Whitewall sample pack - acrylic, HD metal, alu print, some papers

Discussion in 'Printing' started by bartjeej, May 18, 2017.

  1. bartjeej

    bartjeej Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Nov 12, 2010
    I'm planning to have some of my photos printed Big, and I'd really like them to look the absolute best they can, for the ages. The most accessible and affordable of the really high end photolabs is probably WhiteWall, based in Germany. They have lots of wonderful materials to display your print, but I wasn't sure which would look best. So I ordered one of their sample packs, which includes 10x10cm (4x4") versions of the same image, printed on various materials.

    Order Sample of Acrylic, Metal Prints, Premium Papers

    The WhiteWall product sample pack includes:

    • Lambda print on Fuji Crystal DP II matte & glossy
    • LightJet print on Fuji Flex high gloss
    • LightJet print on Kodak Pro Endura matte & glossy
    • LightJet print on Kodak Metallic high gloss
    • Hahnemühle Fine Art Premium K3 Epson, William Turner,
    Fine Art Pearl, Photo Rag & Torchon
    • Canvas Print UV Fine Art
    • Textile print thermal sublimation

    • Direct print on Forex®
    • Direct print on aluminium backing
    • Direct print on brushed aluminium (BUTLERFINISH®)
    • Original photo print on aluminium backing
    • Original photo print under acrylic glass (in two glass depths)
    • Original photo print under matte acrylic glass

    I also ordered a 10x10cm sample of their HD metal print, with a different image.

    Below are my impressions. Please bear in mind that I have very little printing experience, apart from using a home printer on photopaper and of course having film rolls developed and printed. I am mostly interested in acrylic or metal based prints, hence my focus on those. Feel free to ask me about the others, too, or to ask me for comparison photos.

    First of, the delivery was swift (3rd working day after I ordered, from Germany to Holland) and well packaged. Unfortunately the real photo print on aluminium seems to have been replaced by a direct print on forex, which I have no real interest in. Also there's no direct print on acrylic included in the sample pack, which mightve been interesting.

    Acrylic may be unbreakable, but it does scratch more easily than hd metal or direct print on aluminium. I made little scratches on purpose, and the one on the matte acrylic seems most noticeable (I would've expected glossy to be more noticeable). HD metal is hard to scratch, and when it does scratch it's not seen easily. Might bend if you ever drop it or hit it with a hard and heavy object though, since the aluminium is only 1mm thick. Direct print on aluminium came with minor imperfections at the edges, is otherwise difficult to damage in any way.

    Glossy acrylic and HD metal are about equally reflective, which is to say, really quite reflective (more so than glossy photo papers). Be careful hanging them opposite a window. Shadows especially can be drowned out by reflections. Matte acrylic is much less reflective, basically solving any issues, and direct print on aluminium is close to completely matte.

    So long as you can manage the reflections, HD metal has the most popping colours and the highest contrast. It's really a very special object to behold.

    Of all the photo papers, Kodak metallic resists reflection the best. It also has the brightest colors besides HD metal, brighter even than acrylic (you can also order a metallic print behind acrylic glass, though). It would be suitable to high contrast night scenes or bright colors (like the sample photo), not so much to subtle portraits. Compared to Fuji Crystal DPII it does lose some resolution and subtle color transition.

    Acrylic glass does have some depth effect, as advertised. It is stronger in the 6mm than the 2mm variety, although the 6mm is also considerably heavier. I think the effect would be most noticeable in small structures, like leaves on a tree, or people on a square photographed from some distance. For more macro structures, I don't think you'll notice much. HD metal does not have a depth effect, as far as I can tell with the sample image. Direct print on aluminium doesnt either, but when viewed from the extreme side, it does have a metallic shimmer in the highlights, which does give some semse of threedimensionality.

    In low light, the acrylic glass seems to absorb some of the light, making the image ever so slightly darker than paper prints without acrylic, or the aluminium based products. This is especially true for the 6mm variety. The HD metal almost seems to glow with the image.

    Matte acrylic, as said, is much less reflective than glossy acrylic or hd metal. It does lose some vibrancy compared to those options though. It also seems a teeny tiny bit less sharp, probably due to the lower contrast. This also reduces the depth effect compared to the 2mm glossy acrylic. Still is there, though.

    Direct print on aluminium has more graininess to it when viewed up close. This gives an impression of sharpness, but it does damage the shadows a bit compared to acrylic or HD metal. The reds are highly saturated, yellows ok, blues lack some saturation. Despite its matte surface, the shadows do hurt from what little reflection there is, maybe due to their graininess and lack of saturation. At arms length the graininess goes away, the blues and shadows do remain lacking a bit. It has some texture. When not compared to the more expensive options discussed here, it is a very nice print; bold and detailed, and very sturdy.

    Overall, I'm ever so slightly disappointed with acrylic. I had hoped that it would offer only positoves with no drawbacks, but that's not entirely the case. The minor 3d effect is pretty cool, and might make photos with fine detail really come alive. The colors really pop, but there is a tiny light loss compared to the naked photo print. There is no loss in sharpness compared to the naked print. The archival qualities are really good, provided you can protect the glass from being scratched. The reflections on glossy acrylic might hurt the shadows; matte acrylic loses a tiny bit more light and some of that 3d pop, but is overall a very nice balance.

    HD metal is very reflective and lacks the 3d effect, but wow, it is a very pretty thing to see. Seeing it next to a direct print on aluminium is a bit like seeing a retina amoled compared to HD lcd. Keep in mind that i have a different image for this one than the other samples, so it's not a completely fair comparison. Shadows can really suffer from reflections, but if you can keep those away, the shadows, too, are full if detail and nuance. Its archival qualities should be excellent as well, provided you can keep it from being dinged or bent. Whitewall doesnt offer matte HD metal, some other companies do. I will order a sample of that for comparison.

    Direct print on aluminium is a fine thing in and of its own, but it doesnt pop quite like the photo paper prints behind acrylic, let alone the hd metal. Highlights and midtones are great, apart from the muted blues, but the shadows miss some depth compared to the more expensive options. Its grainy texture is obvious up close, but at realistic viewing distances for larger prints it's no problem at all.

    Hope this will one day prove to be useful :wink:
    Last edited: May 19, 2017
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  2. bartjeej

    bartjeej Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Nov 12, 2010
    Because they weren' t my primary interest, I hadn' t really paid much attention to the Hahnemühle art papers. Looking at them a bit closer, they make the color and contrast pop even more than the Fuji and Kodak photo papers. I don't really like the Hahnemühle papers with lots of texture, although at arm' s length you don' t notice it that much. The smooth H. art papers just look fantastic, there's even a bit of a 3d effect somehow (with all paper textures actually). They're probably more delicate than the acrylic or alu based products, but it's thick and heavy paper so if you handle it with care, it should last a long time. According to WhiteWall, the pigments should keep their color for at least 100 years. Without a doubt, this option is also worth looking into...
    Last edited: May 18, 2017
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  3. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    I figure if something lasts 30 years, it will likely outlast my interest in the image. I think it's very cool that they offer that service....and your write up is very insightful. I look forward to a photograph of your finished print hung.
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  4. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    I'm gonna give this thread a bump before it fades into obscurity.....seems like ti was a lot of work to just have it disappear a week later.
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  5. bartjeej

    bartjeej Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Nov 12, 2010
    Haha, thanks Luke! I will order a sample of the matte HD Metal today, should be delivered in a couple of days. I will report on it then.

    Regarding obscurity: I'll be happy if, three years from now, someone's google search brings up this thread and tells them something useful ;)
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  6. bartjeej

    bartjeej Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Nov 12, 2010
    So, I ordered the matte HD metal, from a Dutch company (as WhiteWall only offers glossy HD metal). I had a 30x20cm print made of a family picture.

    Foolishly, I forgot to do output sharpening. Since the picture file wasn't pinsharp to begin with, there's definitely some fuzziness in the print. Also, the calibration of my screen might be off a bit; I'll have to review it in the coming weeks. So in general, my side of the equation has been far from perfect.

    As for the matte HD metal print... as I said, there's some detail missing compared to the file, which might be my fault... Still, some of the sharper parts of the print do show detail that's getting close to what my eyes - near 20/20 according to a test 2 years ago - can resolve at my eyes' minimum focus distance. So the potential for bags of detail does appear to be there, especially when considering a normal viewing distance.

    The colours I can't accurately comment on, given my doubts about my screen's calibration. Having said that, I suspect that there's a certain level of glow in the highlights and more saturated parts of the image, that might get lost in the matte (the same happens with matte acrylic). I'd read online that the shadows on a matte HD metal aren't as deep as on glossy, but I really don't see any issues there; on my test print, the blacks are plenty deep and inky. And because the matte doesn't reflect like glossy does, those shadows stay deep even in unfortunate lighting (see below).

    The matte HD metal print isn't quite as "jewel-like" as the glossy sample from Whitewall, but it's still a special thing to see. And in terms of reflections, it's a difference of night and day. The matte is just way, way more flexible in terms of placement. The glossy HD metal, just like the glossy photoprint behind acrylic glass, should really not be placed opposite a large window, and preferably not in any place where you could see a (large) window's reflection in it from the expected viewing point. This is especially true if there're a lot of shadows. With the matte HD metal, that's not something to worry about at all. It has a satin-y shine when something reflects in it, but nothing that renders the image difficult to see (still, a direct print on aluminium is even more matte).

    The aluminium doesn't have a backing frame to hang it on a wall; it only has a stand at the rear, to make it stand on its own. Despite this, it's still more than strong enough for the purpose. There's some flex to it, but to actually damage it would require some real force.

    In short, is this my ultimate solution? Maybe and maybe, both depending on the subject matter.

    For places where reflections might become an issue, it's between this product and the matte acrylic for me. HD metal (matte or not) lacks acrylic's moderate 3d effect, but that only really enhances certain types of photos (see below). The advantages of HD metal over acrylic are lower weight, higher scratch resistance, and no light loss from side lighting / holds up better in low light. Assuming that with a better calibrated monitor and proper output sharpening, I can get the color and detail to the same level as a matte acrylic print, I think the HD metal is more versatile.

    For places where reflections are unlikely to be an issue - no large windows at angles where they would reflect into the image - the glossy products maintain saturation and contrast better, as far as I can tell so far. Whether the advantages of HD metal outweigh the lack of 3d effect, depends on the image. For things like portraits, with relatively little fine detail, I'd go for HD metal. For repeating fine detail (some architecture, foliage that's really the focus of the image, groups of people at a distance, a close-up of bird feathers), the 3d effect of acrylic would be more noticeable.
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