Info & views for Prints: Digital, Pigment, C-print, Lamda, & Facemount photos with plexi

This is the conversation I started on Twitter. I decided to ask you to comment here on the blog to keep a more focused record about “facemounting”: gluing plexiglass on the face of a photo.

Please leave helpful info, comments and links below, Thank you.

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15 Comments on “Info & views for Prints: Digital, Pigment, C-print, Lamda, & Facemount photos with plexi”

  1. Great image Mark! I could see how awesome this would look when face-mounted under acrylic.

  2. Great thread! Here’s my 2 cents: Face-mounted prints must be sandwiched in order to protect the print itself from damage (peeling corners, etc…) As Christi stated, this also keeps light from showing through which is crucial to making the image “pop” — Also, we use .25″ acrylic instead of the often seen 1/8″ to help alleviate any cupping that might happen over time to larger prints. In addition, I highly recommend that the acrylic has polished edges. This really does add another unique quality to the face-mounted piece. Feel free contact me with any questions–coreyd@bumblejax.com

  3. Mark-Philip Venema says:

    For the record I got an image printed on a lamda printer at Champion in Montreal and they subcontracted out the facemounting to Pazazz across town.

    The good thing about Champion subcontracting, instead of going direct and possibly cheaper, was, since they had a bubble in the print and ended up damaging the print, Champion reprinted it and had it done again, for which they assumed the cost. The results were beautiful.

    I’m going to offer facemounted photo prints on my new website when I get it up.

  4. @studiomayer says:

    Great post, Christi!

    By all means, if the technique suits your work conceptually, then use it. My work comes from a black and white paradigm and I’m really conservative when it comes to conservation, so that’s where my perspective is coming from.

    Mark- If you do decide to face mount, you might also look into mounting to Lexan (i.e. the plastic used for unbreakable water bottles). It behaves similarly to plexi in terms of mounting, but it’s more durable.

  5. Face mounting is not just a flashy cosmetic technique for those who actually think about what they do/use and why. We carefully think about how to install the work and why, and that applies to the mounting, etc.

    I use face mounting because it makes a reference to looking at the female through a window. My work deals with gender and identity and often speaks to the beauty/diet industry that tells us to be something other than we are. So the idea of watching the female body through the “glass” works.

    I have had disastrous results in the past by trying to use the cheapest service bureau. But once I found one that did it right, I’ve never had a problem again. You WILL pay a hefty price, however.

    The printers who don’t know what they’re doing will also leave off the most essential part… the backing, which basically “sandwiches” the image and doesn’t allow light to come in from the back. You can see what I mean here. http://is.gd/cqMCE The image isn’t going anywhere with that backing on it.

    I would never, ever do this myself. But most likely you will have to try several places before you find one that does it right. So test with a few small pieces.

  6. @studiomayer says:

    As far as durability for a traveling exhibition goes, though, you probably can’t beat a face mount. It will definitely last for a few years, but personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable selling it. I guess if a collector was absolutely in love with the work presented in that way, I’d either be straight with him or her that it isn’t archival, or include a secondary print and count that as part of the edition instead of the face-mounted one. But I used to be a conservation framer, so I’m a geek about this stuff.

    As far as framing goes, if you have a good framer they’ll probably have some ideas about framing it durably. For large prints (like… a meter by several meters), I’ve seen great success with drypress mounting to dibond, which is an aluminum composite sheet comprised of two thin aluminum facers with plastic in between. It’s supposed to be the flattest substrate on the market and seems incredibly resistant to sag. Unfortunately, like face mounting, drypress mounting isn’t particularly archival either and the adhesive seems to eventually fail.

    Bottom line, IMO, the most archival way to mount a print is to do a hinge with rice paper tape (it’s acid free, 100% reversable, and if you do it correctly and have reasonably thick paper, it shouldn’t sag), but it’s also the least durable as far as transporting goes. Meanwhile, drypress mounting or face mounting is the most durable, but not very archival. I guess in this case, it comes down to clear communication to a potential buyer that the way it’s displayed may not be archivally ideal and it’s up to them how they want to display the work, whether entirely archival or otherwise. And depending on the person, some people may make alternate arrangements while others might be perfectly okay with purchasing a print displayed as-is.

  7. Thanks for the brilliant post. The research continues! hmmm making me want to ditch the facemount idea!

  8. @studiomayer says:

    So, to sum everything up, face mounting=bad. The curators I’ve talked to say the adhesive always fails and the print eventually peels off and is ruined. Before buying a face mounted print, most institutions require them to come with a secondary, unmounted print to be kept in the archives.

  9. @studiomayer says:

    You probably have found much of this through your research, but there’s a lot of conflicting information on the internet regarding the difference between Lambda/Lightjet/etc. that’s made worse by the fact that generally, the processes only differ in terms of name brand (Lambda/Lightjet/etc.). Essentially, Lambda prints are traditional C-prints (i.e. Chromogenic Prints, traditional chemical color prints) made on a machine that exposes the paper with a laser and processed using the same process one would use to process a color print exposed with an enlarger (the plexiphoto link above is entirely correct). So essentially, everything that is true of traditional color prints is true of a Lambda/Lightjet print.

    Unfortunately, as research (and experience) dictates, C-prints, regardless of UV protection or lamination, eventually degrade. (You can find some excellent information about this, as well as inkjet printing, here: http://www.wilhelm-research.com/ It’s technical, but worth a read, particularly the sections involving lamination and UV protection.) Unfortunately, C-prints (whether exposed through Lambda or through an enlarger) are just not archival and eventually “eat themselves from the inside out”. I’ve heard that the Kodak metallic paper, due to its metallic properties, is more archival than conventional luster paper, but I haven’t read anything specific to substantiate this. And it definitely has a different look than conventional luster paper. I believe Kodak also makes a silver gelatin paper for this type of printing as well.

    With regard to face mounting on plexi, at best it’s a flashy cosmetic technique. And obviously, this process is impossible to achieve without proper equipment and quite a bit of practice. In the gallery environment, it sells prints, but the problem is that as with any mounting technique, the print eventually delaminates and is ruined. Consequently, most institutions and conservation-minded collectors usually require two prints when purchasing something face mounted to plexi. The face-mounted print for exhibition, and another unmounted print for archival purposes. (I have this information from Nancy Barr, photography curator at the Detroit Institute of Arts.)

    So, what to do for truly archival digital prints? In my experience, the key is well-managed inkjet technique. Professional inkjet systems (sometimes referred to as “pezio”, but often absurdly referred to as giclee, the Magnolia Editions site discusses how wrong this is) use between 6-10 colors of waterproof pigment ink which, if properly UV-shielded, should be entirely 100 year archival (as much as high intensity UV testing can predict) . This is compared to early inkjet systems and office printers which use dye-based ink which is not only water-soluable, but prone to significant fading. Inkjet printing also can be used with a wide, wide variety of 100% cotton papers with various surfaces ranging from a traditional silver gelatin photo surface to cold-press watercolor paper. Finally, there are a great many UV-shielding varnishes and coatings that can be sprayed or brushed on to protect from light damage in addition to proper UV-shielded conservation framing. And while I haven’t seen this specifically, I’ve read that some shops can do face mounting to plexi of inkjet prints (or as I prefer to refer to them, pigment prints). Many photographers also prefer to dry mount their prints to aluminum or dibond (which is also not archival, but looks snazzy in the gallery.) Personally, I print all my photographs using Epson Ultrachrome inks on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag and coat with Golden Matte Varnish with UVLS for a matte silver gelatin on fiber look and then frame with a rice paper hinge on cotton rag board.

    Ultimately, I think you should be able to achieve your goals through proper archival inkjet printing, assuming you can find a shop that has an archival process. Places like http://www.magnoliaeditions.com have further information describing this process and any high quality gallery edition printer should be able to tell you about the right combination of paper and coatings to achieve your goals.

  10. Trying to get some solid writing or criticism of Lamda printing and the ubiquitously overused “C-print” [btw I detest the term “giclee” print which makes me think of badly marketed “cartoon cells”] … and wondering how this would work with a facemount of plexi.

    Some more links on this: http://photo.net/digital-darkroom-forum/00Lc7B

    http://www.12thandarch.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=97&Itemid=111

    http://www.w-co.co.uk/lambda_printing.php

    http://photo.net/film-and-processing-forum/00KY0S

    http://www.plexiphoto.com/engels/lambda.html

    Lots has been said about “C-prints” which seems to have lost its original meaning. From what I am reading seems that the best quality digital print I can get is a lamda print. Anyone have comments or suggestions on that?

  11. Jeremy Penn says:

    I have done this process a few times now and I can tell you that I wouldn’t make any attempts at this if you are not a professional. Face mounting is something that should be done by a pro due to the high costs of materials.
    I recommend using a print on kodak metallic paper behind the plexi for even richer saturation. Facemounting is definitely en vogue right now. You can’t go to an art fair and not see work done using this technique. It is very important to remember that this is not an archival process no matter how it is done. The images will fade over time.

    • If the plexiglass has UV protection and the paper is acid-free, it should last a very long time, I have been told. Some papers a Montreal printer told me can hold ink light-fast for 200 years. My thought was supplying an archive of the original digital file to be available to the owner in the event of fading. … of course, he is not going to be around for another 200 years.


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