Wondering if you can use an engineering print for photos? See how mine turned out, and see my tips for what types of photos might work best. Using engineering prints as decor is a cheap and renter friendly solution, too!
Learn all about using engineering prints as large-scale decor!
I’m doing it. I’m jumping on the engineering print bandwagon. Apologies in advance to my photographer friends, but the truth is, wall art and high-quality photo printing are expensive. And our sad, bare apartment walls needed something. So when I learned about the engineering print hack, I was intrigued.
Engineering prints are black and white drawings on paper. They are not designed for photo printing. But they are cheap! I’m talking like, between-2-and-6-bucks-for-a-massive-print cheap. So what are people doing? Why, they’re printing photos on engineering prints, of course.
Engineering Prints: Showcase your line drawings and graphics with engineering prints. These over-sized prints promote high-quality black and white line drawings in a variety of sizes. Engineering prints are ideal for architects and builders.
Does it really work?
I read all of the warnings first. Printing your photos as engineering prints will:
- Degrade photo quality, so make sure you use a high-resolution photo. Even then, the quality will not be superb.
- Convert your photo to black and white (Staples has a color option, but I thought that would look like crap).
- Print your photo on regular printer paper, not photo paper.
I put an order in for four different prints on Staples.com. Staples explicitly states that engineering prints are not suitable for photo printing. I ignored that. At $2 a pop, I figured that it wouldn’t be a huge deal if they looked like crap.
When I picked them up the next day, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality. Sure, they were not high-quality prints, but for $2, I was satisfied. Plus, if I screwed them up while mounting them, my experiment wouldn’t cost me too much.
Here’s what I used:
- For mounting, I picked up a big piece of foam insulation from Home Depot. (I got this one, which barely fit on our Honda Fit.)
- 3M Multipurpose Spray Adhesive.
- Utility knife or X-Acto knife
- Double-stick adhesive or mounting tape.
- Optional: A razor blade.
- Optional: Krylon Workable Fixatif protective craft spray. I had some already, so I used it to give the final product a few coats for protection.
And here’s my stab at using engineering prints as wall decor!
Step 1: Decide on mounting mechanism
I decided to wrap each of my prints around the edges of a foam piece. Like, foam insulation. So it would be reasonably thick while also being lightweight. Plus I didn’t need any paint.
I think wrapping the prints around the edges gives a finished, “fake canvas” look. I preferred that to gluing each print on top of the foam and painting the edges. (Note: if you paint, don’t use spray paint. It will eat the foam!)
There are other ways you can mount these. You could build frames for them, attach them to a canvas, put them in frames, put them on wood, etc. But as renters, I wanted to use foam because it was lightweight and would all us to hang them using sticky strips. No holes!
Step 2: Cut your foam for mounting
This is where I should tell you that this is super easy. It is not. It might not be hard, but it’s really, really frustrating. Have you ever tried to cut foam? Sure, there are probably easier ways than using a giant kitchen knife (one of those easier ways is definitely not scissors), but I had a knife and a razor, and I chose the knife.
Looking back, I should have definitely used a score and snap method with a multi tool. Live and learn, right? I’ll be thinking about that while I’m cleaning up foam bits for months.
To decide how big I wanted each foam piece to be, I measured the total photo size and subtracted one inch from each side. This accounted for wrapping the print around the edges. So, for example, if your print is 18in x 24in, you want your foam to be 17in x 23in. I marked the desired size on the foam using a marker.
Then I started cutting. I found that it was easiest to cut a little rough and then clean up the edges using either the knife or a razor blade. You don’t need your edges to be completely smooth. Wrapping the photo around the edges will help to hide some of the rough cutting.
Step 3: Attach the photo
Next it’s time to attach the photo to each foam piece! To adhere the photo to the foam, I first set the print face-down. Then, I took the foam piece into a well-ventilated area and gave one side a quick coat of the 3M adhesive spray.
Luckily we do have a small balcony, so I ran out there, sprayed the adhesive spray, let the aerosol dissipate, and ran back inside. Probably not the best, but it’s apartment living.
After a few seconds, I gently put the sticky side of the foam piece onto the back of the print while it was still face-down on the table. This stuff is really sticky and dries quickly, so I gave it only about 3 seconds before I flipped it back over to smooth out any wrinkles.
Step 4: Adhere and wrap the sides
Once the entire front was attached to the foam piece, it was time to fold down and adhere the sides. Think about it like wrapping a present. First, adhere the two long sides one at a time. To do so, do a quick 3M spray down the area you’d like to stick when you fold the side over.
Then, fold the side over and hold it for a few seconds (below, first photo). Once you’ve finished both long sides, it’s time to finish “wrapping the present” on the two short sides. You’ll spray each short side just as you did the long sides, but you’ll fold the corners (below, second photo).
And with that, you’re done! Let it dry, and give it a coat or two of the Krylon craft spray if you have it. That’s optional.
How to hang my engineering prints
Since I used foam backing, my prints are light enough that I can stick them to the wall using double-sided sticky tape. I put two small squares of tape at each top corner and one at the bottom center.
Even Command strips would have been overkill. That’s how lightweight these are. Perfect for renters or someone who just doesn’t want to deal with hanging something heavy!
My honest take on engineering prints for decor…
I’m really happy with how this experiment turned out. It’s perfect for us right now. Do I think that I would prefer my photos printed on canvas? Well, yeah. But this is also a great option.
I actually think they look pretty impressive considering each one cost $4. That said, it’s kind of like saying “that ugly thing looks really good considering it’s an ugly thing…it’s really the best of the ugly bunch.” These prints look good…for $4. At the end of the day, they are still cheap-o wall decor.
I don’t want to sway you from trying this. I am about 90% happy with mine, so I did put them up above our dresser, and I plan to keep them there. Just level your expectations before making these, especially if you regularly work with higher-quality photos.
The foam was really frustrating to cut. Maybe consider using something that you already have, like an old painting, frame, or piece of plywood, instead of foam.
Also, if you’re going go the engineering prints route, don’t use a photo that’s dominated by dark or light tones, like the one below. Since the prints are pretty low quality, the streaks in the printing will be noticeable.
They were noticeable on the center dress picture I ultimately ended up mounting, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger on the one of Mike below. It was just too crappy. The two of us in the mountains look far better than the dress or suit photos.
If you’re thrifty, crafty, and go into this venture with your expectations leveled, you will be pleased with the outcome. Good luck!
Like this? Check out my Affordable Thrifted Kids Room Decor Using an Old Canvas, my $6 Thrift Store Upcycle I turned into a plant stand, and my 40 Cheap DIY Furniture Ideas!