The Gold Standard of Fine Art Printing
I have had the absolute pleasure of working with Ben Gasser for quite some time now. Ben operates a printing business called Metal Mouth Prints that specializes in Aluminum Dye Sublimation printing, but he also does much more. What sets Ben and Metal Mouth apart from the rest of the printing companies out there is his ability to get it right every time.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Gold Standard of Fine Art printing!
I have printed with many of the big name companies and even reviewed several of them here on EverydayHDR. While their print quality is good and sometimes passable for professional work, there always seems to be something that is not right with them. One company may have a bad hanging method, another may have a decent hanging method with a lesser print quality, some may stamp the back of your print with a barcode and others may brand them. Most of these nuances are more picky than anything, but they still exist and detract from the level of professionalism we would all like to achieve.
Enter Ben and Metal Mouth. From the print quality to the finished product, I have yet to see anything better. His craftsmanship is bar none the best in the industry. You may be thinking, “Blake, these are bold words..” Let’s let the proof rest in the pudding and discuss why Metal Mouth Prints stands out in the crowd.
When it comes to metal prints most companies use the same Dye Sublimation process. While I do not know much about it, I do know that the image is printed on a special piece of transfer paper, placed on the aluminum and then heat treated to apply the image into the metal. With Metal Mouth it is no different, the process remains the same, but the final product is quite different based on Ben’s very strict standards.
Ben sat down with me and showed me what his quality standard is for printing. He explained the differences in papers, paper weights, and the resulting print quality on them. It was interesting to see how the same print varied from one paper to the next. Some were much better than others! Ben bases the quality of his aluminum prints on the highest standard paper print.
There is a nice feeling you get when you know the person printing your images knows what he is doing in the Fine Art printing realm who can answer questions like, “How archival is this?” or “Why TIFF versus JPEG?”
The picture you see above is a picture of the printed image on white gloss aluminum. I have had this image printed on Metallic Paper, Canvas, in Photo Books, and on Aluminum through other companies. However, it has never looked this good. Sometimes it is too pink or too orange or there isn’t enough green in the bark on the tree, or the detail is soft. When Ben revealed this print to me, my heart stopped, its that good.
I have calibrated my monitor using the Spyder4Pro monitor calibration tool so I usually know what to expect when I print, or so I thought. Even with the monitor calibrated there seems to be some loss in print quality or color management when I send it off for print. I was comfortable accepting that until now. What I send to Ben looks exactly like what I see on my monitor. I am thoroughly impressed.
In the image above I used the Canon 65mm MPE Macro lens to zoom into the print by 3 times life size. What you are seeing is approximately 1% of the print filling an entire full frame Raw file. Normally at this magnification you may see a roughly pixelated representation of color or many dots of colors making up one color, especially in dark areas. That is not the case in Metal Mouth’s prints. The colors run so smoothly together there is hardly, if any, pixilation.
Obviously, this will strongly depend on what you send him. However, rest assured that Ben will not print anything substandard without communicating the images capabilities with you. I sent him this print with the intentions of a 20 x 24, he informed me that would be stretching it to its limits and I may see some quality deficiencies. We decided to print it slightly smaller.
I have seen just about every hanging method on the market, from the reverse frame cork board to a piece of thin aluminum with several holes in it. Most people accept whatever hanging method they receive knowing the consumer of the print is just going to hang it on the wall and it will not be seen. That is an okay mentality, but doing the right thing even when no one is looking is the heart of integrity.
When I flipped the Metal Mouth print on its back side to reveal the hanging method I was shocked at the level of craftsmanship that went into it. A thick sturdy piece of Gator Board holds a single point hanging method with non-marring rubber bumper pads.
This single point hanging method uses a framing wire, similar to what you would see on the back of a painting. This makes it really easy to hang the piece squarely and level on the wall without having to finagle with a single point that has to be precisely hung in order to be level.
There is a level of craftsmanship in a Metal Mouth Print that is a force to be reckoned with. Most Aluminum prints are printed on a .045″ piece of aluminum, they slap their hanging method on the rear and call it a day. Ben just can’t leave well enough alone in this department, he had to go and one up the current standard. Ben gives you the opportunity to add an upgrade to your standard aluminum prints.
When you hold an upgraded Metal Mouth print you will feel an immediate difference in it from standard aluminum prints. This is because it is mounted on a piece of PVC board that gives the print added depth and rigidity. This edge treatment makes it about 3 times as thick as a normal aluminum print and can withstand quite a beating!
Ben informed me that he wanted these prints to be outdoor rated. He tested the effects of hail on the upgraded prints by dropping ball bearings on them. Apparently they held up quite well to his tests. They are indeed outdoor rated with the recommendation to not leave them in direct UV light.
Other Printed Media
Metal Mouth prints on all types of surfaces. There are of course the different types of aluminum from Gloss White and Matte White to Matte Aluminum and Gloss Aluminum, the standard Chromaluxe options. I personally prefer the Gloss White print as it looks phenomenal in any environment, but Ben also showed me this same print on Matte Aluminum.
On the Matte Aluminum you can see quite a bit of the aluminum through the print. Areas that are white take on the qualities of the underlying aluminum and you can even see it through the ink as you turn it. The picture above is not a very accurate rendering of this type of print as it becomes very interactive.
From the angle of view to the direction and quality of light, this print will change. In the image above the areas of aluminum look a bit yellow and almost like areas of tone compression in a normal HDR image. However, you can see in the detail within the print that those areas are purely aluminum with quite a bit of sheen.
Beyond Aluminum, Metal Mouth Prints on Metallic Canvas. This canvas has an interesting sheen to it that does not resemble the Metallic Paper you may be used to seeing. While you may not even notice the metallic nature of the canvas you will notice that the saturation on the canvas print is very rich. The colors and details just pop right off and out of the print.
There is another Medium that Metal Mouth can print on. It is relatively new and has some pretty interesting characteristics. It is called Chroma Roll and has a Matte Metallic Finish with an adhesive backing. We were both intrigued by its possibilities. Maybe applying it to Black Gator Board and then placing a piece of acrylic on top for an interesting display method?
Thinking Outside the Box
By his nature, Ben is an artist and for such reason he helps artists create their vision with metal. This goes well beyond the print it and ship it mentality as Ben has been known to laboriously hand sand prints and make elaborate frames. Yes even a Metal Print can look great in a frame.
Ben also flaunts the aluminum print mediums capabilities. In the images below, the images were printed on metal then bent to the artist’s preferred shape to create an added sense of sculptural depth to an otherwise 2 dimensional surface.
You really have to see a Metal Mouth Print next to a competitors print to really appreciate the quality. Being someone who has printed an Aluminum print from just about every company on the web, I know where my allegiance lies. You must understand that this is the Fine Art Gold Standard for printing. If you are looking for a casual print to hang on your wall then this may be a bit much. If that is the case I would suggest printing with the Metal Mouth’s sister company Tin Man Prints.
If you are looking for gallery standard, Peter Lik-esque prints, Metal Mouth is the way to go. I cannot speak highly enough about the print quality I have seen with Metal Mouth. Ben is a very experienced, highly intellectual Fine Art Printer with a burning passion for superior quality and it shows in everything I have seen.
Have you tried Black River Imaging? They have top quality, and offer an alternative to the wire mounting.
I have not. I will look into them though. I actually prefer the wire hanging method. It is nearly infallible, it has been around since (what seems like) the beginning of time with paintings. I like it because no matter how far off you are with hanging you can always re-position it dead center. I will look into them though, thanks for the tip!
I recently joined Fine Art America and now have a wine tasting store that wants some prints…wonder if you have seen any prints from FAA as a comparison…would like to make a good impression.
Hey Blake, went to the Metal Mouth website and saw their product line but no product costs. Did I miss something? I like to know what I am paying before I order something. Do not like to have to call a sales rep to find this out. Too many other choices out there to hassle with that.
I know what you mean. From my understanding it is an email or call for consult.
After several requests and comments regarding pricing I have placed a price list on the Metal Mouth Prints web site.
Thanks to the readers of Blakes blog for some great comments!
Feel free to call or email me anytime for questions, comments or just to chat!
Metal Mouth Prints