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How to Create a Mural that Lasts

Updated: Apr 28, 2022

Photo of artist working on colorful mural

Creating an outdoor mural takes a lot of work, whether it’s made on-site or in the studio. Murals and other forms of street art created for festivals, community art projects and temporary viewing do involve plenty of preparation and work. Larger, more permanent public art murals must often last for years, meaning materials, installation methods and maintenance are top of mind, especially if the project is being invested in by a public organization.

Besides the time spent creating the art itself, there’s a lot to consider when it’s time to take a piece of art from the studio out into the world. Surface material, paint, location, protective coatings and installation methods and more have to be taken into account. Is the art in a high-traffic area where it might be vandalized or need occasional cleaning? What about sun and weather exposure?

Artist working on mural with blue and red spray paint

For artists working outside, directly on a wall, plywood or metal base, conditions can be unpredictable. Rain and humidity can affect not only the paint, but also adhesives and protective coatings. Even if a mural is made inside, time and weather still have negative effects, as, UV rays cause colors to fade and affect the overall quality of the mural.

Not to mention there are many types of artworks that can’t be applied directly to a wall, as would be the case with paint or spray paint. For artists working with digital art, photography and mixed media, they need to find a reproduction method that is durable, weather resistant and easy to produce and install.

Mural with colorful figures on powder-coated aluminum.
Dare to Achieve by Gavin Macdougall at Centennial College, Scarborough, ON.

Since we work with artists who use all different sorts of media for public art projects in a variety of settings, we wanted to look at why they choose ALTO for their murals. Using this method, our clients do most of their creative work in the studio, then have it reproduced on ALTO™ powder-coated panels.

It’s a more straightforward process and prevents many of the issues mentioned above, since the work is done in a controlled environment. The artist sends in their digital files (if it’s a physical piece like a painting, they send high-resolution photographs or scans), and the ALTO graphics team goes to work optimizing the images, carefully matching colors to ensure the final product meets the client’s expectations. After that stage, powder-coated aluminum panels are sublimated with the image, they’re shipped out and then it’s as simple as installing the panels on site.

Mural with people on the subway on powder-coated aluminum.
Anonymous Somebody by Elicser Elliot, Toronto, ON.

There are many benefits of choosing a sublimation printing process on aluminum panels. For one, aluminum is perfect for outdoor applications- no rust, lightweight and easy to install. The printing process, which uses sublimation versus direct printing, is much more durable over time, keeping colors vibrant and details looking sharp. The combination of the two - aluminum panels and sublimation printing - come together in a single layer with all the protection built in; with no varnishes or protective coatings needed, there’s no need to worry about peeling, yellowing and chipping.

Another reason artists choose ALTO is because it allows them to enlarge their art to whatever size needed for the site. No matter what the size of the painting or digital file, panels can be tiled to become impressively large murals. In many cases, the panels are rectangular, in traditional mural dimensions, but we also have artists who have the aluminum cut into a variety of shapes to create unique free-form murals.

Mural with cut to shape birds, mountains and sun made with powder-coated aluminum.
Mémoire d'un paysage by Patrick Dionne and Miki Gingras, Montreal, QC.

We’ve had many artists tell us that ALTO™ has been a game-changer for their public art projects, inside and out. It allowed them to explore different creative options, and gave them peace of mind knowing that no matter where their work was installed, it will stay colorful and easy to maintain for years to come.

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