Today I’m testing out a direct to aluminum print from Zor.com, which is supposed to bring out vibrant colors and incredible image clarity. The 3mm Dibond is fashioned from two thin sheets of aluminum, with a low-density core of polyethylene. This makes the print sturdy and durable, but also very lightweight. But to be honest, I’m awfully skeptic of printing on anything other than fine-art papers. Call me a conservative printer. Let’s find out if Dibond can change my mind.
Right off the bat, I can say that prints aren’t just about raw quality. The overall impression is at least as important. I mean, you could frame a perfect print with a totally unfitting matte and frame, ruining the look and feel of the artwork. A fine frame, high quality, artisan surfaces and even lighting can go a long way in presenting any artwork. This is my first aluminum print, so I’m eager to see the results for myself.
About the Photograph
For this test, I’ve chosen an abstract, intentional camera movement landscape photograph to test the print quality and impression. In the original photograph of a beach at blue hour; just after sunset, there is pure white, pure black, a variation in hues ranging from blue to orange, and enough sharp edges in the foreground to judge the tonal clarity of aluminum Dibond.
Preparing Your Own Aluminum Print
There are a couple of things I did in post-processing before sending my digital file over to Zor.com for printing. In fact, the soft-proof with all the adjustments looks very different than the jpg intended for sharing on the web. Here’s a screenshot comparison of the two and the appropriate histograms. Before is the intended print; after is the soft-proof.
Here’s what I’ve done to get this aluminum print looking as intended.
- Get the right color profile for the soft-proof and enable it. Get Zor’s ICC-profile for alu-Dibond here directly.
- Control the color balance and saturation and adjust any outlying colors. For this print, blue shifted way too much toward cyan and got much more saturated than the other colors. Although blue is a common outlier in prints.
- Lower the contrast in the mid-tones through curves by 5-10 points.
- I have also pulled out blue from the shadows in order to compensate for the oversaturated and cool blacks that would otherwise dominate the print.
- Brighten the dark parts of the image that still contain detail (shadows).
- If you’re handling a contrast-rich image that does include black, then adjust the black point (either with levels or curves) until the histogram barely touches the low end.
- The same goes for white. If the sun, moon, stars, or an artificial light source is directly visible in the frame, then include white. Lower the highlights and increase the whites a bit otherwise, but do not include pure white in this case.
- Add a little bit of noise (Gaussian, 0.11, monochrome) as a final adjustment. This will help prevent banding.
- Finally, increase the overall exposure by half a stop. If you’ve adjusted everything else above, this is enough to compensate for the darker (grey) aluminum substrate instead of plain white paper. Maybe adjust the whites accordingly.
After a week or so, the print has arrived. And at first glance, it’s the weight that surprised me the most. The 60x40cm print weighs a couple of hundred grams and that includes the sturdy packaging. As I am unwrapping the print, I start to see a glimpse of my artwork.
Well, I wouldn’t have judged aluminum to be the best substrate for high-quality prints. In fact, I always thought that alu-Dibond was a sub-par alternative to the classics like the German fine-art papers. And yet, here I am looking with amazement at the detail in the deepest darks and brightest highlights.
The feel of the print is fantastic. What can I say? I’m a sucker for the matte finish and Zor’s alu-Dibond texture is one that you definitely want to touch. One thing that I will have to get used to, is that those brightest parts look and feel very different than the rest of the print. There is white ink printed over the aluminum in those areas, which is then toned to achieve the color of the photo. The matte finish is inherently lost in those areas, but it does give the print a variation in surfaces; albeit a weird one. It is tough for me to get this across on a photo, but I will try to show you what I mean. Please pay attention to the difference in texture in the bright left part and the blue midtones in the next image.
Would I be printing to aluminum again? Given the low price point (this 60x40 print is only € 15,99) and stunning industrial overall impression, I won’t hesitate to print on alu-Dibond. But only with certain photographs that have an abstract quality to them and preferably do not include anything approaching pure white. I can’t help the nagging feeling that the brightest parts look and feel very different than most of the image. Having said that, I do think that great results can be achieved when you soft proof your photo's.
Zor.com is a relative newcomer (2015) in the print-scene, but their business seems to be growing at a stunning rate since they are already one of the leading print services in France. Zor ships to over 20 countries in Europe (unfortunately, no U.S. shipping at this point), and have a select range of photo products to choose from that go up to 120cm wide: Aluminum, Forex, and transparent Acrylic.
Update: Zor.com let's us know that there's a special 10% discount for Fstoppers readers, valid until October 19th. Enter this code at checkout:ZorAndFstoppers