Your Complete Guide to Ordering a Stunning Metal Print
There are literally thousands of merchants who make a metal photo print and they are NOT created equal. There are differences in materials used, printing methods, craftsmanship, finishing options, packaging, shipping – and of course, price and buying experience.
Fortunately, we can help here.
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After studying the offerings of over 40 different merchants from around the world…tapping our own experience purchasing and marketing metal prints…and reviewing dozens of photographer reviews and blog posts…we’ve chosen to highlight five merchants who have distinctive offerings in custom metal prints.
Our goal is to help you make an educated, informed choice for your one-of-a-kind gift.
As a start, we’ve provided a quick review of retailers who can help. For full details and deeper merchant reviews, scroll down past the Quick Takes.
Which types of images make stunning metal prints? Watch this video interview with professional photographer Deborah Loeb Bohren for her suggestions and ideas.
RETAILER QUICK TAKES
Best for museum quality metal prints
WhiteWall offers a choice of five different manufacturing methods to produce your metal print. And they offer color management with ICC profiles for the “truest color”.
Best for easy shopping experience
Image Wizards is 100% focused on metal prints, so their ordering process is streamlined and quick. They offer proof prints for $25 (good if you’re ordering a large size metal print.)
Best for desktop or tabletop metal prints
Printique (formerly AdoramaPix) has a noteworthy assortment of smaller size tabletop and desk display metal prints.
This includes acrylic stands, metal easels, and even a magnet mount for display on a refrigerator or metal cabinet.
Best for templates to customize backgrounds and add text to your metal print
Shutterfly offers the most consumer-friendly buying experience, with over 90 formats and templates to customize a metal print.
Let’s start with a quick primer on how metal prints are typically manufactured.
There are two processes that manufacturers typically use when making custom metal prints:
1. Print directly onto metal
2. Dye-sublimation, a process where the image is printed onto paper and the paper image is transferred into the metal using a heat press process that is a combination of temperature, time and pressure. The dye-sublimation process infuses the ink or dye pigments into the metal at the molecular level, creating a print that will not crack, fade, or peel under normal conditions– and is the most common printing method for custom metal prints.
When you buy, you will need to make choices in the type of base material, paper, and ink or dye pigments used– as well as make decisions regarding design, finishes, and mounting. We’ll help you navigate these choices below.
5 Choices to make when ordering a metal print
In our reviews of merchants, we’ve identified five buying factors you should consider when deciding where to purchase your metal print.
1. Design – In addition to print size, there are number of design choices to make:
Do you want your image on a single metal print or split across multiple prints for dramatic effect? Multiple prints are sometimes called “split prints” or “clusters”.
What shape do you want? Beyond standard square and rectangular print sizes, there are dozens of variations, including circles, ovals, heart shapes, scalloped or rounded edges.
Do you want to add a colorful border, artistic design, or sentiment to your print? Some manufacturers offer a wide selection of templates to choose from.
And finally, will the print be mounted on a wall or sit on a table or desk? For walls, there are numerous mounting choices that offer different looks that can appear framed, flush or floating off the wall.
2. Printing Method and Materials: Your choices include dye-sublimation or direct printing. There are at least three different types of metal and ink choices, and several finishing options including variations of gloss or satin, matte, and brushed metal.
Watch this incredibly funny, but compelling “homemade” video from Chromoluxe, (the provider of the metal to many of the merchants reviewed here). You won’t believe how they test the durability of metal prints.
3. Production Time and Packaging: Production times vary widely, from 2 to 12 days. Rigid and protected packaging is important as metal prints can sometimes chip in transit, especially at the corners. All merchants use protective packaging, and some higher end merchants have created special packaging (including custom-made crates for larger sizes).
4. Price: The craftsmanship of the manufacturer and your decisions regarding printing process, print size, materials, and design all affect your final price. This is one reason why prices vary as much as 60% among merchants. Look for promotional discounts. Some merchants offer these and you may be able to dramatically reduce the price you pay.
5. Buying experience: Reflecting the craftsmanship that can exist in the manufacture of metal prints, many merchants offer a value-added buying experience. You’ll find everything from concierge-like service (including consultation on your original image and proof printing) to thoughtful website previewing and other features that can make your purchase experience easier to navigate.
No matter which merchant you use – and the ones we’ve reviewed here all offer great choices – you’ll get a water-resistant, scratch-resistant, fade-resistant, beautiful print that will last for decades.
Offering five different methods for printing on metal.
WhiteWall has an excellent reputation for producing sophisticated gallery-quality wall art. Targeting the professional photographer, WhiteWall, is a German-based online retailer, with stores in New York, Paris, Zurich and Vienna (plus 6 in Germany).
WhiteWall describes their metal prints as “museum-quality with timeless elegance” and promises that customers’ photos “are given the same white-glove, professional care as those displayed in exhibitions.”
WhiteWall offers the most choice in metal print methods and materials, going well beyond the classic dye sublimation printing process. Here are descriptions of each method, in order of price point (from lowest to highest):
– 5 Choices of printing method
– “Museum quality” product
– Color management with ICC profiles for “truest color”
– Time to produce and ship (production in Germany)
– Selecting your desired print size can be difficult
– Not as “consumer simple” as other sites
1. Direct Print on Aluminum Dibond.
WhiteWall is one of the few merchants who print directly onto metal – in this case on a material known as dibond®. Dibond is a composite material, 3mm (roughly 1/8”) thick, with three layers. Two aluminum layers with a platinum white look “sandwich” a black polyethylene core. This structure prevents “oil canning”, a buckling of metal sheet material and is ideal for larger print sizes. Using UV Fine Art inks, WhiteWall prints appear highly saturated even on large monochrome sections. The finish has a matte, non-glare look.
2. Photo Print on Aluminum Backing
In this printing process, the photo is exposed with state-of-the-art laser technology and then developed traditionally on your choice of three professional photo papers from Fujifilm, Kodak, or Ilford. You can choose a glossy surface for maximum color intensity and sharp contours or matte if you plan to display the print in a brightly lit area. The print is mounted onto the aluminum dibond material described above, then a UV protective laminate is applied to protect the print from dust and UV radiation.
3. Direct Print on Brushed Aluminum
What is unique here is the surface of the metal. WhiteWall prints directly onto a gold or silver brushed aluminum dibond panel. UV Fine Art pigments with a matte finish are used to create a non-reflective areas, but the bright parts of the image are omitted from the print, leaving the brushed aluminum visible for a unique metallic sheen. This is a very cool look for certain photos: “The shimmering look of the textured surface produces an exciting contrast to the intensely vivid color and precise detail of the print.”
4. HD Metal Print
This product is a great choice for vivid color photos with sharp contrast. The dye sublimation process (called thermal sublimation in Europe) vaporizes Fine Art Inkjet pigments into a special coating on an ultra-thin (1 mm) aluminum panel – creating a permanent bond and an extremely robust print. You can choose two surface options: glossy or brushed aluminum which creates a textured look.
5. UltraHD Photo Print on Aluminum Dibond
Today’s cameras are capable of top-notch image quality with extraordinary detail and high resolution. WhiteWall strives to match the level of detail captured in the image file by using software that has “revolutionized the conventional exposure process” – and printing the image on Fuji Crystal Professional Archive Maxima paper which was specially created to meet the demands of ultra HD photography. The result is a custom metal print with extremely crisp definition, deep color, and greater light resistance for longer lasting luminous color.
Speaking of color, WhiteWall is one of a handful of photo printers who take extra steps to produce “true color” by utilizing ICC profiles. There are often variations in how display screens on your camera, your computer, your phone, and printing devices interpret image files. ICC profiles help align a monitor profile and a image profile to deliver better color accuracy. You can read more about ICC profiles here
Three other quick comments: While we respect and appreciate WhiteWall’s product quality, we did experience some frustration with the WhiteWall purchase process. The website is not as user friendly as more mass merchandiser other photo retailer sites. Sizing a photo print was problem for us (though this may turn out to be a benefit for some). Uniquely, WhiteWall’s ordering site decides the size options based on the proportions of the image uploaded. We were not easily able to order our desired sizes – a standard 8×10 or 11×14 – with our image being uploading. The site was forcing odd sizes (like 8 x 9.1, or 34.8 x 20).
The good news is that the size range available is quite large. Minimum size is 3.5”x3.5”. Maximum size is 75”x57”. Picture hanging hardware is included with all prints, so your photo arrives ready to hang. There are also over 100 frames to choose from if you plan to go that route. Shipping can take eight to twelve days since manufacturing is done in Germany. Be sure to plan accordingly.
Saving the best for last: A cool way to review all your photo print material/substrate choices at WhiteWall is to order their sample pack. While the cost is $11.95, a promo code for $12 off your first order is included. And shipping is free. You’ll get metal print options as well as lots of paper options (and even canvas).
– Ordering process is streamlined and quick
– Proof prints available (for $25)
– They’re a specialist (100% focused on metal prints as a company)
– No visual confirmation of your image in the cart
– Price list is not as simple as others to navigate
– Prints larger than 24×36 have a custom wooden crate cost automatically added to cart
Metal Print Specialists
“We invented metal prints” exclaims Image Wizards on its website, and there is a chorus of professional photographers, including respected wildlife photographer Scott Bourne who endorse them. You can read some references on their home page– scroll down to the “Clients” section on their home page.
Image Wizards call their custom metal prints “AluminArte”. They apply significant craftsmanship to their process, using a proprietary dye sublimation process that results in a rich perspective.
When you look at an Image Wizard metal photo print, “you are not simply seeing a printed picture; rather, you are seeing dyes sublimated and suspended at different depths in the coating on the surface of aluminum” giving their prints an “unparalleled feeling of depth that will find you losing yourself in the print.” – Image Wizards
To ensure that you are 100% happy with your print, they offer proof prints (6”x9”) for $25 with free shipping. There are two prints included. One is the overall image to ensure correct color. The second is a detailed section of the image at “print size” so that you can check the detail. You are also able to talk with a technician to fine tune color, balance, sharpness, and other elements to get your print just the way you want it. Image Wizards also has a Total Satisfaction Guarantee.
One of the best features of the Image Wizards ordering site is their videos which explain all your decisions clearly. That said, there are a few ordering details you should know about:
Sizes begin at 8”x10” – There are no small sizes, but you can specify any size in inches (up to two decimal points!) up to 48”x96”.
Material and Finishes – You will need to choose the base material and finish. There are two choices for the base: lightly brushed aluminum or a white coated aluminum panel that allows the whites in your photo to show the base coat, like printing on a piece of paper. In addition, Image Wizards offers ultra-gloss, semi-gloss, and matte finishes which each have different reflectivity. No worries, if you can’t decide, an Image Wizard technician will recommend a finish once you have uploaded your image. Just be sure to add a note in the comments section asking for their advice.
Things that matter. Things that last.
Printique is a new name for a reputable photo print business called AdoramaPix. Two things that distinguish them as a merchant:
One, they have been a preferred printer for wedding and event photographers who demand high quality work, consistent print standards and fast production time. In fact, they just launched a new membership option for pro photographers called “Pro Service”. They have created a YouTube video series to help pros earn more money from printing opportunities.
Second, they were started as an offshoot of the major camera and accessories retail business Adorama, in New York City. The connection still exists today. So when you consider Printique, you are engaging with a company that knows what professional photographers need and want.
Every photo you submit to Printique is inspected by professionals to ensure vibrancy.
Your custom metal print will be produced in their state-of-the-art lab in Brooklyn, NY using a dye sublimation printing process.
Good Choice for Desktop/Tabletop Print Options
Of all the merchants reviewed here, Printique has a noteworthy assortment of smaller size tabletop and desk display metal prints. They offer an array of mounting options including acrylic stands, metal easels, and even a magnet mount for display on a refrigerator or metal cabinet.
New to the Printique website is a Wall Designer Tool. You can select a room template or upload your own room photo. Choose a preconfigured wall arrangement of prints and drop your custom photos in, then arrange and reconfigure.
Variety of Shapes and Finishing Options Available (and even a sample kit you can order)
You can order any of eight different print shapes, including ovals, heart-shaped, hexagons and panoramic panels. They offer an array of sizes and label sizes that are best for iphone image fit. There are four finish options. You can view these choices on their web site or purchase a sample pack (starting at $5; the $15 pack includes all four metal finishes). Order here
The Shopping Experience
Since Printique is concerned about quality they rate your uploaded image from “fair to excellent” and judge its resolution. If your image resolution is low, you will be told to reduce the print size to improve print quality. Editing choices for your image are limited once your upload your image. You can crop and apply a sepia or black and white filter, but you’ll need to do all other editing you wish to optimize your image before you upload. Processing time is listed on the site for each of their products. Four days is the promised production for metal prints. This does not include shipping time.
Note: This merchant only ships to the U.S. and Canada. You can also pick up your finished print at their Manhattan or Brooklyn New York locations.
Mounting & display options
– Fast production time. (4 days) and expedited. Shipping options.
– Photo quality “checker” prior to ordering
– A favorite merchant of wedding photographers. (a good quality reputation)
– Maximum size is 40×60
– Fewer wall mounting options than other merchants
– Buying experience geared to pros rather than consumers
The “King” of Photo Prints and Gifts.
Shutterfly recorded nearly $2 billion in revenue in 2018, making it far and away the leading online retailer of photo print and gift products. And, unlike merchants who focus on the professional market, their goal is to satisfy you and your gift recipient. This focus is reflected in their user-friendly website, the broad variety of products especially for gift giving and home decor, the wide assortment of design templates available, and the high-value promotions they run throughout the year. Shutterfly also offers an “IDEAS” tab on their website to help inspire your gift ideas.
Shutterfly variety of metal prints– For metal prints, Shutterfly offers over ninety different shapes and sizes – and design templates including collages and designs with borders, sentiments, and customizable text for personalization.
Shutterfly uses Chromaluxe metal panels and the dye sublimation process. Shutterfly metal panels are .45” thick, with rounded corners, and available in twelve sizes from 4”x4” to 24”x36”. There are two choices of metal panels: brushed metal and a “true color surface” which has a white base coat to make colors pop. You can also order a matte or glossy finish.
Embellishing (and previewing) your print– Shutterfly offers the widest array of choices in templates and color backgrounds to embellish your print – with a convenient way to filter through all the options. This makes Shutterfly the most robust buying experience among all vendors reviewed. Customization choices include print size, format, templates, text, color including custom color palettes, and more.
You’ll also get a unique “Preview Option” which allows you to see a replica of the final product from different angles. Production time is typically 3-4 days, but rush orders can be expedited. During checkout, you will be given a date range for product delivery.
Other reasons to shop Shutterfly – Of the merchants we’ve reviewed, Shutterfly has the deepest discounts and promotions. Open up an account on both the Shutterfly website and mobile apps (phone app for a wide assortment of gifts, and tablet app for photo books) to receive special offers.
Finally, Shutterfly offers a robust online help center, 24 hours live chat, and a “Happiness Guarantee” – all designed to ensure that you are delighted with your buying experience and custom metal prints.
– Over 90 formats and templates to customize a metal print
– Buying experience is the most consumer-friendly
– Promotions can dramatically reduce the final price
– Maximum size is 24×36
– No choices given for backingor mounting
– Larger company, less hands-on help if needed
Offering an Exceptional Range of Quality MetalPrints™
Bay Photo is 40-year old photo lab known for its exceptional prints and products, with a strong reputation among professional photographers. What distinguishes
Bay Photo is creativity – its unique designs and the company’s commitment to pushing the frontier with inspired, imaginative products and high-quality manufacturing.
You can choose from a variety of shapes, sizes, border designs, and framing options. Bay Photo is also the only merchant we reviewed who offers Performance EXT Metal, specially engineered to enable long-term display outdoors. They also offer the largest array of curved metal prints for desktop display.
Reviewers give high marks to Bay Photo for its dye sublimation print quality and customer service.
We also liked the clear videos online that explain the difference between their five finishes (high and mid-gloss, satin, sheer glossy, and matte). Like other merchants reviewed here,
Bay Photo offers the classic single metal print and framed print, as well as wall clusters and splits. There are additional choices for buyers looking for something unique.
- Double Float MetalPrints: A single metal print is floated ½” off the surface of a second, larger metal print, producing an elegant framing effect.
- Creative Edge Metal Prints: Twenty-six shapes, edges, and “drop-in” designer borders
- Exhibit Mounts: Metal Prints mounted onto 2mm black Styrene and finished with a black metal inset frame or float mount hanger. Great for prints hung in high-traffic areas or moved frequently.
- Acrylic MetalPrints: A sleek and modern mounting option with stainless steel posts in each corner and an optional acrylic face over the print.
- Corner Treatments: Four different options: sharp square, 1/8” rounded, 3/16” rounded and scalloped.
- Curved Metal Prints: Twelve sizes from 4”x6” to 12”x18” with convex or concave curves – for desk and tabletop display.
Unlike others, Bay Photo has combined the idea of proofing and a sample pack in one step. Sample packs are common among manufacturers who service professional photographers, but Bay Photo makes this one step better by combining a proof print and sample in one package. Their Sample Packs consist of one of your images in your choice of size printed on each of the five surfaces. Corner and finishing options can be individually selected for each print.Bay Photo has the fastest turnaround time in the industry, just 2-3 days for most Metal Prints.
– Amazing array of creative shapes, sizes, frames and design borders
– Performance EXT Metal is designed for long-term outdoor display
– Fastest production time quoted (2-3 days)
– ROES online ordering system which some photographers feel is challenging to use
– No published satisfaction guarantee
– Maximum size is 40×60
These five merchants each have many virtues – and all are trusted by professional photographers and photo gift givers alike to deliver a beautiful custom metal print. Depending upon your requirements for design, print method and materials, timing, price, and buying experience you can find your merchant of choice among these standouts.