Part 2 - Which Canvas? - Does it matter what my image is printed on?
Depending on where you go to buy your stretched canvas will depend on the canvas that that retailer uses. Some may use a variety of canvas types to help you choose. Does this make a difference to your finished canvas? In some ways, yes it does.
Polyester, cotton, poly-cotton? What does all of this mean? You'll generally get a choice between standard or premium canvas. That’s if you get a choice at all. But you should know what kind of canvas is being used for your image, because it does have an effect on the longevity and colour of your finished picture. Here's the main ones generally used in printing canvas;
100% Polyester Canvas
This is the cheaper end of the market. Polyester canvas basically (and I say basically) is tiny fibres of plastic woven together to emulate the look of traditional cotton canvas. It can be dimensionally stable and provide greater strength. You'll find that most polyester canvas's are not stretched (in the traditional sense) on stretcher bars, but on what are known as strainer bars or cut and pin moulding, which don't allow you to re-stretch the canvas. The reasoning behind this is that the poly canvas is very stretchy and stays tight for a longer period of time than cotton. It has the added bonus of not cracking the ink on the finished image. Being man made, poly canvas is really white and bright too. Sounds great huh? Well yes and no.
Polyester canvas has not yet stood the test of time being a relatively recent media in the marketplace. You'll also find that at the very bottom end of the poly canvas market there is an awful lot of cheap supplied canvas from the far east, so quality is not generally the main concern of the manufacturer. It also appears a little, well, plastic. Too white, too perfect. Devoid of character.
The majority of canvas that you buy pre-stretched with a generic image , like from say a large DIY chain store, will be mostly done on 100% poly-canvas. You'll also notice that on the rear of the canvas that it’ll be stretched on a sloped and stapled frame or on a stretcher bar without the keys/Wedges and without the ability to re-stretch when it goes floppy.
Its all about preference when it comes to canvas types but really, buyer beware, when buying the 100% poly canvas. It usually looks good at first, but over time it'll sag and you'll end up binning them, mainly though this is due to the frames that they are put on, not necessarily the image itself. If it’s a temporary or short term solution you're after or you don’t want to spend much, then go ahead, but don’t expect this solution to last a lifetime! - Cheap and cheerful.
100% Cotton Canvas
One of the earliest surviving oil paintings on canvas is of the French Madonna with Angels in the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin and dates back to around 1410. However cotton canvas only came around in the early 20th century, before that it was most likely Hemp or Linen.
Cotton canvas is generally seen as the most highest quality for a finished canvas. It gives a more authentic canvas look to the finished image and compared side by side to 100% Poly it's unmistakably a cotton canvas print. Generally this canvas will be the choice for Fine Art reproductions, so you wont find this kind of canvas in a bargain bin in your high street store, but as a digitally printed image that you want to last and look the part? You can't go wrong.
100% cotton canvas is noticeably more expensive, compared to poly canvas. You may also see some imperfections in the weave of the canvas. Some people find this authentic looking, but sometimes these can crop up in an inappropriate place on your image. This is par for the course on 100% cotton, though the retailer should offer you a reprint if it's very noticeable and you don’t like it.
Cotton canvas is usually stretched on a traditional stretcher bar or our very own Wunderbars. These types of frames allow for the re-stretching of the canvas, or keep them under constant tension like with Wunderbars. Cotton canvas will win hands down the larger the frame gets too. With Poly canvas you can't get a heavy enough weight of canvas to support a large stretched canvas. Cotton canvas can go heavy and can sustain even the biggest of canvas prints, so if you want to go really large on your digital image, you'll want 100% cotton!
The middle ground. Poly-cotton canvas is the canvas that you'd most likely find being used in most digital canvas printing shops and retailers. It'll also be the best selling canvas that they produce. However, you should be wary of the mix. The more poly the cheaper the canvas, the more cotton, the more expensive. So be mindful when you see that the retailer sells poly-cotton.
This middle ground though, is perfect for great canvas prints that you want produced in-store. It'll go up to the sizes you want and be the quality that you need for your canvas prints in a general capacity. Keep a look out though for the minor imperfections you get with the cotton side of the canvas and check your canvas for these before you hand over your money!
Generally stretched on a traditional stretcher bar or Wunderbars, you may want to look out for any poly-cotton canvas that is stretched over cut and pin or stapled bars. Although, if stretched well can look effective, as with the 100% poly canvas your canvas will go slacker sooner (probably much sooner than poly) with no way of re-stretching it.
What to look for in a retailer
If your retailer insists that his 100% Poly canvas stretched over a few bits of wood, is all he has available and offers no choice, it's going to be a cheap canvas which wont last as long as you'd expect. The kind of image that you want printed and your choice in quality of canvas is very important when choosing your final product. Make sure you choose a retailer that gives you a selection to choose from or at the very least offers a good quality poly-cotton canvas, otherwise your initial happiness may turn upside down very quickly
Part 3 of this guide - Colour Management
In the next part of the blog I talk about colour management. Do the colours in the picture on your phone match the colours on your canvas? Well why not? Part 3 - Colour Management =>
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Tim Jones is one of the three owners of Wunderbars Limited. He's a little bit (very) obsessed with canvas stretching.