been doing art festivals and gallery shows for 8 years now. In that time I’ve noticed several changing trends in regards to what type of prints customers prefer. I’ve seen a huge shift away from traditional framed prints and canvas and toward newer technology like aluminum and acrylic prints. I think there are several reasons for this shift. In this article I’ll talk about my observations while selling prints and share my opinion on why people are buying more metal and acrylic and what advantages they offer over traditional print mediums.
A little history. When I started doing art festivals eight years ago there were only two mediums most photographers were printing on. Tradition printing papers like glossy and matte inkjet paper, and canvas prints. About five years ago, I started to see a few photographers printing on aluminum, acrylic and a few other non-traditional mediums. I really liked the look of these new mediums, but they were more expensive and in the case of the acrylic prints, really heavy. At that time I was in the middle of a failed experiment trying out canvas printing. Canvas prints failed for me because I specialize in highly detailed grand landscape scenes and the detail gets lost in the texture. Certain images still sold well on canvas, but they were primarily low detail abstracts and painterly looking scenes that lent themselves to the medium.
After my failed canvas experiment I wanted to try some prints on Aluminum. Aluminum prints have a lot of advantages over traditional print mediums. They are much more durable, water proof, scratch resistant, light weight, very archival, don’t need to be framed, very three dimensional, and very bright. They also have less reflection issues compared to framed prints with standard glass. They do have a few disadvantages as well. They are not as detailed as traditional inkjet prints and have a much more limited color gamut. The limited color gamut is my biggest issue with metal prints. It can be very challenging to get certain colors to render correctly. Because of this, I have test prints made before I order a full size aluminum print. Once I get a test print, I make adjustments to the print file and order a another test print until I get the results I’m looking for. In my experience, green is the hardest color to render correctly.
5 years ago, when I tried aluminum prints for the first time, they were a big hit. Very few other photographers were printing on metal so my images really stood out at shows. They also look very impressive in person due to their 3 dimensionality, brightness and punchy colors. Pretty soon, all of the images I displayed were printed on aluminum and I’ve enjoyed good success at shows ever since.
Photo: iPhone photo of my 2016 both setup displaying aluminum and acrylic prints.
Recently I’ve been experimenting with acrylic prints and they are my current favorite. They represent the best of both worlds and the best overall quality in my opinion. Like aluminum prints, they are bright and have a beautiful three dimensional glossy look, but they also retain the detail and color gamut of traditional inkjet prints. They do have a few draw backs compared to metal prints. They are heavier, and they scratch easier. Scratching is the only real issue i have with the acrylic prints. You need to be careful when moving, or cleaning acrylic prints.
Photo: iPhone photo, acrylic print made by Nevada Art Printers
Conclusion and recommendations. We have more options that ever for printing our photographs. Different types of images work well on different print mediums. For the grand landscapes I’m focusing on, metal and acrylic are my current favorite print mediums. If I were choosing a print to hang on my own wall I would probably choose an acrylic print, unless it was an area that wasn’t lit very well. In that case I would choose an aluminum print for it’s brightness and reflectivity. For most customers I recommend aluminum first. The durability, brightness, visual impact, and ease of maintenance are hard to beat. The exception is certain images don’t print well on aluminum. There are about 20% of my images that I can’t get to print very well on aluminum. In these cases I recommend acrylic instead.
Where do I have my prints made? I still produce my own traditional prints, but I use specialty printers for both acrylic and aluminum. For aluminum prints I use: http://www.hdaluminumprints.com. Randy at HD Aluminum Prints does a fantastic job and profiles better than any other aluminum printer I’ve used. I have my acrylic prints made at: http://www.nevadaartprinters.com. They produce incredible quality acrylic prints!