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Author Topic: OUTDOOR INK LONGEVITY/PRINTER Questions - advice please  (Read 3804 times)
Mark Lindquist
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« on: July 10, 2013, 08:29:11 PM »
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Are there any printers that can print (COLOR) on aluminum, 4' x 8' sheets with inks that will last 25 years in direct exposure to sunlight?

Obviously, a UV coating will be required, but I'm wondering if there are any commercial solutions for making prints that will withstand the rigors of Florida sunshine.  Additionally, does anyone know of any professional printers (print shops) that do this? (Not necessarily sign printers).

Is there a particular brand/model printer made that one can buy that will print on aluminum and create an image that will last 25 years without fading?

Looking at a job of making about (60) unique 4' x 8' panels.

Edit: (added "color")
« Last Edit: July 10, 2013, 10:01:31 PM by Mark Lindquist » Logged
Scott Martin
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« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2013, 08:45:55 PM »
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That's a job for a UV Curable printer and you'll also want a UV Curable lamination on top (which can be hard to find). HPI (http://hpihouston.com) is one place that does both, and does the printing at 1000dpi 24pass with 3M's latest 8 color inkset. Great stuff! I do a lot of it myself.
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shadowblade
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« Reply #2 on: July 10, 2013, 08:50:13 PM »
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Are there any printers that can print on aluminum, 4' x 8' sheets with inks that will last 25 years in direct exposure to sunlight?

Obviously, a UV coating will be required, but I'm wondering if there are any commercial solutions for making prints that will withstand the rigors of Florida sunshine.  Additionally, does anyone know of any professional printers (print shops) that do this? (Not necessarily sign printers).

Is there a particular brand/model printer made that one can buy that will print on aluminum and create an image that will last 25 years without fading?

Looking at a job of making about (60) unique 4' x 8' panels.

Are you talking black-and-white, or colour?

UV resistance, is one thing, but the other, potentially more difficult, issue is physical, chemical and microbial resistance - an outdoor display will have to deal with chemical attack by acids formed from dissolved atmospheric pollutants, varying temperatures and humidity levels, rainfall and potentially human hands, and will have to be amenable to cleaning after attacks by birds or bird droppings!

As far as I know, no current colour inkjet process - aqueous, UV or solvent - will be suitable for these conditions for such a long duration, nor will the dye-sub processes used by Imagewizards, Bay Photo, etc.

Carbon printing using stable coloured pigments are extremely stable, essentially fadeproof against UV light and are protected from atmospheric pollutants because they essentially consist of pigment particles suspended in hardened gelatin. On the minus side, they can be susceptible to physical attack, given that they have a slight relief surface over the substrate, and, uncoated, are difficult to clean.

Also, I believe Sandy King has done some testing with carbon prints on uncoated aluminium, with the result that, although the print itself held together just fine, the bond with the uncoated aluminium failed after a few months. Therefore, the aluminium would likely have to be coated with Gesso, or some other primer, in order to adequately hold the gelatin layers in place. Or you could form the carbon print on paper, then permanently affix the paper to aluminium - the final result would not be reversible or 'archival' in the true sense of the word, but may hold up physically for 25 years in a harsh environment. One must remember that, in this situation, if even one component fails, the entire system fails, and you're not displaying or keeping the print in ideal museum storage conditions!

Having mounted the carbon print on aluminium (either via a primer or by mounting a paper carbon print to aluminium), you would then have to protect the whole thing against physical attack, humidity, rain and biological attack. Sealing the whole thing - face, edges and back - in polyurethane, or a non-yellowing, chemically-stable sealant, could be an option. Again, it definitely won't be 'archival' - it's irreversible, and, once the sealant fails, the whole image is gone - but it will certainly be more durable against rain, heat, humidity, pollutants, birds, human hands and cleaners than any 'archival' process could ever be. After all, you need the entire assembly to last 25 years in a harsh environment. You're not after a print that will last centuries in a dimly-lit gallery, away from rain, birds and human hands, hidden behind glass.

Tod Gangler, of Art and Soul studios (http://www.colorcarbonprint.com) is, I believe, one of the only commercial carbon printers in the world, and has done some large displays. Not at 4'x8' size, but quite large - and, I believe, yours is a one-off special project. He may be able to give you some more insight into this process, and the feasibility of using carbon printing for this sort of project.
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tastar
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« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2013, 09:50:38 PM »
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If you are looking for someone to do these prints, you can try Advanced Finishing outside of Erie, PA - they sublimate onto metal and have done very large (up to 40 ft. x 60 ft.) murals, so they could probably do 4 x 8's. The sublimated metal seems to be extremely durable, too. The owner is Greg Yahn, their website is http://www.atexfinishing.com/welcome.html. I would guess that it would be a very expensive project, though.

Tony
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Mark Lindquist
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« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2013, 10:02:42 PM »
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That's a job for a UV Curable printer and you'll also want a UV Curable lamination on top (which can be hard to find). HPI (http://hpihouston.com) is one place that does both, and does the printing at 1000dpi 24pass with 3M's latest 8 color inkset. Great stuff! I do a lot of it myself.

Thanks very much, Scott - looking into this.  Appreciate it very much. - Mark
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Mark Lindquist
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« Reply #5 on: July 10, 2013, 10:03:50 PM »
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If you are looking for someone to do these prints, you can try Advanced Finishing outside of Erie, PA - they sublimate onto metal and have done very large (up to 40 ft. x 60 ft.) murals, so they could probably do 4 x 8's. The sublimated metal seems to be extremely durable, too. The owner is Greg Yahn, their website is http://www.atexfinishing.com/welcome.html. I would guess that it would be a very expensive project, though.

Tony

Thanks much, Tony - will check it out.  Appreciate it very much. - Mark
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Mark Lindquist
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« Reply #6 on: July 10, 2013, 10:12:55 PM »
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Shadowblade -

Thanks very much for your thoughts and perspective on this issue.  Yes, I'm looking for color, and no I haven't considered bird poop, but certainly will after reading your epistle.

You bring up many good points, and although the process you describe is certainly most worthwhile, I think it will be beyond the scope of the budget, the cost of which will most likely not even get me through the proposal process on that scale.

Your info is invaluable however.  Many many thanks for taking the time to discuss this, and a million thanks for your generous sharing of information.  After many years of sharing information freely, myself, it is gratifying to be on the receiving end, particularly with such astute practitioners, and on this forum.

Very much appreciated, and I am deeply grateful, sir.

Best-

Mark Lindquist
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shadowblade
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« Reply #7 on: July 10, 2013, 10:29:26 PM »
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Shadowblade -

Thanks very much for your thoughts and perspective on this issue.  Yes, I'm looking for color, and no I haven't considered bird poop, but certainly will after reading your epistle.

You bring up many good points, and although the process you describe is certainly most worthwhile, I think it will be beyond the scope of the budget, the cost of which will most likely not even get me through the proposal process on that scale.

Your info is invaluable however.  Many many thanks for taking the time to discuss this, and a million thanks for your generous sharing of information.  After many years of sharing information freely, myself, it is gratifying to be on the receiving end, particularly with such astute practitioners, and on this forum.

Very much appreciated, and I am deeply grateful, sir.

Best-

Mark Lindquist

Bird poop is also highly corrosive, given that it's also mixed with urine.

Just look at what it does to the paintwork of cars!
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Scott Martin
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« Reply #8 on: July 11, 2013, 09:24:17 AM »
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As far as I know, no current colour inkjet process - aqueous, UV or solvent - will be suitable for these conditions for such a long duration, nor will the dye-sub processes used by Imagewizards, Bay Photo, etc.

Then perhaps you should look into UV Curable printing. It's the standard for outdoor signage and is made to last for years in the sun, weather and to stand up to bird poop (a common thing for signage)! I mentioned the UV Curable lamination process as well because it dramatically improves an already incredibly durable process. With the UV lam, prints become graffiti proof - even spray paint can be wiped off. But a lot of places don't offer the lam because they don't think it's necessary. If super durability is what you're after, you'll want the UV lam.

Lots of people, especially in photography and fine art markets, don't have much experience with UV Curable printing. The printers themselves are $200,000+ but the cost of having prints made is surprisingly affordable. Far, far more so than dye sublimation prints on metal that some mention here. If you don't have experience with it, don't knock it until you've made some prints of your own and put them on your roof for a while...
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Mark Lindquist
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« Reply #9 on: July 11, 2013, 10:05:40 AM »
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Scott -
Thanks again, for the additional information.  Believe me, I am not knocking it at all.  I checked out their website and I see how  serious the process is and what they have done with it.  I'm looking into many avenues, and this is certainly one I'll be considering.

It's great to have different perspectives and yours is certainly very highly valued.  I just need to get some tech info on the longevity of color and price per square foot, etc.

This is a very big project, and given the scale, I will need to do a LOT of homework.  It could be that all of it will be budget buster pricing and having any expectation for 25 years light fastness may be whistling in the wind (or staring at the sun).  I'm sure there are certain things that may approach, but oooo-weeee - money money money.

I have one process I have found that I've been researching over the past seven years (for other purposes) and they have doubled their light-fastness in that amount of time, so that's promising, but the cost could be astronomical.

Thanks again for weighing in and I very much appreciate the idea and information.

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shadowblade
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« Reply #10 on: July 11, 2013, 10:39:30 AM »
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Then perhaps you should look into UV Curable printing. It's the standard for outdoor signage and is made to last for years in the sun, weather and to stand up to bird poop (a common thing for signage)! I mentioned the UV Curable lamination process as well because it dramatically improves an already incredibly durable process. With the UV lam, prints become graffiti proof - even spray paint can be wiped off. But a lot of places don't offer the lam because they don't think it's necessary. If super durability is what you're after, you'll want the UV lam.

Lots of people, especially in photography and fine art markets, don't have much experience with UV Curable printing. The printers themselves are $200,000+ but the cost of having prints made is surprisingly affordable. Far, far more so than dye sublimation prints on metal that some mention here. If you don't have experience with it, don't knock it until you've made some prints of your own and put them on your roof for a while...

What's the image quality like for photos of this print process? I know it's used for signage, but what's acceptable in a large sign or a large billboard isn't the same as what's acceptable in a small-ish photo-quality print that needs to resemble a continuous-tone image.

Also, what's the long-term stability of these inks like? After all, I don't see people rushing out to produce archival fine-art prints using UV-cured inks... or am I missing something? I believe UV inks are all based on a polyurethane-based or epoxy resin-based monomers, which polymerise when exposed to UV light - don't these turn yellow with age, like other polyurethanes and epoxy resins? Is there any decent information on the long-term (archival-term) stability of these polymers? No doubt the inks themselves can't be made UV-resistant to protect the pigment particles, since they rely on UV light to polymerise - if they included UV absorbers in the ink, it would never set.
« Last Edit: July 11, 2013, 06:26:53 PM by shadowblade » Logged
Mark Lindquist
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« Reply #11 on: July 11, 2013, 11:48:47 AM »
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What's the image quality like for photos of this print process? I know it's used for signage, but what's acceptable in a large sign or a large billboard isn't the same as what's acceptable in a small-ish photo-quality print that needs to resemble a continuous-tone image.

Also, what's the long-term stability of these inks like? After all, I don't see people rushing out to produce archival fine-art prints using UV-cured inks... or am I missing something?

Shadowblade - for my project - I'm talking about very large billboard size images - if you read my original post - needing at least 60 4' x 8' sheets, minimally, and those sheets, tiling a very large XY pano image.

So definitely, NOT small-ish prints.  I am curious about archival longevity as well.  Fading is one thing, especially when compared to an original sample, but some degradation would have to unavoidable, I would think over the long term.  Also, in this case, coatings could be a strong factor in establishing longevity (taking into consideration what you posintewd out in your first post).
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shadowblade
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« Reply #12 on: July 11, 2013, 03:54:22 PM »
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Shadowblade - for my project - I'm talking about very large billboard size images - if you read my original post - needing at least 60 4' x 8' sheets, minimally, and those sheets, tiling a very large XY pano image.

I thought you meant sixty different photos, not sixty different panels making up one giant photo! That's somewhat different...

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So definitely, NOT small-ish prints.  I am curious about archival longevity as well.  Fading is one thing, especially when compared to an original sample, but some degradation would have to unavoidable, I would think over the long term.  Also, in this case, coatings could be a strong factor in establishing longevity (taking into consideration what you posintewd out in your first post).


That depends on your definition of 'some'. 25 years outdoors in a Florida environment is tough! (I'm assuming similar conditions to far-north Queensland in Australia - i.e. tropical weather). A lot of good-quality printed outdoor signage has a lifespan of 5 years or less before severe fading. Dye-sub aluminium prints, apparently, show severe fading outdoors after only 3 years or so.
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Mark Lindquist
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« Reply #13 on: July 11, 2013, 06:01:35 PM »
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Yep multi-billboard size - gigapixel kindof thing.

I'm looking at a technique that has a minimum of ten years in direct sunlight (measured in flat sun in Arizona, in real time) before degrading noticeably in comparison to an original sample.  From that point on, the color fades according to a curve - just not sure how fast.  Since the image is an abstract, it would be difficult to see a marked difference for at least about 15 years give or take.  After that it's anybody's guess.

The question is, how significant would the fading be, and what effect would it be (negative, or possibly acceptable).

Good to know about the Dyesub quick fade info.  That would be a problem, for sure.
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shadowblade
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« Reply #14 on: July 11, 2013, 06:10:26 PM »
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Yep multi-billboard size - gigapixel kindof thing.

I'm looking at a technique that has a minimum of ten years in direct sunlight (measured in flat sun in Arizona, in real time) before degrading noticeably in comparison to an original sample.  From that point on, the color fades according to a curve - just not sure how fast.  Since the image is an abstract, it would be difficult to see a marked difference for at least about 15 years give or take.  After that it's anybody's guess.

The question is, how significant would the fading be, and what effect would it be (negative, or possibly acceptable).

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Good to know about the Dyesub quick fade info.  That would be a problem, for sure.

It's not quick - it lasts a lot longer than most other print methods under those conditions. The thing is, those conditions are tough! A print which would last two hundred years in a gallery may not last three months outdoors in those conditions, even behind perspex or with a polyurethane coating.

The other thing is, most polyurethane or epoxy resin coatings turn yellow with age. The polyurethane doesn't lose strength, but changes colour significantly.

Perhaps it would be possible to make a test print for profiling, coat it with whatever final protective coating you would use, blast it with high-intensity UV light until the coating had turned yellow and the print faded a bit, and make a print profile based on the coated, aged print, rather than on the freshly-printed, uncoated work. Then, after printing the final work, you'd coat it with polyurethane in the same way as the test print, blast all the panels with UV light until they reached their final yellowness (i.e. what the profile was based on). and display that as the work.
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Mark Lindquist
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« Reply #15 on: July 11, 2013, 07:27:24 PM »
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Thanks SB - not to worry - with this other thing - I've got it covered (pun intended)....
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Scott Martin
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« Reply #16 on: July 12, 2013, 10:04:07 AM »
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What's the image quality like for photos of this print process? I know it's used for signage, but what's acceptable in a large sign or a large billboard isn't the same as what's acceptable in a small-ish photo-quality print that needs to resemble a continuous-tone image.

Just like aqueous inkjet tech ~10 year ago, UV Curable technology wasn't great at first but has gotten to the point where it's really good in terms of effective resolution and color gamut. The 8+ color inksets, combined with 1000dpi printing at 16 or more passes yields a print without a noticeable dot. The process naturally has a fairly matte surface and the gentle black that goes alone with any matte process. Apply the liquid lam though and one sees a nice DMax boast and increase in color saturation as well.  4 point type is legible but not as pristinely sharp as with aqueous inkjet. It's not the right process to make small, highly detailed prints with. Right now I prefer to make aqueous inkjet prints on fiber base papers up to 20x30 and UV curable prints at 30x40 and larger. While 48x96" inkjet prints on a nice paper are nicer than a UV Curable print at this size its rare to have an image at sufficient resolution to justify the inkjet. But its really the durability advantages and presentation options without glass that make the UV Curable option so attractive. People really like the way these prints can be presented without glass and where they can be placed due to their durability.

Also, what's the long-term stability of these inks like?

The consensus is that no color inks are more stable, or light fast, and that's why UV Curable has quickly taken over the outdoor market. Lightfastness ratings from the ink manufacturers are rated for outdoor use, not indoor usage as aqueous inks and papers are rated.

After all, I don't see people rushing out to produce archival fine-art prints using UV-cured inks... or am I missing something?

Where are you looking? It's cutting edge stuff, and is catching on in big art markets like New York. The place I mentioned is a beta site for Vutek and had the very first 1000+dpi printer with the latest inks that are now available to everyone. I spent three days calibrating that beta setup and when we were done we all stood back sighed and said "holy cow, this is incredible" and starting printing some of my night images on some leftover dibond. Problem is, most shops don't give a shit about taking the time to calibrate and run their pritners at these "super high, super slow" modes so there are only a handful of places that cater to fine art printing. Finding the right vendor is key. That said, it's still new stuff and the artists that are using it are seeing a nice reception to it. The vendor I mentioned is making huge prints for big deal artists worldwide. I think it will become more commonly known and used in fine art circles in the next few years.

Just last week I saw a UV Curable print with some bright red on it that's been on the outside of a building in Houston facing west for about 8 years that still looks like new, with no yellowing. And the inks are a lot better now than they were back then.

Still, 25 years facing west in a place like Texas or Florida is a lot. No one has done that because the tech hasn't been around that long. You should protect the edges carefully. While the consensus may be that nothing is better suited, and that 8+ year prints are still looking great and the outdoor light fastness testing exceeds 20 years, you probably should contact the scientists that formulate these inks and get the word direct from them. How they might fade, as you mention, is smart to consider. Your situation is extreme so having realistic expectations would be smart. Do you get hail in your area? Would hail puck marks be acceptable like you'd get in a metal roof? Will there be an overhang? What about hurricanes? Would there be a maintenance schedule for your installation and protection for these events?

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shadowblade
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« Reply #17 on: July 12, 2013, 06:23:59 PM »
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Sounds similar to an inkjet-made carbon or gum print then, only with polyurethane or epoxy resin as the binder in which the pigment particles are embedded, instead of gelatin or gum arabic. In theory, that should be *very* stable - provided the polyurethane or epoxy resin remains intact.

But, from what I've seen of polyurethane and epoxy-based coatings and varnishes on furniture, paper products and boats (both marine and freshwater), they always yellow, turn brittle and peel with age. Maybe not in ten years, but, definitely in twenty or thirty years. Any idea what the chemical or physical mechanism behind this is, and whether the newer polyurethanes and epoxy resins have the same problem? Also, I thought they weren't so good at printing on flexible surfaces (e.g. paper) because of their tendency to crack under those circumstances.

Are you talking about UV printers like the Roland LEJ-640 and LEF-12? http://rolanddg.com.au/colour/wide-format-printers/versauv-lej-640. With their four-colour system (plus white and clear), what's their colour and black-and-white reproduction like, particularly in wide areas of subtle tonal gradient, such as skies?
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Mark Lindquist
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« Reply #18 on: July 12, 2013, 08:47:31 PM »
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I'm looking at DuPont SentryGlas - Expressions.  They've done 10 year testing in Arizona under extreme lighting conditions.

They print on a translucent sheet and it is laminated between 2 pieces of glass - (the same process as safety glass - only the center layer is an image rather than clear).  This solves utterly ALL the problems except budget, but possibly that can be overcome.

They guarantee 10 years and there is a curve where the image begins to slowly degrade, so possibly if the fading is very slow and hopefully pleasing, it may do the trick.  This would solve ALL:: the maintenance issues, bird poop, hurricanes, sealing and on and on, for many years and could even be regularly cleaned and even backlit at night. (The glass is hung on an armature).

A huge project, undoubtedly, but the SentryGlas approach could be the answer for this application.  In this sense, it is the "railroad grade" approach to the problem, which is why I like it.  I'm concerned about the untested issues with the other processes, and the newness to architects, who have an affinity to working with glass.

From the standpoint that this is an architectural and engineering application, this could fill the bill.  The other ideas are intriguing, however, and still worth investigating.

BTW - thanks guys for continuing to discuss this, I'm finding it very helpful.
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Scott Martin
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« Reply #19 on: July 14, 2013, 08:43:12 AM »
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Sounds similar to an inkjet-made carbon or gum print then, only with polyurethane or epoxy resin as the binder in which the pigment particles are embedded, instead of gelatin or gum arabic. In theory, that should be *very* stable - provided the polyurethane or epoxy resin remains intact.

While I'm not sure, my gut feeling is that it's not polyurethane.

Are you talking about UV printers like the Roland LEJ-640 and LEF-12? With their four-colour system (plus white and clear), what's their colour and black-and-white reproduction like, particularly in wide areas of subtle tonal gradient, such as skies?

That's a dinky UV printer... The Vutek GS5000 is the kind of big dog my clients tend to use. With an 8+ color inkset and lots of resolution modes and number of passes to choose from subtle gradient are really nice at the higher settings. Gotta have those light colors and black inks - 4 color inksets are never going to look great.

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They print on a translucent sheet and it is laminated between 2 pieces of glass - (the same process as safety glass - only the center layer is an image rather than clear).  This solves utterly ALL the problems except budget, but possibly that can be overcome.

A neat option that I'd like to know more about as well. Not sure how lightfast these are relative to UV Curable. UV Curable is very affordable and super tough...
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