When you’re looking for printing options, you no doubt have a variety of questions in order to know for sure you’re purchasing the right product for your application needs.

Can you add my logo to a nameplate?

What about barcodes?

I need multiple colors, is that possible?

Metal Marker is here to help guide you through the journey to find your best printing on metal option! We know that a basic stamped number or embossed text is not quite sufficient for some applications. That is why we offer everything from brightly colored warning signs, to custom logo branding, to QR codes and more. Nameplates with custom designs, logos, colors, and even images are often necessary.

For highly customized tags, two of the best processes are MetalPhoto and Screen Printing. While these processes share some similarities, they differ in many areas as well. This guide will walk you through both processes to provide a clearer picture of which best fits your application.

Option 1: MetalPhoto

Photo anodization is one of the most unique processes for custom metal identification. This process uses a specially developed photosensitive anodized aluminum material. The desired custom design is directly embedded into the metal itself. It is protected and sealed underneath an anodic layer of aluminum.

Any design is usable for this process. If you have an image on a computer, that image can be embedded in the metal material. The design appears as though it were printed on, meaning there are no cuts or indentations, and offers top of the line durability. The only limitation when it comes to MetalPhoto is that the design must be black or gray-scale. Full color designs are not possible like they are with screen printing on metal.

Is MetalPhoto Durable? 

When you think about durability and need custom images or designs, your first thought should be photo anodization. These tags feature top notch durability.

To be clear, this is not a topical solution like screen printing on metal. The embedded design cannot be scratched, worn, or faded. The only way the information will be removed is if the aluminum material itself is destroyed. In fact, MetalPhoto tags are rated for 20+ years in outdoor applications. This makes them perfectly suited for industrial environments.

They are ready to take on the harshest environments. These tags survive inclement weather, corrosion, abrasion, chemicals, oil, water, high temperatures, and just about anything else you throw their way. MetalPhoto tags are the true definition of high durability!

Top Industries for MetalPhoto Tags

MetalPhoto tags are used by organizations from a wide spectrum of industries. The high durability coupled with customization means there are nearly endless uses, whether it’s an industrial application or military equipment. A few of the most common industries include:

What is MetalPhoto Used For?

Photo anodized tags are used for a nearly endless amount of applications, such as manufacturing plant equipment labels. Refineries use them to mark oil sample points. Even military organizations use MetalPhoto IUID tags to track their valuable assets and stay compliant with MIL-STD-130. 

High durability and customization makes them a great solution for nearly any application. Some more examples:

MetalPhoto Material

Choosing the right material for MetalPhoto nameplates is pretty simple because there’s only one choice. The special photosensitive aluminum is the only substrate capable of using the process.

You’re not out of luck just because you don’t have material options. Aluminum is strong and sturdy, perfect for tough environments. In addition, it is very lightweight, as well as corrosive resistant.

There are various material finishes to choose from for aesthetic purposes. Some examples include satin, matte, glossy. In addition, there are background color options: blue, orange, red, green, copper, and gold.

Using MetalPhoto for Barcodes and QR Codes

Another benefit to photo anodization is the ability to add barcodes and QR Codes. This is a huge addition due to the versatility tracking codes bring. Organizations around the world rely on metal barcode labels for asset tracking and inventory management. For example, the US military organizations utilize UID tags to optimize their usage and accurately track their assets.

MetalPhoto tags ensure the codes are extremely accurate, as well as long lasting. This allows for precision scanning. They will not fade or scratch.

Can MetalPhoto Tags be Customized?

Just like most processes, these tags are customizable to your specifications. This includes any variety of shape, size, thickness, holes, etc. As previously mentioned, various finishes for the aluminum material are available as well. Adhesive backing provides quick and easy application in lieu of holes.

One key point to remember is the actual text must be black/gray-scale. Typically, the design will be black with a natural “silver color” aluminum background. Anodization adds the option for a solid background color. Many organizations use this ability for color coding, branding, or just for aesthetic purposes.

Option 2: Screen Printing

Screen printing on metal is an incredibly useful process for adding a design to a surface. Industries across the world use screen printing for millions of products and applications. It is used on everything from apparel and luggage, to industrial identification plates and also warning signs.

The process involves pressing ink through a screen. A custom stencil guides the ink only to the intended area. After this is complete, an optional coating may also be applied for increased durability. The screen printing process is precise, and creates a clear print on the surface.

How Durable Is This Option?

A main factor to consider when choosing an identification product is the environment it will be used in. Some organizations expose their nameplates to weather conditions, while others stay wear-free indoors. Every situation is different, which is why there are so many different identification product options.

Sadly, screen printing is not the most durable process for metal tags. Since the screen printing on metal process involves printing a layer of ink on top of the metal, it is highly susceptible to wear and tear. A scratch or two and the design will still be legible. However, after some time there won’t be anything left to scratch. Since there are no indentations or cuts in the material, after the ink is gone you are stuck with a blank tag.

Screen printed metal is made for indoor environments or short term solutions. Warning signs throughout an office building? Perfect. Construction equipment outside? Not so much.

The printing will last somewhere in the neighborhood of one to three years, depending entirely on the usage. If you plan on replacing your nameplates on a yearly basis regardless, this can be a great solution.

In addition to the basic process, optional protective coatings can protect from UV light, some chemicals, and minor scratches. Keep in mind though that this is a minor improvement and does not make screen printing on metal a substitute for a more durable process.

Material Options for Screen Printing

One of the benefits of screen printing on metal is that printing on almost any surface is possible. There are few restrictions, allowing for countless uses. In the world of metal identification, this translates to any printing on any material! The most common material options include:

  • Aluminum
  • Stainless Steel
  • Cold Rolled Steel
  • Brass
  • Copper


While many identification products are customizable, screen printing takes this to the next level. The flexibility of printing on a surface means the plates can be any shape, size, or thickness you desire.

The printing ability means the tags can feature any design. This includes logos, shapes, text, numbers, even serialized and variable data. Many people opt for screen printing because it offers the freedom to use full color designs. This is the only metal based identification process which allows for full color. Some processes allow for color infill or inlays but this can be costly and doesn’t provide the same level of customization.

The Best Industries for Screen Printing 

  • Transportation
  • Energy
  • Government
  • Industrial Applications

Industries across the nation utilize screen printed tags for various solutions. As mentioned, the best use would be an indoor application such as a custom warning sign. Full color designs are also eye-catching, and help the plates stand out.

Contact Metal Marker for More Guidance

Both screen printing and MetalPhoto, photo anodization, are two excellent custom ID solutions.

Both processes offer the freedom to add any design, logo, text, or number. Highly customizable and truly unique, these processes create some of the most useful nameplates. However, that is where the similarities end.

For full color designs, there is no better option than screen printing. The cleanly printed colors will make the nameplates stand out with as many colors as you need. MetalPhoto only offers background coloring.

Photo anodized tags withstand all weather, wear and tear, and also the toughest work conditions. Screen printing is best in non-abrasive indoor environments.

For warning signs in a warehouse building, screen printed tags might be exactly the right fit. If you’re looking at using tags in an oil refinery, you’re better suited for MetalPhoto.

The best identification solution is the one that is right for your application. Bring in the experts at Metal Marker to help; we know exactly what needs to be done in order to meet your exact needs. Call us at (800) 428-0095 or contact us via our website to ask any questions or order your tags.