Preparing Dibond Panels with Shana Levenson

sibling-bond
Sibling Bond, 36×24, Oil on Dibond panel by Shana Levenson

What is Dibond? Dibond is one of several trade names of aluminum composite consisting of two thin sheets of aluminum enclosing a polyethylene core. Suitable for a huge range of applications, Dibond is lightweight but strong and the extremely flat surface is great for printing high quality graphics or text. More and more painters seem to have found this material ideal as a painting substrate. The prevailing argument for the use of Dibond is it’s presumed stability over a long period of time. With Dibond you don’t have to worry about the organic fibers rotting (as with cotton and linen), and you don’t have to worry about warpage (as you do with any kind of wood panel). The expansion and contraction of these organic materials, which over many years may compromise the integrity of the paint film, also becomes a non-issue with Dibond.

As with any other substrate, Dibond needs to be prepared to accept oil paint (or any other traditional media, I suppose). As I am a total Dibond newbie I have asked my friend, artist Shana Levenson, to outline the process she uses to prep the surface. Thank you, Shana, for providing the following instructions and photos:

SUPPLIES NEEDED:

Dibond or Aluminum Panel
Exacto Blade
Straight Edge
Liquitex Acrylic Grey Gesso
Spray bottle
Sponge brush
Electric Hand Sander
200 and 400 girt Sand Paper

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PREPPING THE DIBOND:

Sand the bare aluminum with the hand sander and 200 grit sand paper
Spray the surface with water to help the gesso brush out evenly
Squeeze gray gesso onto panel
Spread with the sponge brush with even brush strokes
Let dry

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Repeat these steps twice more, brushing the gesso in opposite directions each time.

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By spraying water for each new layer, it allows the gesso to go on more evenly to avoid line texture.
Once the last layer is dry, take a fine grit sand paper and either hand sand it in circles, or with a sander, until you reach your desired smoothness.

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CUTTING DIBOND:

Measure the size wanted and make marks where to cut.
Lay a straight edge firmly down where the desired measurement is.
Make sure when doing this, you are using a flat surface to avoid bending the aluminum panel.
Continuously score the dibond against the straight edge with a razor blade. Depending on the size, you can either stand it while bending it back and forth to snap off, or put the dibond on a table and push down the cut piece on the edge of the table.
Once cut, the sides can be sharp so use a tool to shave down those sharp sides.

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To obtain some Dibond panels, Shana recommends getting in touch with a local commercial sign maker. They may even cut and deliver for a nominal charge.

Thank you Shana! I look forward to using this technique to prep my first batch of Dibond panels.

Shana Levenson is a representational painter from Albuquerque, NM. Shana’s work focuses on portraiture and the figure. Her inspiration comes from painting people that are important in her life, and her goal is to capture each person’s story in an honest and meaningful way. Shana draws inspiration from her own experiences and uses specific series as a way to illustrate chapters in her life. Her works can be seen in regular exhibitions across the United States and abroad.

Find out more about Shana and see her work at ShanaLevenson.com. Shana is also a co-developer of Art Crit Academy, an online mentorship program for serious art students and those seeking a career in art. Find out more at ArtCritAcademy.com.

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29 thoughts on “Preparing Dibond Panels with Shana Levenson”

  1. What about bending or bumping or even puncturing. The repairs could be prohibitive, when you think about it, or not?

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    1. I suppose this is true. But I think the panel would have to take a pretty catastrophic hit in order to damage it to that degree. And think, if s canvas or wood panel took a hit like that it would be game over.

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  2. Thanks for the Dibond panel prep illustrations, I might try it sometime. As for the cutting part, I would like to know if a fine toothed jig-saw blade could be used instead of Exacto blade. Thanks.
    Gilberto Mello

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  3. Hi David,
    Thanks for the info!
    I’ve just switched to linen covered aluminum sheeting and love the stability. This looks like the next, cheaper, smoother, thing to try. Do know of a good source for Dibond? Do you buy it locally, or online?
    Thanks!

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  4. Hi David, super article. I’ve seen some aluminum panels like this that already have a white film on them, presumably for printing on. I know your new at this, do you know if that is an acceptable surface to gesso upon or if it’s recommended to source panels with bare aluminum?

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    1. Sorry. Mark. I really don’t know. I’m going to assume the white surface is prepped to receive ink for signs. But I would be uncertain as to its suitability for oil painting.

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  5. Hi David,

    Thank you for the Dibond information.

    I have checked on line for the dibond sheets and they are sold with different coloured coat and not bare aluminium, are they suitable for oil painting?

    Kind Regards

    Armando Guatieri.

    >

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  6. Thanks for this article. I tried this for the first time about a year or so ago. Great surface with or without the addition of a canvas layer. A couple things, when you start looking for this, Dibond is a brand name. Try looking under Aluminum Composite Material (ACM) and you’ll find all the different brands, all basically the same. For cutting, a saw with a blade made for cutting metal would work, but scoring and snapping is so much easier and quicker. Use a good T-square and a utility knife, score and snap. There is a you tube video out there you can look up if you want. Sorry don’t have the address handy. As for the coating, as far as I know these panels are usually only coated on one side and either side can be used. Just make sure to scuff it up some as mentioned. Personally I use the aluminum side and have a nice, neat coated side visible on the back. One thing I would add though. After the panel has been scuffed up regardless of which side you use, wipe it down with some denatured alcohol to degrease it . That should make adhesion a bit more foolproof.

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  7. I like this surface as well but I’m struggling with support/framing method. These panels are extremely thin(3-6mm) so there is not drilling into them. Just curious on the method you use to display your work?

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  8. I use aluminium composite panels quite a lot, and the brand name where I live (Ireland) is SkyBond. I cut the panels with an electric hand tool that has small rotating blades for cutting wood or metal. As a cutting guide I clamp a straight piece of wood to the panel at both ends that is exactly the distance from the cutting line as the blade is from the side of the tool. I sand LIGHTLY on the white-painted side as this is already a ground for the artist, and then I apply several coats of acrylic gesso and sand with a flat oscillating sander. I avoid the rotating kind shown above as they are likely to leave circular indentations if they wobble. There’s a video on my website (and YouTube) on how I proceed with painting on aluminium (www.FergusARyan.com). Shana is a wonderful painter!

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  9. Oh, also, I use floater frames for my paintings in which the edge of the panel is 6 mm from the frame all around. To fix into the frame I glue battens to the back of the panel which are the same thickness (with the panel) as the rebate on the frame. I paint the sides of the battens and panel edges the same colour as the frame (in my case No.5 grey, or black). I use 5mm spacers to align the panel in the frame rebate, and then I screw through the frame from the back into the wood battens and everything is rock solid. My panels are flush with the front of the frames.

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  10. Well, PART 3… I just tried to cut a large (4 ft) panel by Shana’s method of scoring deeply with a Stanley knife, and while it requires a lot of initial elbow power, it worked better and was simpler and cleaner than my way of cutting. So I think I’m converted!

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  11. Hi David, I’m getting back into oils and fortunately for me I just discovered your amazing work. Thank you for sharing this post as well as many other techniques. And yes, Shana’s work is also inspiring. My question: does this material drastically change your pricing? Would you charge more or less? Just trying to anticipate market reaction. Many thanks, Mandy

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