The Sublimation Process
Follow me on a visit to Large Metal Prints in Pleasant Hill, CA. For 30+ years, three generations of Jon Lutz have been running this extra-professional, extra-friendly business where I have had my beautiful prints done since 2017.
I wanted to familiarize myself with the sublimation process, so I tagged along the printing of two of my latest photographs. I shot both images at the Valero Benicia Refinery in March, right at the start of the quarantine. The left one will get printed at 38"x72" and the right image at 38"x72". Large metal prints indeed!
The images are flipped horizontally and printed on high heat resistant sublimation clay paper with sublimation ink (1). The edges of the cut-to-size and pre-coated aluminum sheet are sanded (2). The Unisub ChromaLux metal sheets are imported from Kentucky. Once the orange protective film is peeled off, the aluminum sheet is blasted with pressured air for dusting (3).
The aluminum sheet is carefully lined up above the printed image (1). The image and the aluminum sheet are inserted in the heating press (2). The sheet is at room temperature and needs to be warmed-up before the sublimation process can start (3). Once ready, the sheet is infused with the paper's ink through 100 psi pressure and 400°F heat. The heat opens up pores in the aluminum's coating, and the ink seeps through.
While the print is "cooking", the metal frame is assembled (1) and lined with extra-strong double-sided tape (2), which will firmly hold the print. The frame is 1.3" thick and comes in either brushed black, silver, or gold anodized aluminum. After about 4.5 minutes, the print is ready to be removed from the press (3). As the aluminum cools down, the coating's pores close, trapping-in the ink.
Once cooled off, the print gets a quick trim (1) and the edges are sanded (2). The print is then skillfully placed on the metal frame (3).
The double-sided tape is removed (1) and the print is ready (2). It then waits patiently in the studio (3) for a hanging wire. Rubber bumpers are applied to all four corners for wall stability. Once hung, the frame puts the print exactly 1.5" from the wall. Et voilà!
A HUGE thank you to both Jonny and Warren at Large Metal Prints for letting me buzz-around and talk their ear off while they worked.