Wednesday, August 20, 2008

DIY inkjet print onto aluminum

By Mary Taylor

I enjoy imaging onto multiple substrates and aluminum in various forms makes a wonderful substrate for photography. The inherent reflectivity and neutral silver hue of the aluminum works with many tonal ranges and pre-coating adds a hand wrought quality to my photography. Alternative aluminum surfaces are rigid aluminum sheets, aluminum tape or composite (silver) leaf. Aluminum sheets and tape are found in hardware/home improvement stores and composite (silver) leaf is found from art suppliers. All of the aluminum will need to be prepped for imaging on with an inkjet printer.

Using an inkjet pre-coat, (inkAID™) I’m able to pre-coat absorbent and non absorbent surfaces to accept the ink used in inkjet printers. Additionally I’m using wide format archival inkjet printers with a straight paper path, primarily the Epson printers ranging from the 3800 to the 9800 series. Some of the recent model printers from Hewlett Packard have similar capabilities with straight paper feeds and ink quality. If you have a printer that cannot handle rigid materials through a straight paper path, use the softer, more pliable forms of aluminum: tape, foils or leaf. The pliable aluminum is adhered to the surface of paper or film and then coated with an inkjet pre-coat, such as inkAID™. When using the tape or the leaf seams are created as the wide format substrate is built. The seams create added interest in some photography and diminish it in others, for your own photography experimentation will lead you to what works.

Preparing the rigid aluminum sheets requires cleaning before applying the inkjet pre-coat. In the manufacturing process of milling aluminum a greasy residue is left. That has to be removed and finding pristine aluminum sheets is a challenge so it is necessary to minimize the scratches and dents or accept them as inherent in the process of imaging on aluminum. I minimize scratches by using 0000 steel wool to buff out the surface of the aluminum. After minimizing scratches or accepting them I clean the aluminum with a solvent citrus cleaner (Citra-Solv™) to remove grease, next soap and water, finally IPA (isopropyl alcohol). Then with a new foam brush I apply 2 to 3 coats of inkAID™ Type II. I let the inkAID™ dry in between coats, frequently over night. The inkAID™ Type II goes on the aluminum smoothly with a foam brush. I work it in both directions coating evenly. Most of the bubbles left by the brush will self level and not affect the final image.

To safely get the rigid aluminum through my printer and to facilitate over printing the edges of the aluminum I adhere it with double stick carpet tape to a carrier sheet. The double stick tape is applied to the backside (uncoated side) of the aluminum sheet and stuck down onto a carrier sheet. (For a carrier sheet butchers paper or other stiff paper works well.) On the paper I draw a simple template by drawing a line across the paper 2” down from the top and another line 2” in from the left side. The aluminum sheet is stuck down onto the template aligned to lines on the top and left side of my paper. The template helps get the alignment right in my printer and allows for overprinting (full bleed) without messing up the printer. In the computer printer setup I begin by defining the paper size as the size of the carrier sheet, I then tell the printer to begin printing 2” down from the top and 2” from the left. It will begin printing there and print full bleed over my entire sheet of aluminum. Using carrier sheets or template sheets is useful for gaining control over your full bleed printing especially if you want to use custom paper sizes.

Once the photograph is done printing I remove it carefully from the printer, let it dry over night. I then post coat it with Krylon Crystal clear first as a barrier coat between the ink and the final hard protective coating. Finally I apply a finish coat of hard MSA (mineral spirits acrylic) varnish. I then remove the print on aluminum from the carrier sheet. Leaving the aluminum on the carrier sheet until you finished with all the handling will help prevent scratches and possibly ink movement. These prints by their nature are somewhat delicate and must be handled with care until the finish coating is dried. The final varnish coating is a semi durable surface like plexiglass (it will take some abuse but not as much as we would all like). I mount them to the surface wooden box frames or place them into a metal frames without glass.

Mary can be contacted at

Reprinted from MAGNAchrom Magazine, Vol 1, Issue 6.

You can download a complete reprint of the original article (in PDF format) here:

MAGNAchrom: End of Article


Unknown said...

Thank you so much for putting this up online.
I have been wanting to play with printing my work on to Aluminium for quite a while but was held off my cost.
I am looking forward to trying this out.

b3arly said...

Thank you for sharing your technique! I look forward to experimenting with this.

Unknown said...

I was wondering if you think that this would work just fine with a Canon 9000 Mark II. Thank you in advance.

Anonymous said...

Why not just let do it for you? Plus their framing is beautiful!!!