Our last issue of PDN had the theme “Long Live Print,” which could have been taken as both a declaration of faith and, perhaps, wishful thinking. Digital technology has changed everything, it’s true, but one of the things we discovered while putting that issue together was that print needs to play to its strengths.
In a feature story I wrote last month titled “Living Large,” I spoke with photographers who are increasing sales by creating gargantuan prints of their images. The message was this: sure photos can look pretty good on a 20-inch computer monitor but they look even better when printed on a 40-inch canvas and hung on a wall.
After filing that story, by happenstance I received an e-mail from a young company offering a new Web-based service that prints photos on glass. Called Fracture <www.fractureme.com>, the company was started by a couple of University of Florida graduates who came up with the concept while thinking of ways to reinvent traditional framing methods for photos.
I’ve reviewed unconventional photo printmaking services before, including one a couple years ago called fotoflot, which uses a magnetic system to “float” acrylic prints on a wall and, more recently, an online canvas printing service known as YourPhotoOnCanvas.com. In fact, I liked YourPhotoOnCanvas.com so much, I named it Printing Service of the Year for 2010 in my annual PDN Gear of the Year roundup (on PDNOnline.com at http://bit.ly/hscbDk.)
Long story short, the Fracture folks sounded liked my kind of guys, so I tried out their glass prints service recently and this is what I thought.
Like most online printing services, Fracture’s main target audience is consumers, not professional photographers. That’s understandable, from a business standpoint, considering there are a lot more consumers than professional photographers. Consequently, the company’s Web interface at fractureme.com is designed to be as simple and user friendly as possible.
No complaints here, though. I found the handsome site with its simple instructions—1. Upload Your Photo, 2. Customize It etc.—to be well designed and efficient. But since this service is aimed primarily at moms and dads rather than, say, wedding and portrait photographers, there are some limitations.
For one, you can only upload one picture at a time though you can store multiple images on your “My Fractures” page after you create an account. File size is limited to 10 mb, which should be large enough for the maximum print size Fracture offers, which is approximately 11 x 14 inches, or 18 inches diagonally, which is the somewhat unconventional sizing spec used by Fracture. (More about this later.)
One of the images I used during my test was approximately 10.2 mb and the FractureMe site didn’t have problems handling it so there seems to be a little leeway. File types are limited to .jpg, .png, .bmp, .gif so if you’ve got any massive .tif or Photoshop files you should convert them before you upload.
Though Fracture was initially marketed toward the point-and-shoot set, a spokesperson for the company told me they’ve noticed an increasing interest in their glass prints from professional photographers looking to sell a unique product to their clients. The company has not taken special steps to accommodate pros yet, such as offering wholesale pricing or ways for professionals to brand the products with their own logos, as other specialty printing services have begun to offer. There’s also no way to sell Fraction glass prints directly from a photographer’s Web site.
The company says it’s open to suggestions, so things might change in the future. For now, the FractureMe.com Web site is the main portal and, as I said, it’s a good one.
After uploading your image, you are then asked to “choose a shape” for your glass print: Landscape, Square or Portrait. (The company plans to offer other custom shapes in the future.) You then select a border; options include some colorful, consumer-style borders that I stayed away from. Instead, I created one Fracture print with a white border and one that was borderless. Though I’m generally not a fan of full bleed, borderless prints, that’s definitely the way to go with Fractures. Like canvas prints, which also do not use frames, having the image print all the way to the edge of the glass heightens the three-dimensional quality of the Fracture.
The last step is to choose a size with options including 8 inches diagonally ($8), 10 inches ($10), 12 inches ($12), 14 inches ($18), or 18 inches ($25). Custom sizes are available with the maximum being 29-inches diagonal (or 17.5 x 23.5 inches). There’s also a custom “mini” option that is about the size of a post-it note.
Fracture chooses diagonal sizing over traditional print sizes—i.e. 8 x 10, 13 x 19 etc.—because, they say, it allows them to “print edge-to-edge without losing anything in the photo.” The company also believes the diagonal sizing is simpler and more intuitive for consumers though pros might find it hard to shake tradition.
PRINTING ON GLASS
Fracture is, understandably, a little shy about explaining exactly how it’s able to create high-quality inkjet prints directly on glass. An engineer at the company did say the following when I asked about the process:
“A Fracture is truly a print on glass, no paper or laminating involved. A special type of ink is delivered directly to the backside of the glass (printed in reverse) so that you see it through the front side of the glass. This protects the print from being scratched, so you never touch anything but glass. The glass is a ‘clear’ grade that has minimal distortion. After the image is printed, the glass is coated with a white layer to make it opaque and then mounted to black foam board to hang on the wall with. Everything is precisely cut and ground to a consistent size. “
Regarding the archival nature of printing on glass, Fracture said each print comes with a lifetime guarantee. At the same time, the company admits it hasn’t done extensive testing over many years à la Wilhelm Imaging Research, but says if a Fracture print is kept out of direct sunlight, it won’t fade indoors.
In my test I made two Fractures, a bright 14-inch color print of a pro hockey player with a white border around it, and a moody, borderless, 18-inch black-and-white portrait of two people on an old-time subway car. The entire process of uploading the images, choosing print options, and placing my order took all of ten minutes. A few days later, a package from Fracture arrived in the mail.
BRIGHT & SHINY
Because of their fragility, Fracture prints are so tightly packaged when they’re sent through the mail, they’re almost hard to open. I struggled to open my box for a few minutes and ended up gouging the tidy box with a scissor. Later I discovered there was a pull-tab with a string in the middle that’s designed to help you open the package. This could’ve been made clearer.
Inside I found my two attractive Fracture prints surrounded by honeycomb cardboard and protective foam. The company had done a nice job rendering the deep blues and bright reds on the hockey player’s jerseys in my 14-inch diagonal print. The glass image was as sharp as if it had been printed on inkjet paper and the foam backing produced a nice 3D quality. A screw was included that let you easily mount the Fracture print on a wall.
The 18-inch black-and-white Fracture was even better. The test portrait I sent them had a grainy, film-like quality to it and the company did a good job maintaining that structure in the glass print. Even though I’m generally not a fan of glossy prints, the bright and shiny Fractures looked splendid on my wall, catching your eye as you walk into the room.
Fractures use standard, single-strength, ultra clear glass that’s a little more than 1/16th of an inch thick. The company had considered using Plexiglas but passed on it because it scratches too easily. Though Fractures ship with the foam board on back, you can custom order one that’s just printed on the glass to make it seem more transparent.
As for their durability, Fractures feel pretty strong but if they were to drop to the floor, they’d probably crack. The company says that since the glass is laminated, the pieces won’t likely shatter, making the potential damage a little less severe. But hopefully it doesn’t come to that.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Professional photographers looking for another print product to offer clients should consider Fractures. Though the Fracture Web site and product line seem aimed at consumers, the quality and uniqueness of these glass prints should give them good upsell value to pros. The two glass Fractures created from my test images were sharp, shiny, and had a nice three-dimensional quality that lit up the room. Pros might wish there were some larger standard print sizes offered or more ways to customize the products to add personal branding but Fracture is a young company that seems eager to accommodate customers. If there is a demand for more pro-oriented services, there’s a good chance Fracture will try to meet it.
Pros: Unique glass prints provide an interesting take on traditional framed photos; handsome, well-designed Web site; reasonable pricing.
Cons: Service is mostly aimed at consumers so few pro amenities; needs bigger standard sizes; packaging is tough to open.