Room Acoustics

How Good Do Printed Acoustic Panels Look?


A little while back I did a review of some printed acoustic panels from GiK. Acoustic panels are a must for any good home theater, and printed ones look better in multi-use rooms. I did note in my review that the colors of the art on the printed fabric weren’t what I expected. They seemed more muted. This has led some people to wonder just how good the printed artwork really looks on these acoustic panels?

Author’s Note: I hate using the pictures I took of the acoustic panels (above). The photos just don’t do them justice. They look far more vivid and stunning in person. Try to keep that in mind as you read.

What You See On Your Monitor Is Likely Not Correct

Before we begin, we must note that your computer monitor isn’t likely to be very accurate. Most computer monitors are mildly accurate out of the box and few users take the time to try and get their monitors more accurate. If you are trying to match what you see on your computer screen, you are setting yourself up for failure.

If you are looking for the easiest way to see the image with accurate colors, check your pocket. Many phones, especially iPhones, have fairly accurate colors. Do a quick search online for your phone to see how accurate it is. Seeing the image on an accurate screen will give you a better idea of what the print will look like on the acoustic panel fabric.

Matte Not Glossy

Have you ever printed a picture you’ve taken on a piece of paper to test it out before you printed it out on the photo paper (that stuff is expensive!)? While your inkjet printer wasn’t very accurate to begin with, the two didn’t look anything alike. That’s mostly because of the paper. That glossy photo paper made those colors pop a lot more than the dull piece of printer paper.

The fabric on your printed acoustic panels will look similar. The process that most printed panels use to get the image into the fabric is called dye sublimation printing. This dyes the fabric without any “paint” sitting on top to reduce the absorption of the higher sound frequencies. The colors can be quite vivid, but don’t expect that glossy look of a movie poster.

Fabric Does Not Emit Light

As you well know, fabric does not emit light. It is reliant on the reflected light in the room. The lack of a glossy finish means that some of the highlights may be lost. If you have an image with a lot of small highlights, they aren’t going to pop as much as they would on a glossy poster. Your printed acoustic panel will still have the highlight, it just might not look as bright as it did on the original image.

Those highlights just aren’t going to pop as much as they do on your screen.

This is something to remember when you are looking at your image on an emissive display. Those white highlights are getting a lot of energy. If you were to print them on glossy paper, they would still look dull in comparison. As your white highlights on the printed fabric are probably unprinted white fabric, they’ll look even less bright.

The light in the room can make a huge difference in the look of your printed acoustic panels. If you have a warmer or cooler light, it will change your perception of the colors on the panel. Bright light will make your panels look brighter and the colors more vivid. Dim light will do the opposite.

Intricate Details Can Be Lost

If we can say anything about picking the perfect artwork for printed acoustic panels that will look stunning, find an image with big, bold colors. Printed acoustic panels can look amazing. But you are setting them up for failure if you have a lot of very little details.

Of course, the weave of the fabric is the issue. Getting those fine details to show up on a non-flat surface is challenging. But that doesn’t mean you absolutely have to forgo an image with a lot of detail. You just have to remember that some of that will be lost on close inspection. If your panels are placed farther away so that no one will notice that some of the finest details are lost, no one will know!

Don’t Overthink It!

I cannot stress this enough. Don’t overthink how accurate the printed panels will look. I’ve had many people in my home theater and not a single one has said, “Oh, are those colors slightly washed out?” No! All have been amazed that my panels are not actual paintings! They look that good! It is only when I compare them to the original images that I notice a difference. To everyone else, they are spectacular. If you are on the fence about ordering printed panels, jump off now! Printed acoustic panels look amazing and can really do wonders for the sound in your room. I can’t recommend them enough.


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