Metal Print Photographs

Photographs printed on metal are one of the most popular mediums available today, for a striking addition to your home décor with a contemporary look that adds beauty and interest to your walls in lieu of a traditional framed paper print behind glass.

An oversized abstract photography print of cracked mud hangs over a brown leather sofa.
An abstract Fujiflex® Crystal Archive metal print creates a breathtaking focal point in this contemporary living room.


It is important to know that there is more than one type of metal print, each with their own features and benefits, depending on the room in which you intend to hang the photograph.

Below, we will break down these differences so that you can make a better informed choice as to which metal print style may be best for you.


Dye-Sublimation Metal Prints

The most common type of metal print is produced with a printing process called 'dye-sublimation'. The photograph is first sized and printed on a special photographic dye transfer paper.

Next, a pre-manufactured aluminum panel with a unique surface coating is placed into a large heat press designed specifically for this printing process. The photo transfer paper is aligned over the panel, then the press is closed together and timed under a specific ratio of heat and pressure.

Closeup corner detail of a dye sublimation metal print.
Edge detail of a ChromaLuxe® HD dye-sublimation photo print.

The dye in the transfer paper then infuses into the coating on the aluminum panel to create a durable, scratch resistant print that is uniquely waterproof.

A company called ChromaLuxe® is the most common manufacturer of the aluminum panels used by most professional printing labs. The panels are available in a small variety of surface finishes, like high gloss or matte, depending on the customer's needs .

A photographic print of a waterfall hangs on a tiled wall over a bathtub.
ChromaLuxe® HD metal prints are uniquely waterproof, allowing them to be installed in high humidity areas like bathrooms or kitchens.

Some benefits of dye-sublimation prints include:

  • Waterproof
  • Scratch resistance/durability
  • Variety of surface finishes
  • Less expensive to produce

It is important to know that while these prints possess good detail and saturation, they are slightly less detailed or reactive to accent lighting as other types of prints. This is not the fault of the photographer or the printer, but rather due to the limitations of the print process itself.

Due to the manufacturing process of the panels, tiny surface imperfections may also be present on the surface of the aluminum, although the printer will usually orientate the panel such that any minor imperfections are hidden by details in the photograph itself.


Digital Chromogenic Metal Prints

The next type of metal print is called a digital chromogenic print, and is superior to the standard dye-sublimation style in terms of detail and reactivity to accent lighting.

The main difference is that the photograph is actually printed on a high quality photographic paper, then laminated to a sheet of aluminum instead of infusing the photo into a coating on the metal.

Closeup corner detail of a Fujiflex metal photographic print.
This Fujiflex® chromogenic metal print is laminated to a sheet of recycled aluminum, which is thicker than dye-sublimation aluminum panels.

With this process, the image is first exposed on a high quality paper like Fujiflex® Crystal Archive, a light-sensitive poly-based photographic material using a digital exposure system utilizing lasers or LEDs. The resulting image is then developed using photographic chemicals.

A panoramic abstract lava photograph hangs over a chair and side table.
Fujiflex® Crystal Archive metal prints offer exceptional detail and vibrancy.

The photograph is then laminated to a sheet of recycled aluminum, which is much thicker and robust than a dye-sublimation panel. Finally, a high-gloss laminate is placed over the image for UV protection.

Closeup view of the corner detail and backside of a photographic metal print.
A recessed aluminum rail 'floater frame' on the back of metal prints becomes invisible after hanging, making the print appear to 'float' on your wall.

Chromogenic metal prints possess the overall look of a traditional metal print, but with far better detail, sharpness, and saturation. Fujiflex® Crystal Archive material has an amazing 3D look, boasts dramatic color, and reacts to proper accent lighting with a beautiful glowing effect.

Benefits of chromogenic metal prints include:

  • exceptionally high detail and sharpness
  • high reactivity to accent lighting, resulting in a 'backlit' appearance
  • smooth tonal transitions and shadow detail
  • accurate color reproduction and vibrancy
  • perfectly smooth, glass-like surface with no 'orange peel' texture


Which Metal Print Is Right For You?

While both styles of metal prints have their benefits, it ultimately comes down to where you intend on hanging them. If you want to install your photograph in a high humidity area like a bathroom, then a dye-sublimation print is the only choice, as they are fully waterproof while chromogenic prints are not.

A vertical waterfall photograph hangs on the tiled wall of a bathroom beside a sink and mirror.
A ChromaLuxe® HD metal print hangs safely in this bathroom with no risk of water damage.

Also, if the bathroom has a bright window or overhead lights, you can choose a matte finish instead of glossy to help reduce reflections and glare.

A photograph of a Japanese maple tree with orange leaves hangs on the wall in a living room with orange accent colors.
A Fujiflex® Crystal Archive metal print provides rich detail to compliment this vibrant living space.

If you wish to have a higher quality glossy print with incredible details and vibrant colour, then a Fujiflex® Crystal Archive chromogenic print is an excellent choice. Being much more reactive to accent lighting, they come alive with a beautiful glowing response that is hard to beat.


A Final Note

Before investing in a fine art print, it is recommended to research and understand the differences between other print mediums such as paper, canvas, and acrylic, not just metal, so that you can make a better informed choice as to what suits your needs in terms of budget and the quality that you desire. A comprehensive comparison of additional print styles can be found here.

Specifically, I hope this article has helped you to understand the differences between metal prints and how they are made.

Often, depending on how many rooms you wish to decorate, a combination of print styles is necessary when adding fine art to your home, and it all starts with knowing which mediums are right for you.