One of the things I learned while making my large photo exhibition was how to mount huge photo prints without getting wrinkles or bubbles.
I am a user of permanent self-adhesive foam core board. I love this stuff. My favorite brands are Elmer’s and Gilman, which I buy from ArtSupply.com in sheets up to 4 x 8 feet. These boards are 3/16 inch thick, and feature an adhesive so strong, and so permanent that it sticks to anything that touches it instantly. This stuff is unfailing, and occasionally exasperating.
Two of the very large prints in my photo exhibition SLO PANO, on display at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art through March 30. I printed and mounted these two by myself, and I got away with it. Doing the work with two friends makes it much easier. The print on the right is 14 feet long, and about 37 inches tall.
It’s usually human error that makes the adhesive exasperating. The foam core is just a benign material that – seemingly – grabs onto anything in its vicinity, and it will never let go.
Mounting small posters and sheets – up to about 32 x 40 inches (one of the standard sizes) is easy. It’s a one-person job. I usually arm myself with Big Blue – my five foot extruded aluminum cutting ruler, and Alvin, my 3 x 4 foot self-healing cutting mat. I also have an 1950s era Kodak hard rubber roller with a big cast iron handle. This is used to roll material down onto the smaller foam core boards.
For larger sheets, the job becomes a two-person or three-person project. And, it becomes a lot more difficult.
There are very nice laminating and mounting machines available to the wide-format industry. These, typically, cost about $20,000, and they are worth the investment I am sure. But, my operation is in my home, and I have no room for such a machine. And, my need to mount very large projects is limited. I did a lot of this while preparing my exhibition, but now that it’s up, I haven’t made a big print since.
For the low-budget crowd, those without a laminating machine, my friend Catherine and I came up with a great solution to the problem that involves nothing more than a large table, a long 3-inch roll core, and two to three people (three is best).
Here, the Dopëlganger twins prepare to roll a huge print onto a large sheet of self-adhesive foam core board. The third person (not shown) peels the release paper away just in front of the two as they press the photo paper to the adhesive in a continuous motion from one end to the other.
Having a long table is helpful, but it is possible to make do with a shorter table, and shift the work as you go.
Put the foam core on the table, with the adhesive side up.
Roll your large print out on top of the foam core to be sure it will fit on the sheet you have. Once it’s on the table put three strips of painter’s masking tape on the end of the photo paper, exposing half of the tape facing upward. To this you will affix the long cardboard core. Be sure the tape sticks, then wind the print very tightly around the core, image-inward. When it’s rolled all the way to the end, take it to the end of the foam core sheet and have one or two people hold the photo tight on the roll.
At the end of the foam core, pry up the silicone release paper, and fold-back a one-inch flap, exposing the adhesive. Crease this sharply with your fingernail.
With your two friends holding the tightly-wound roll of photo paper, CAREFULLY position the edge of the photo paper near the exposed adhesive. Then move it over the adhesive, and touch the center of the photo to adhere it to the center of the board. Then push with one finger from that center point toward each edge. This establishes the beginning of the mounted photo.
Tacking the photo paper at the head end of the roll is critically important. Start in the middle, and smooth the paper out to the edges. This must be done perfectly to prevent a wrinkle that will ruin the print, so be careful to start it right.
Being sure that the photo is tightly wound on the roll, move around to the edge ahead of your two friends, and have them set the roll of photo material down on the adhesive where you tacked the start. They should push downward while maintaining tension on the print.
Then, pull the silicone release paper away from the adhesive, while your friends roll the print down onto the adhesive. Go slowly, and stay ahead of them only by an inch or two. They will continue to unroll the print while pushing it down onto the foam core. You get only one chance.
When you get to the other end, remove the masking tape, and finish the roll-out. Your work should be perfect.
My team of volunteer helpers and I did this successfully five times while preparing the huge prints for my exhibition, and it worked perfectly every time. In the absence of an expensive laminating machine, this does the trick, and the result is the same.