What Are Metal Prints?

Metal prints are just as they sound, a photo or artwork imprinted onto a metal substrate. Metal prints have generally only been utilized in the high-end photo printing and art market. The reason for this is due to it being one of the more expensive types of printing.

Printing Methods

Before going over the different types of metal prints, let's first review the methods used for printing on metal:

Dye Sublimation

Dye sublimation is the most popular method for creating metal prints, especially on aluminum. Referred to as "transfer printing", the process involves printing an image in reverse onto "sublimation paper" using specially designed inks, the paper is then placed on top of a piece of specially coated aluminum and put in a heat press. The heat causes the ink to turn into a gas form and bond with the metal.

Dye sublimation

While this method creates some of the most vibrant and crisp images possible, it is very time consuming and therefore very expensive. But dye sublimated prints last a long time and are scratch resistant.

Photo Mounting

Unlike dye sublimation, photo mounting involves printing an image onto a paper substrate and then laminating that paper directly onto the metal.

Photo mounting

Typically, a clear layer of vinyl is also laminated over the paper layer to add some gloss and protect it from scratching and/or UV damage.

UV Printing

This is the newest technology to hit the printing scene and it is making waves in the industry. UV printers are typically large, very expensive flatbed machines on which the substrate is placed and the print heads then maneuver over the substrate on a gantry and lay down ink.

UV printing

These printers are equipped with UV lights that instantly cure the specially formulated ink when it is printed.

UV printer can print on anything from wood to metal to textiles in a fraction of the time of most other printing methods.

Types of Metal

There are several types of metal on which prints are made:


When most refer to metal prints, they are referring to prints made on thin aluminum sheets. These aluminum sheets may be mounted on some kind of rigid substrate like "gator board" or even wood.

Aluminum sheets can also come in different finishes such as:

  • Brushed aluminum - The image is imprinted directly onto a brushed aluminum substrate giving it a uniquely metallic look
  • White base - The aluminum is first coated with a white paint. The image is then imprinted onto the white surface, giving it a very clean and crisp look.
Aluminum print

Due to its light weight, aluminum is a favorite among photographers, artists and decorators. While not as expensive as Aluminum Dibond, it is still extremely expensive when compared to canvas prints. This is due to the cost of the material itself as well as the method which they imprint the image onto the metal.

Aluminum prints are also difficult to hang when compared to other types of prints.

Mounting hardware for traditional metal prints

To maintain that clean, modern look, aluminum prints are typically frameless, which requires special mounting hardware to be installed on its back side.

Aluminum's strengths are:

  • Lightweight
  • Vibrant prints
  • Has a very modern look. Very different from canvas.

Aluminum's disadvantages are:

  • It's expensive
  • It's not magnetic
  • It's difficult to mount, typically requiring expensive mounting hardware
  • Typically requires professional installation

Printing methods used:

  • Dye Sublimation
  • Direct Printing (UV or offset)
  • Photo Mounting

Aluminum Dibond

Aluminum dibond consists of a composite material sandwiched between 2 thin sheets of aluminum. It is considered the gold standard of aluminum prints. It is light, easy to cut and is a favorite among high end photographers and art dealers.

Aluminum dibond

Aluminum Dibond's strengths are:

  • Extremely rigid and lightweight
  • Vibrant and lifelike prints
  • Has a very modern look when hung in a "frameless" configuration

While Aluminum Dibond is considered the gold standard for metal prints, it does have many disadvantages:

  • It's extremely expensive
  • It is not magnetic
  • Requires expensive mounting hardware
  • Professional installation is encouraged

Printing methods used:

  • Dye Sublimation
  • Direct Printing (UV or offset)
  • Photo Mounting


Steel is the least common substrate used for metal prints, mainly due to how difficult it is to print on. Steel is far cheaper than aluminum but also much more difficult to work with.

Dye sublimation and UV printing typically do not work on steel due to poor adhesion. Photo mounting can be done but it is very time consuming.

So how are metal prints made on steel? Our company, Slidetiles, is one of only a handful of companies that has developed a proprietary method of creating metal prints from steel.

Slidetiles on steel

Steel prints have several advantages over other metal prints in the market. These advantages are:

They're Magnetic

Steel is attracted to magnets. This might not sound like a big deal, but it opens up a whole world of possibilities. To start, metal prints on steel can magnetic mounted to walls.

Slidetiles are magnetic

All that is required is to stick a magnet (that has a double stick adhesive on one side) to the wall and place your print on top. Easy peasy!

They're Cheap

Due to the cost of steel being so much less than aluminum, and in many cases canvas as well, metal prints on steel are far more affordable.

Slidetiles photo wall

Want to create a stunning photo wall? Metal prints on steel are your best bet.

They're Strong

Due to steel's strength, metal prints on steel can be thin, light weight and very rigid. This has many advantages as well.

Slidetiles storage

One advantage being that they can be stored easily for use later on. As thin as records, metal prints like Slidetiles are easy to organize and access whenever you feel like changing your wall photos.


When it comes to metal prints, there are several great options to choose from, from aluminum to steel prints. However, their popularity, when compared to canvas prints, is much lower due to their high cost and difficulty to mount to walls.

The goal of Slidetiles is to change that and allow everyone to enjoy metal prints and their true uniqueness when compared to more traditional forms wall art.

Companies like Slidetiles are ushering a new era of modular wall art that can be mounted, changed and adjusted in mere seconds compared to other types of prints.

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