Printing digital images onto metal?
February 26, 2007 10:17 PM   Subscribe

Printing digital images onto metal?

I am interested in transferring some digital images onto metal if this is at all cheap & simple to do.

What I am thinking of is more like printing than etching. The actual metal used is not particularly important, but something non-corrosive like aluminium would be preferred.

These would be one-offs, not production runs.

The questions are: Is this a common or simple process? If so, how much would I expect to pay (say, no larger than 2' x 3')? What kind of business would do it (eg signwriter, printer)? Any advice on recommended techniques or technologies?
posted by UbuRoivas to Technology (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Silkscreening would do this. You can make your own screens pretty easily. There may be other wet transfer methods that would do it too - I've done photo transfers onto glass before - but as far as opaque inks go, I think screenprinting would work best.
posted by luriete at 10:23 PM on February 26, 2007

Best answer: You want to Google for "image transfer paper". The stock is reasonably cheap and can be run in any laser or inkjet printer and applied with a standard clothes iron --- just like a t-shirt iron-on.

luriete's option works, too, but the setup charges for a one-off screen might be prohibitive.

I used to work for a company that may be able to do what you need for a reasonable price. Feel free to contact me if you're interested.
posted by nathan_teske at 11:02 PM on February 26, 2007

Response by poster: thanks, but postage might be prohibitive ;)
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:11 PM on February 26, 2007

Oh didn't check your profile. In that case, search out award manufacturers and trophy shops. Most will have the ability (and experience) to do a thermal transfer onto whatever substrate you want.
posted by nathan_teske at 11:54 PM on February 26, 2007

Best answer: Oh! I saw a book on this in a craft shop the other day. Check out Lazertran. You print onto a sheet via laser or inkjet and then transfer it to the surface. It's not super durable. it's very cheap and the technique is simple.
posted by GuyZero at 6:29 AM on February 27, 2007

You could have metal printing plates made.Your image would be a relief, not a two-dimensional one, and it would have no color unless you used it to print (and would have only one color then). CTP (computer-to-plate) platesetting is very common now.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:12 AM on February 27, 2007

Best answer: I've printed onto painted metal using the image transfer sheets. Bare metal might work OK also. You might consider some kind of clear fixative or varnish on top.

I've used
this method to print circuit board patterns onto copper plating. It works OK. It'd be black/white, and reversed left to right. It might work on aluminum or something similar.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:23 AM on February 27, 2007

The O'Reilly folks did some really beautiful laser-etchings of some onto the outer case of aluminum PowerBooks a couple of years ago. This MAKE: page is a good place to start. I'm not sure where you'd get access to that kind of machine in Sydney, or if it meets your needs (b&w only, no color) but it -is- a pretty nifty thing to look at either way.

If you're really budget-conscious, I suppose you could use the toner-transfer process that homebrew circuit-board designers have invented, but spray the transfer with a clear coat of varnish (to protect the transferred design, since the toner can be scoured/scraped off fairly easily) rather than etching. I haven't tried that with color, but I imagine it might work.

Have you talked to signage companies? A 2'x3' metal sheet with a design transferred onto it seems like something they could probably help you with.
posted by Alterscape at 7:27 AM on February 27, 2007

Screen printing is an option but not really economical for a one-off. If you can get a large laser print of your image you can do a toner transfer (you would have to reverse your image, put it toner-side down on your substrate, douse with a solvent, and apply pressure). That would be kind of a pain though.

I don't know what your image looks like, but I think the easiest and cheapest option is to get a sign place to cut vinyl on their plotter for you and just stick it on the metal. I think this requires that your image be in vector, but you can always livetrace what you want in Illustrator.
posted by bradbane at 8:06 AM on February 27, 2007

I have used several print shops here in the US that offer the Metalphoto process, it is very durable and quite cheap (considering the alternatives) Here is a list of shops that offer it in AU
posted by Wezzlee at 10:41 AM on February 27, 2007

If it's brass, you can electrochemically etch images onto it. Seems like it isn't too difficult.
posted by porpoise at 1:00 PM on February 27, 2007

Adafruit Industries in NYC will laser etch pretty much anything for you. $30 for small items, $100 for large. You have to bring the item in, no shipping it to them. Or you can try Ghost Marking in SF.
posted by scalefree at 2:13 PM on February 27, 2007

What you do is use the above-mentioned laser-printer toner transfer (not inkject), then you dip the metal in PCB etchant (availible for a few bucks at radioshack). The black parts of the image (the toner) won't get etched, the white parts (exposed metal) will be. Then wash off the toner, and you have your print etched into the metal. (Spray a protective coat on the metal)

For detailed pages, search for homebrew PCB etching. People use it to etch images as well as make PCBs.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:39 PM on February 27, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everybody for your answers.

Not knowing which ones are technically "best", I'll try & mark the ones that I am most likely to look into main objectives being printing, rather than etching, and low-cost DIY options ahead of going to some kind of business to have it done for me.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:34 PM on March 1, 2007

There is a company called InkAID that is now offering a new product called Booksmart inkjet printale Fine Art Metal.

I saw this material at Photo Expo in New York and thought it was interesting. It seems to be most ideally suited to strong contrast black and white images. The fine art metals are available in aluminum, with Brushed Silver, Matte Silver, Satin Silver, and Satin White finishes and in gold, with a Satin Gold Finish in a variety of thicknesses and sizes. It would appear to be precisely what you are looking for.

InkAid also makes pre-coats that you could use to prepare thin metallic surfaces for imaging. Assuming you have a printer capable of straight-feed-path printing thicker materials. I have printed on a variety of uncoated papers, wood veneer, poly-film, thin foil and fabric using the InkAid coatings and Ultrachrome inks. I have noticed a fading of the inks on pre-coated paper, so I would do some longevity and varnish testing before settling on this as a long term solution. I use the technique primarily for sketching out ideas and collage pieces where longevity is not an issue.
posted by coevals at 5:03 AM on March 5, 2007

« Older Bands on TV: who, what, when?   |   I want to be able to discuss our website design... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.