View Full Version : displaying prints with no glass-- latest results

chris jordan
13-Sep-2004, 23:40
Hi guys, I've been doing lots of experimenting and research on this topic lately, so I thought I'd share my results to date. The idea is to find a way to display large color inkjet prints (40x50" and larger) without glass, protected in such a way that the prints can be considered archival. The mounting process is easy and there are lots of chemically and dimensionally stable backing materials to choose from; the problem lies in protecting the print surface. Face-mounting with clear plexi is one option for some kinds of prints, but it looks like glass (thus defeating the whole purpose) and it does not work with Ultrachromes.

My results with the various spray lacquers are mixed. First, as a side note, it turns out that all of the sprays are the same-- Lyson Print Guard, Premier Art Shield, and a couple of others, all appear to be the exact same product, in the same can, with the same numbers stamped on the bottom, from the same factory somewhere. So if you want to use a lacquer spray, get the cheapest one because they all seem to be identical!

Generally the sprays work great, and the technique is easy to perfect so that there are no visible streaks, blotches, etc. They totally solves the problem of bronzing with Ultrachromes on RC papers, and also darken the blacks a bit, while providing good UV protection. My standard practice is to apply eight coats, thus more than doubling the UV protection that the sprays were tested with by Henry Wilhelm.

The only problem I have found with the sprays is that they leave an ever-so-slight sand-papery texture on the surface of the print, which I fear might collect dust over time. If this happened, the print would be very hard to clean. I have tried applying Renaissance Wax over the surface to fill in the sandy texture, but I couldn't get it smooth enough to be satisfactory.

Next I have tried a whole series of laminates, with also mixed results. The matte laminate surfaces are terrible-- they haze the whole image, flatten the color, and fog the blacks badly. The gloss laminates give the image a cheesy plastic placemat look that's also unacceptable. In the middle are laminates with medium surfaces called "satin" or "luster", and these can be beautiful-- smooth and tasteful, with no fogging of the blacks, and a nice overall sheen that doesn't reflect any more than the raw print. They also solve bronzing in Ultrachromes.

The laminates generally provide the surface with bombproof protection, that can be rubbed forcefully with the hand, wiped with a wet cloth, and even sprayed with windex and wiped off with a wet sponge. As an added benefit, many of the laminates have 98% or 100% UV protection, which according to Henry more than doubles the expected life of Ultrachrome prints.

The challenge with the laminates seems to be to find one made with an acceptably archival plastic. Most of the respected printers and framers in the country use laminates made of PVC (Vinyl) made by Neschen, Drytac, and Mactac. Unfortunately Henry Wilhelm says PVC is not recommended for photographic applications. He doesn't not specifically address PVC laminates, but in his chapter on film sleeves and envelopes he says PVC is terrible for a whole host of reasons.

The general skinny on PVC is that an organic material is added as a plasticizer, and over time that organic stuff can seep out of the PVC and leave an oily reside on the surface. The oily residue looks bad, attracts dust, turns black, can harbor bacteria and mold, and also can damage or discolor whatever it is in contact with. My fear with PVC laminates is that over time, the oily stuff could seep inward, coming into contact with the print surface. To date no one has tested the stuff with this in mind, so no one knows whether this will happen. However, the Neschen company (one of the biggest lamination manufacturers), claims that they have prints hanging in their office that were laminated fifty years ago and have shown no deterioration whatsoever. Many framers also have been using the stuff for years, and they claim it does not deteriorate over time. Maybe the direct contact with the print prevents the PVC from seeping inward, in which case it might be very long lasting.

The adhesives on almost all of the laminates are acrylic, which is chemically stable and will not be a problem for any print surface.

Neschen does make a couple of laminates from different materials-- one polycarbonate and one polypropylene. While more chemically stable than PVC, polycarbonate turns yellow over time, and thus it is kicked out of the running. Polypropylene, on the other hand, is Henry Wilhelm's favorite archival material-- it is chemically and dimensionally stable, doesn't yellow, doesn't seep or outgas, doesn't harden or crack, and won't damage any photographic surface. However, Neschen's polypropylene laminate doesn't contain a UV protectant! Dang. They also make a polyester one that doesn't have UV protection. Also, neither of these is offered in the same nice satin finish as their PVC product.

So I'm not sure where to go from here. One idea is to laminate with the polypropylene, with a layer of PVC over the top for UV protection. But the two layers might start to be too thick, and block too much light transmission, plus it would be just a fundamentally nerdy solution. I might also just try the PVC, and see what happens after a few years. I'm waiting to hear back from Neschen about other products they are developing also; maybe there will be enough call for a UV-protected polypropylene product that they will make one. A few people are in the process of testing some of the laminates, so hopefully in the next few months there will be better info about the archival life of the PVC and other laminates.

So that's the scoop for now. Please let me know if you have any additional thoughts, experiences, etc.-- I'd sure like to arrive at a satisfactory solution sometime soon.




14-Sep-2004, 02:05
to get an even, smooth coat on lacquers you have to be careful.

first, you do 2-3 mist coats. Mist coats are just lightly applied lacquer. Dont worry about covering the whole photo in one coat.. just mist it with lacquer.

after the mistcoats comes the first wet coat. Wet coat is when you stop spraying when the coat looks wet and about to run. This is the challenging part, it has to be just perfect, not too much that it will run or not too little that it will look like an orange peel.. you do these wet coats 3-4 times and at the end with some rubbing compound or polish you polish it out to a perfect glossy-smooth shine..

Martin Patek-Strutsky
14-Sep-2004, 03:17
Donít know whether you look for a cost-no-object or for an economical solution but you should have a look at a process called Diasec. Essentially it is a special patented silicon rubber used to face mount the print on a Perspex or glass pane. The results are stunning.

Anyhow Diasec is not cheap. Looking at the costs it is only an option for amateurs using it occasionally for their own pleasure (like me) or for Ďfine artí photographers being able to sell their prints for very substantial prices.

Some links

Archival Issues (English) (http://palimpsest.stanford.edu/byform/mailing-lists/cdl/2003/0586.html)

A lab in Germany offering Diasec (only in german) (http://www.grieger-online.de/)

A lab in Austria offering Diasec (only in german) (http://www.langlang.at/)

Bob Salomon
14-Sep-2004, 04:59
" all appear to be the exact same product, in the same can, with the same numbers stamped on the bottom, from the same factory somewhere."

Then you did not try the Gepe Ink Jet Sprays.

Don Miller
14-Sep-2004, 05:21
Chris, have you looked at the yahoo group EpsonWideFormat ?


Joakim Ahnfelt
14-Sep-2004, 05:42
Why don't you spray first (for the UV protection) and then laminate?

Tim Curry
14-Sep-2004, 06:36
As Deniz has already mentioned, automotive finish polishing compounds were designed to remove the overspray and small surface dust which can accumulate with the spray finishing process. They are typically a very fine abrasive in an oil based solution which is applied with a soft buffing rag or bonnet, although I don't think an automotive buffer would be safe on a print. Check with a finishing supplier in your area and see what is available. Make sure to work the print on an even, flat surface and do not use your hand as a platten or you will be rubbing in surface imperfections. Use a block of foam or something like it to level the surface. You are actually cutting a very fine layer off of the finish to bring it down to a glass smooth finish. Talk to a custom paint shop which does graphics and they will show you how it is done.

Be careful of spraying too many coats too rapidly when humidity is high. I had to do a table top in a hurry and tried to push the amount I was applying to the surface. It looked great until I went to have a cup of coffee to celebrate. When I returned, the drying lacquer had chilled the surface between coats enough to cause condensation at the surface. After 1/2 hour, the finish had a very nice white blush due to the high humidity and cooling surface. This was between layers and I had to strip the entire top and start over.

Dan H
14-Sep-2004, 09:38
Alain Briot offers a glassless finish for some of his prints. From his web site:

The Museum Collection Presentation So what exactly is my Museum Collection? It consists of a selected number of pieces mounted and framed with a unique process. Through this process each photograph -printed on Luster paper on the 9600 with Ultrachrome inks- is mounted onto a rigid wooden base and then protected with a waterproof and ultraviolet-filtering film. This wooden base is then mounted onto a second wooden support, 4 inches wider than the photograph, thus providing the piece with a 2" border all around the edges. This second wooden support has a Black Marble finish to it while the trim all around the edges of the piece has a Golden Oak finish. The result is spectacular.

This unique and revolutionary mounting process offers four unique benefits:

First, although the piece is ready to hang or display no glass is used. This means that no matter where you decide to display your artwork you will never have any reflections preventing you from admiring it.

Second, no glass means no glass to break and nothing to worry about if you move or transport the piece.

Third, the finish on the photograph is waterproof meaning it cannot be damaged by water and can be cleaned simply with a soft and damp cloth.

Fourth, the waterproof finish also works as an ultraviolet filter. 80% of all ultraviolet light is filtered away from the print effectively multiplying the lifetime of the piece before any noticeable fading occurs by a factor of 2 to 4.

tim atherton
14-Sep-2004, 10:13
"Donít know whether you look for a cost-no-object or for an economical solution but you should have a look at a process called Diasec. Essentially it is a special patented silicon rubber used to face mount the print on a Perspex or glass pane. The results are stunning."

Although it is prestigious and much favoured by the big museum crowd (90" x 70" print Diasec mounted to acrylic etc) - and certainly looks great - there seems to be little evidence as the the advantages of the Diasec process over the other face mounting processes such as Seal's, which, by contrast, use a cold-mount silicon system. The family that owns Diasec seems to keep their proprietary process very close to their chest. Because of this there is actually more research about the long term effects of the latter processes than about Diasec. The cold mount processes seem to potentially be fairly safe and long lasting. By contrast, in part due to lack of technical information, there are some doubts about Diasec. One question arises because the print is applied in a failry toxic environment with potential long term effects on the print being mounted. I believe it alos uses heat (?), which, if I recall correctly, has also raised some concerns in conjunction with the adhesive used and the print.

In addition it is rather more expensive than the other processes....

Mark Sampson
14-Sep-2004, 11:35
Hey, once you sell your face-mounted 12x15 foot print to the museum, archival issues will be *their* problem. (Think of the Starn twins holding their very expensive prints together with Scotch tape... or at the extreme opposite end of the scale, Leonardo Da Vinci painting "The Last Supper" on a damp wall with untried methods.) The photo conservators I know are concerned about face-mounted photographs... even I can easily imagine acrylic scratching, not to mention the various (known and unknown) long-term effects of adhesives and such.

14-Sep-2004, 11:59

in Europe other face mounting techniques than Diasec are very common for commercial displays but I have never seen a fine print done with this techniques. The folks offering it usually have never heard of archival issues and have not the slightest idea what chemicals/ materials they use.

If that is different in the US or Canada it would be great if you could name some techniques and providers you would recommend (never heard of 'Seals' before).

tim atherton
14-Sep-2004, 12:30
Martin it's Optimount Ultra by Seal -www.sealgraphics.com - used by many high quality art exhibit producing labs across here.

I did quite a lot of research with our conservator on this after we got a collection that had number of face mounted works. We talked a lot with the conservators at the Tate who have been researching this, along with one of the only other major bits of research/researchers that was done via the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa in conjunction with Royal Roads University (I think it was).

Basically, as I said, with regard to the mounting material (silicon cold type adhesive such as Optimount above) most of the results were quite positive with regards to long term longevity and deterioration.

Diasec was much harder to judge because they basically wouldn't say what was in their patent adhesive, as I recall.

The two points raised above also both stand.

The actual quality of the mounting work makes a difference (which, of course goes for all sorts of processes, from film processing and printing through to more traditional mounting methods and materials) - really good work or really bad work makes a difference, as it does in all of those. But there are a number of very good "non" Diasec shops across here.

Secondly the material the print is mounted to - whether the Diasec process or other - all the acrylics can scratch fairly easily - and in face mounted work, the front of the acrylic has become the front of the print... The other option is glass - which has other problems.

But as a mounting method it can make for a very dramatic print, giving the effect of added depth among other things. I have a mid sized lab who does all my LF colour work - they also happen to face mount using Optimount and do an excellent job. (and much cheaper and more widely available than Diasec). I've sold a number of prints made this way.

Put simply - the Diasec process possibly offers no real advantages in terms of the materials used. The biggest advantage may be that because the process is so tightly controlled, there may be a greater consistency in the quality of the work. The materials used in the cold mount process have been shown to be relatively benign in terms of photogrpahic longevity, and indeed the process may actually increase the lifespan of colour photographic prints. No-one really knows if the same is true for Diasec. Both remain somewhat fragile mounting processes because of the delicacy of the front surface - but that can be offset by the advantages it brings in terms of looks and in mounting very large pieces of work rigidly. (I looked at some of those giant eight or ten foot high Gurskys at the Tate Modern - stunning).

If you are selling your work for $15,000, $25,000 or $250,000 Diasec might well be cost effective in terms of name recognition and quality of work though.... I know it was very expensive for Paul Graham to do his big prints for his Whitney/PS1 show last year (among other things I think it was Belgium he had to get the Diasec work done in, and then shipped to the US). He was also going to print them as inkjets, but he could a) get a printer wide enough and b) Diasec (no sure about Optimount) won't work with inkjets - so they were all done via Lightjet. Interestingly he did all the scanning work himself.

Bruce Watson
14-Sep-2004, 18:43
I'm watching developments in this area with interest. I suspect that one of the best ways to display large inkjet prints is to print on canvas, stretch it, and display it in a classic floating frame as one would an oil painting - without glass.

To make this work, it seems like a fixative (lacquer) coating is going to be mandatory, especially if the print is displayed in a public place (the public has a mind-numbing propensity to touch things, often with amazingly dirty hands) There are new coatings (sprays and brush/roller applied) coming out on almost a weekly basis.

There has been an on-going discussion of this topic for the last few months over on the EpsonWideFormat Yahoo group:


You might be interested in perusing the archives. Of particular note might be this list of coatings from Ray:


I'm interested in what you decide - you're a pioneer whether you know it (or want it) or not. Please keep us posted as to which path you take.

Roger Marks
14-Sep-2004, 19:08
A paper discussing Diasec's process and deterioration: http://www.hkb.bfh.ch/zorn04.html (it's in german but has an abstract in english)

chris jordan
16-Sep-2004, 12:09
Hi Michael, the term "archival" is somewhat vague in the art world because there are so many different processes, each with its own lifetime and longevity limitations, but the general concept for me is to make color photographic prints that last longer than 100 years under normal lighting conditions before the first noticable fading occurs. I think most curators would consider a piece "archival" if it had some guarantee of longevity in the 100+ year range. Most color photographic prints have long-term dark storage ratings that exceed 100 years, but in normal display lighting there are few color processes that survive the 100-year mark. According to the most reliable testing results to date, Ultrachrome prints can last this long if they are protected from atmospheric pollution and UV exposure.

Bryan Willman
17-Sep-2004, 08:54
An Idea. Maybe a bad one, see what you think...

Why not obtain 2 plates of some flat, clear material. Say, Lexan and Water-White Den glass. "Clip" the top of the print to the top of the glass. Put the lexan against the back, and bind it to the glass via some compressive fixture.

It might be that you need the same material on both sides to keep flatness, consistent dimensions with temperature change, etc.

The print could "hang" from the top of the glass, and the whole thing be "overmatted" to cover clips, etc.

Keeping the middle of a 3'x6' sheet of backing glass in close compression with the middle of the front sheet might be hard.

Of course, it's now a truly giant bit of glass and very easy to break, drop, etc. So maybe it's the wrong direction.

I've not tried this, just a thought that came while reading the posts.

(What happens when you Seal OptiMount Ultra and UltraChrome print to a sheet of water-white den glass? Is this outgas safe and happy? Would be pretty clear, no?)