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Going Aluminum

Being a photographer is not always about making new photographs with a camera; here is "Moonrise Over Twilight" (roughly 33" x 25") on hand sanded aluminum. The process of creating aluminum prints took several weeks of experimentation. Other photographers have done this before, however, information regarding the process was quite limited back in 2010 and it was a learn as I go.

Sometime in 2010, a wholesale client asked me about printing on aluminum. It piqued my interest; however, I found no resources or information. Fast forward to the spring of 2012 when I found an online article about a photographer who created several aluminum prints; I immediately emailed her asking about her technique. No reply! I emailed again, silence. I then found another artist doing similar and sent another kind email asking for information. Nothing! They probably did not want to share their ideas. Fine!

I began scouring the Internet for any additional information. Luckily, I found a chemical that can be applied to surfaces, and when dried, would accept a printed photograph. Incredible! Could it be this easy? Wow!

I began experimenting and it was not as easy as I had envisioned. I tried various types of aluminum; I even ordered test rolls from an online wholesaler. Nothing looked good. I tried sanding the aluminum in different ways: I used a belt sander, rotary sander, a finishing sander and nothing impressed me. I even tried sheets of stainless steel.

These disappointments discouraged me; I then searched the Internet for aluminum that was ready-made for inkjet printing. I located two vendors who sold such materials however, unfortunately, they were not for me. One company sold sheets of aluminum with a maximum width of twenty inches (which was too narrow). A second company sold rolls of very shiny vaporized aluminum particulate (it looked too shiny in my opinion) which were priced at over $600 a roll, not including shipping. Nether were viable solutions.

Ultimately, I discovered 36x36 aluminum sheets that were thick enough to sand by hand without creasing. I tested a variety of sandpapers, including several fine automotive grits. The best finish was achieved by hand sanding with steel wool. Wait, I almost forgot, I also had to degrease the aluminum before sanding because it was coated with a thin layer of oil or grease. Once the aluminum was fully sanded and then thoroughly cleaned a second time, I coated it with the special chemical. Then it was ready for use.

My first print was Moonrise Over Twilight and it looked stunning. The radiance of the aluminum gave the photograph a different look and feel. I let it dry, varnished it and then trimmed the excess metal from the sides. The hand sanding gave the artwork a unique texture.

While the procedure was quite tedious, I was extremely satisfied with the results. The aluminum added a luminescence to my photographs; the print was permanent and durable, unlike a paper print. I went to work preparing more aluminum sheets, a process that consumed a great deal of time.

I produced sixteen Aluminums (half roughly 34x26 and the rest about 14x10). I was extremely pleased with the artwork and then all were framed with floater frames. My hand sanded Aluminums are unique pieces of art and each is a one of a kind. My Aluminum prints sold well at a solo exhibition in Philadelphia; I only have a few remaining. I will not be making new ones.

Today, aluminum photo printing has become popular and there is a plethora of online companies that will create prints on metal surfaces (you send them a digital file and they ship back a finished product). Such services were not readily available in 2012 and I’m glad I went through the process of creating my Aluminums by hand, they hold far greater value than lab-created copies that lack an artist’s personal touch.


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