How to Shine Printing on Metal

How to Shine Printing on Metal

Coating Allure metal prints with ArtResin high-gloss epoxy resin

Last year I decided to finally give printing on metal a try. I had traditionally printed on canvas, but there were a few photos that I really wanted to make pop with colour depth, crispness and clarity once they were printed. Breathing Color from the USA developed a coated aluminum panel suitable called Allure Fine Art Metal for use in aqueous (inkjet) Epson printers. I love their canvas products so thought I would order a sample pack of the Allure panels to do some test printing on my Epson SureColor P800.

The Allure panel comes preloaded in a carrier tray to feed through the front fine art (thick media) manual feed slot. This allows for edge-to-edge printing on the aluminum panel so you don’t have to trim borders off the metal print after printing. Every time I print on one of the Allure panels I’m blown away by the quality of the print using the Epson P800. The colour and crispness of the uncoated print is amazing, and the wide colour gamut of the Allure panel provides really accurate colour reproduction of the image with properly colour calibrated equipment. After printing I let the ink “cure” on the Allure panel for 24 hours before coating.

Printing on 16″x24″ Allure panel using my Epson SureColor P800:

The printed image right out of the printer has a matte finish. I wanted a gloss finish and protective coating on the print but didn’t want to get into using laminating films because of the additional cost of the laminating equipment. After a bit of research I came across ArtResin - a high-gloss epoxy resin that can be used to coat a wide variety of materials. I was a little hesitant about epoxy resins because of the fumes and how finicky it can be to work with. ArtResin didn’t seem like other resins:

Safe - no VOCs, no fumes, no solvents, no respirator needed, safe for home use.

Clear - a high-gloss, crystal clear coating that is non-yellowing and protective

Easy - self levelling, good instructional videos and tips

I ordered an ArtResin starter kit to experiment with on the Allure sample pack. Between the aluminum panels, the high definition archival ink my printer uses, and the resin, it wasn’t a cheap experiment but I needed to figure out how to do this properly from the start so I wasn’t wasting materials down the road.

Sealing the Printed Panel

24 hours after printing it is time to set up for first step in the coating process - sealing the print to minimize off-gassing micro bubbles from forming during resin coating. This part has taken a bit of experimentation which I’ll detail at the end of this post so you know what I tried and why it didn’t work.

I use Premier Eco PrintShield gloss varnish to seal the print (it is the same varnish I use to coat my canvas prints). It is applied using a foam roller and the varnish looks milky and streaky when first applied but will become clear when it’s dry. I usually do 2-3 coats - letting each coat dry before the next coat (30-60 minutes) and each coat is rolled at 90 degrees to the previous coat.

Print sealed with Eco PrintShield gloss varnish (still drying):

Once finished, I cover the print with an inverted clear plastic bin to prevent dust contamination and let it dry for minimum 8 hours (12-24 is better). I like using the clear box to cover the print because I can see the progress of the drying without having to lift the cover.

Ready for ArtResin Coating

  • Cover work my surface with a garbage bag to protect it from epoxy drips.
  • Place the Allure panel on raised blocks to elevate it above the work surface (this is in case any of the epoxy goes over the edge - you don’t want the panel to stick to the work surface as it dries).
  • Very important next step - make sure the piece is level and not sagging! This will ensure the epoxy layer is even once it self-levels.
  • Have all epoxy coating materials ready – 
    • ArtResin resin + hardener
    • Nitrile gloves
    • Dust blower (to blow dust off surface before sealing & coating)
    • Plastic measuring cup
    • ArtResin stir stick
    • ArtResin spreader
    • Propane torch
    • Toothpicks (for picking out dust flecks that fall on epoxy surface)
    • Timer
    • Blue towels (to wipe epoxy off stir stick or for unexpected drips/spills)

Level the print surface.

Make sure the surface is level front to back and side to side:

Using ArtResin’s calculator I can determine how much resin and hardener is needed to coat the piece. For this 16×24 panel, I need about 393mL so I mixed 200mL of resin with 200mL of hardener.

     

Wearing the nitrile gloves, two part ArtResin epoxy (resin + hardener) is mixed in a 1:1 ratio in a cheap plastic measuring cup I picked up at the dollar store. It must be stirred constantly for 2 minutes to ensure it is properly mixed (I always set the timer to make sure I mix it long enough). No fumes at all!

In my dry climate, I have about 30 minutes to work with the epoxy before it begins to set up too much so I reset my timer for 30 minutes. More humid climates may have about 45 minutes working time. Pouring the mixed epoxy on the aluminum panel is like pouring liquid honey.

Pouring ArtResin - you can already see the change in colour depth!

Here’s a video of the ArtResin pour on the Allure metal print so you can see the consistency of the epoxy.

Using the spreader, I carefully spread the epoxy towards the edges. You can let it run off the edges but I find that wastes some of it. Instead, I spread the epoxy very carefully just to the edge where surface tension will hold it from spilling over. I highly recommend you don’t have too much coffee before doing this - last thing you want is jittery/shaky hands!!

Finished spreading ArtResin over the entire the piece:

Close-up of typical bubbles formed during ArtResin pour - these are popped using a blowtorch:

Once the entire piece is coated the fun begins - using a blowtorch to pop the bubbles! Waving the torch over the epoxy pops any bubbles that have formed. I do this in a defined pattern from edge to edge to make sure I don’t miss any spots, and always keep the torch moving (never hold the torch in one spot or the resin could burn).

When all the bubbles are popped, I use a toothpick to pick out any dust flecks (or cat hair) that may have fallen onto the epoxy surface. Time check - 30 minutes or less! Very carefully I place the inverted clear plastic bin over the coated piece again so it can dry without any dust particles contaminating the surface. I leave it like this to dry for 24 hours (the bin is raised about half an inch above the work surface to let air circulate, but prevent dust from settling on the epoxy surface).

When I finally lift the cover, I’m in love with the finished piece. Ohhhh that gloss! Ohhhhh that colour! The image pops with the ArtResin coating.

Finished Cascading Stars print on Allure fine art metal panel coated with ArtResin epoxy:

The finished high gloss print is tough to photograph - videos seem to show them better. Here are a couple of videos showing the final Cascading Stars image printed on Allure fine art metal panel and coated with ArtResin high gloss epoxy:

Finished Cascading Stars print on Allure panel coated with ArtResin - video 1

Finished Cascading Stars print on Allure panel coated with ArtResin - video 2

Is ArtResin epoxy finicky to work with? I won’t lie, yes it is at first, but so are other epoxies. The advantage to ArtResin is that you can use it at home and don’t need special protective gear or ventilation to use it (unlike other epoxies). Once you practice a few times (practice on small pieces) it is easier to work with, and fun too! 

Is ArtResin expensive? Well it isn’t cheap - but neither is the aluminum panel or high definition archival ink I use and they are worth protecting properly. I want to protect the print with a durable, high quality coating. The consistency in results and the quality of the finish I get, combined with the fact that it is SAFE to use makes it worth every penny. Oh, and it is food safe too if you want to eat off the coated surface!

Do I recommend ArtResin? Definitely! If you have any questions about it feel free to get in touch with me - I would be happy to tell you all that I can about my experiences using it.

More details on the initial trial and error process…

1. First epoxy coating experiment - ArtResin directly on printed Allure panel

The first time I tried ArtResin I used it directly on the printed Allure panel. Tiny micro-bubbles formed on the surface of the print that I couldn’t pop with the blowtorch. Turns out that there may be some off gassing from the print even though the metal isn’t a porous surface. First piece scrapped!

Here's a close up of the micro-bubbles from print surface off-gassing (unsealed print).

2. Second epoxy coating experiment - seal printed Allure panel with Premier Eco PrintShield before ArtResin

For my second experiment I decided to seal the printed Allure panel to prevent the formation of micro-bubbles from off-gassing of the printed surface. Breathing Color showed on their website that they tested rolling their Timeless varnish on Allure panels with success. I had a different type of varnish that I use for coating my canvas prints (Premier Eco PrintShield) and thought I would try it instead of buying a new type of varnish.

This worked GREAT, and is now the process I use when doing an ArtResin coating on my images printed on Allure panels. It adds a longer second step but I know the results I will get at the end will be good.

3. Third epoxy coating experiment - seal printed Allure panel with Krylon spray varnish before ArtResin

In an attempt to simplify the process I thought I would try spray coating the Allure panel instead of rolling it with the PrintShield varnish. I tried using a Krylon spray varnish that Breathing Color recommended for the Allure panels. Unfortunately I could only find the matte finish version of the varnish (1311), not the satin that Breathing Color recommended. I sprayed two coats on the panel letting each dry completely, then coated the panel with ArtResin. I don’t think the Krylon matte varnish sealed it well enough, as bubbles kept reappearing as I was torching. Couldn’t get all of them out during the working time so the piece was scrapped. Not sure if the satin would have made a difference - may try it in the future if I can find it.

Bubbles kept appearing during torching of ArtResin on Krylon Matte sealed print - couldn’t get rid of them.