Acrylic Photo Mounting - Part 1: What and Why?

Acrylics are a great material for mounting photos – it is perfectly smooth, very stable and long lasting. It is used as a backing, but it’s as a face-mount where the print is mounted behind a clear acrylic that it finds its most popular use. In this acrylic mounting method, the acrylic protects the print so that the mount is also the glazing. With appropriate fixtures and stiffening, the resultant piece can be made into a ready to hang artwork. 

Advantages of Acrylic Mounting

This alternative style of framing without a frame gives you a totally new look which is minimalist, modern and sets off your artwork without the busy interpretation of the surrounding frame. It usually comes with a hidden batten system on the back which sets it off the wall and further accentuates this floating effect, in fact this style is often called Acrylic Float Frame.

Hidden Backing Frame
Acrylic Float Frame

The fact that you have no external frames in acrylic frames means you can make any shape – round, oval, or totally leave it to your imagination, like the funky design shown below. Modern day routers with photo recognition are great tools to create these pieces. Simply make your image file and a corresponding vector cut file to the outline and include a few rego dots for the machine to pick up and align. The router will cut your mounted image to the shape and its then a matter of hand polishing the cut edges to achieve a great looking bespoke piece.

Profile Cut Acrylic Float Frame

Face-mounted acrylics have another great advantage over a normal frames. In normal framing the glazing (either glass or acrylic) is separate to the photo whereas in face-mounted acrylics, the photo is bonded to the acrylic using an optically clear adhesive. This means that the most important part of the image, the chemical/ink layer of the photo is permanently sealed away from air which greatly improves its archival properties. Of course, the print is now contacting the adhesive layer, so it is critical that a good quality neutral cure adhesive is used in face mounting – otherwise the positive effects will be offset by any acidity or impurities in the adhesive. In conjunction with a good quality acrylic with UV protection, the resultant piece has vastly improved archival qualities over a normal frame.

The bonding of the print to acrylic leads to another great advantage of face-mounting. Unlike separate glazing the image or photo is “wetted out” against the acrylic. This system results in great image quality with no loss from the glazing air interface and after effects. The colours are true, and sharpness is retained. In fact, acrylic face-mounting will result in improved image qualities and vibrancy.

Acrylic Float Frames in its finished form is a single piece with no corners or joins. There is also no paintwork of other surface finish that can chip or get scratched. They are very robust as a result and are not prone to the damage you can get with normal frames e.g. chipped corners, corners coming apart, smashed glass, scratches, etc. Acrylic Float Frames can be shipped all over the world successfully and will hang on your walls, get packed away and rehung many times with no damage.

The Challenges with Acrylic Mounting

With such great advantages, we should all frame in this style, but as with everything, there is always a catch. Acrylic mounting is a difficult process to get right - a speck of dust will ruin a whole piece of work and the process is irreversible, so a mistake can be disastrous. The acrylic, adhesive and any backing must all be chosen with care so that the whole structure is compatible. Any hangers, battens, etc will be attached to the back of the print with all the weight of the acrylic pulling against it at the front, so much thought must be given to the hanging system. It takes a lot of experience, but all this can be achieved and is totally worth the effort.

For further ideas, please see "Part 2 – How To", coming next month.

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