How to Create a Print on Metal From Your Images

Today most of us are faced with numerous challenges when trying to figure out how stand apart from everyone else who is printing onto traditional media such as paper and canvas.
Although there have been many advances in paper stocks and canvas media in recent years, there weren’t too many options outside of that realm unless you were into making your own plates and emulsions for direct transfers of artworks and photographic images to unusual substrates.
Today there has been many advances in the fine art printing technology and one of the most exciting and new options is the ability to print an image directly to metallic sheet, such as aluminum, copper and stainless steel.
Deciding on how to print on metallic surfaces involves breaking down some important elements and then deciding which characteristics are more important to you.
There are 3 common techniques used today for printing onto metal surfaces.
1. UV cured printers can print onto flat substrates. This technology is expensive and can produce conflicting results depending on the machine and generation of printer. The new machines costing over $500,000 can produce spectacular results but unfortunately they are outside most people’s budget.
2. The other option is to use dye sublimation, also known as dye sub. Dye sub. This is a process of printing the image onto a thermal transfer paper and then baking the image onto the metal using a hot plate. The results can be very good but there can be a large number wasted pieces due to inconsistent results due to the variables involved. The metal also has to be coated with a thermal receptive chemical and therefore can be more expensive to produce in smaller quantities.
3. The third method of printing onto metal is the use a typical fine art printer such as the Epson printers that can take flat media and print onto the metallic substrate by coating the metal with an ink receptive chemical.
This process is for the most part the highest resolution but due to the sensitivity of the water based inks and coatings involved can be tricky at times. The results are stunning when using this method but the only major drawback is the fact the print has to be coated afterwards with the solvent based protective coating to seal in the inks.
This can be tricky to apply cleanly and evenly unless you have a good spraying technique and environment.
As pointed out here, there are options for direct printing onto any metallic surfaces however the one you will chose depends mainly on your expectations and budget.
The UV cured option is probably the most economical if you can find a supplier with such a machine but there may be issues such as banding, not to mention the resolutions may be low into the 400-600 DPI range for older machines.
Despite the various issues involved with each of the methods discussed above, direct printing to metal can be a very exciting and unique way to reproduce your photos and artworks.
The most common substrates are aluminum, stainless steel, copper as well as brushed metals.
You can practically print onto any other metal combination provided it can be fit into machine.
Epson printers will not accept any media thicker than 1.5 millimeters and for flat bed printer you can go as thick as 2 inches in some cases.
I encourage you to explore this new and exciting new printing technology and I am sure you will be very pleased with the overall results.