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The Art in the Elements

High-res capture of chemical elements for 33-ft. poster.




“Periodic tables are my hobby,” says Theodore Gray. In his spare time, the chemist/software engineer has: designed and produced a Periodic Table table??”??”?complete with hand-carved in-laid squares and sample compartments for each element; developed a wall-sized Periodic Table cabinet; and created video clips for The Discovery Channel on the elements. A Periodic Table poster seemed like a natural choice for his next project.

To create the poster, his first step was to photograph his collection of more than 1000 element samples. In order to get the perfect shot, he photographed these chunks of chemicals from all sides, mounting each on a hand-built brass turntable that rotated just 1 degree every 5 sec for 30 min. Using his Canon EOS 20D DSLR and a selection of Canon lenses, he captured 360 800-MB images.

Each element would be represented either by an actual piece of itself in solid form (such as a chunk of antimony or sulfur), by an item composed of that element (the neon letter forms “He” are filled with helium gas), or a representational image in the case of elements that cannot be easily portrayed visually (a picture of Einstein for Einsteinium).

After selecting the best shot to use, he saved each in a Photoshop file with the text in layers. The final image file used to produce his poster comprised 118 high-res images and was 76 Mpxl at 350 dpi. Test prints were produced on his Epson Stylus Pro 4000 and 9800 printers with Epson Premium Luster Photo Paper.

“I wanted to print a really big version of the poster and looked for someone with a wall big enough to display and who would appreciate it,” says Gray. As an alumni of University Laboratory High School in Urbana, IL, he offered it to that institution.

The 33-ft poster was printed by Gray on his Epson Stylus Pro 9800 in 11 separate 3 x 4-ft strips of Epson UltraSmooth Fine Art paper. Each section was treated with three heavy coats of PremierArt spray, then mounted onto ??”?-in. black Gatorfoam. The sections were joined together on the back with 6-in. strips of Gatorfoam. Wide Gatorfoam sections were screwed to the wall and then covered in contact adhesive. A group lifted the 33-ft panel and pressed it against the strips fastened to the wall.

But that??”??”??s not the end of the story: Gray has also produced the poster in more user-friendly sizes??”??”?from 8.5 x 11 to 27 x 53 in. He outsourced the printing to Strine Printing in York, PA, which output it on 100-lb cover stock using a Man Roland 900XXL 73-in. sheetfed offset press. Gray sells these posters on his website.

“The periodic table is the single most important graphical representation in all of science. To have it exist only as a table of numbers is to throw away a great opportunity to inspire and create scientists out of potential tax attorneys,” says Gray.

The Players
Theodore Gray of Element Collection (; Strine Printing (

Tools & Supplies
Canon EOS 20D DSLR, Epson Stylus Pro 4000 and 9800, Epson Premium Luster Photo paper and UltraSmooth Fine Art paper, Alcan Gatorboard, Man Roland 900XXL.



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