All Content Copyright © Michael Chesley Johnson AIS PSA MPAC

Sunday, September 26, 2021

ACM Panels for Plein Air Painting?

While looking for a new substrate for my oil paintings, I came across ACM panels.  The initials stand for “aluminum composite material.”  ACM is a rigid, puncture-proof, lightweight product that consists of a polyethelene core sandwiched between two sheets of aluminum.  For artists looking for an archival material, you probably can't get more archival than this!

I ordered three 9”x12” panels from Trekell.  They sell these panels, which are 1/8” thick, with a variety of different added surfaces—oil-primed, gesso-primed, and so on—but I ordered the “raw” panels, so I could apply my own grounds as a test.  One would expect a raw panel to just be bare aluminum, but it comes from the manufacturer pre-painted. This thin layer of paint is very smooth, so I asked Trekell how to prepare it so it would accept an application of acrylic gesso.  They recommended I “scuff” the surface, so I took a sanding block and abraded the surface until it no longer had a sheen and looked quite matte.

I prepared the three panels with acrylic gesso (two coats), BIN (a shellac-based primer, two coats) and Gamblin's oil ground (one coat.)

One worry was absorbency.  I like my panels somewhat absorbent, and a raw ACM panel is about as non-absorbent as can be.  As I expected, the board with acrylic gesso had the most absorbency, and I liked that one best.  Coming in second was the one coated with BIN.  This one also was absorbent, but slightly less so.  The slickest surface was the panel coated with Gamblin's oil ground, and it was my least favorite.  I found it difficult to keep my stiff, hog bristle flats from scraping down through the paint to the white of the ground.  I was constantly trying to apply more paint to cover up the white.  I ended up “dabbing” the paint on with a softer round, and that worked well enough.

Another worry was weight.  ACM is a bit heavier than the hardboard I typically use for my painting panels.  A 1/8” 9x12 hardboard panel with two coats of acrylic gesso weighs 236 grams; the same size ACM panel with two coats, 314 grams.  One other concern is the rigidity of larger panels.  On its website, Trekell notes: “ACM panels over 16x20 do not always lie completely flat. Corners may lift slightly.”  And what about cost?  Good news here. From Trekell, a “raw” 9x12 ACM panel costs the same as a 9x12 hardboard panel primed with acrylic gesso, or $7.26 as of this writing.

You can find the ACM panels here: 

Here are my test paintings (each available for sale at $300):

"Ledge I" 9x12 oil
ACM with 2 coats of acrylic gesso

"Ledge II" 9x12 Oil
ACM with 2 coats of BIN

"Trio" 9x12 Oil
ACM with 1 coat of oil ground


Dale Cook said...

Thanks for the information Michael. It is valuable to have the insight

Jo Castillo said...

You did great on the new surface. Thanks for the info. I like the one on acrylic gesso, first one, best. Maybe I just like more color. Thanks for sharing the info.