What is a canvas print?

Short – What is a canvas print?

A canvas print is a piece of printed canvas. Canvas is a printing media, an alternative to fine art paper or other media. A canvas print is always mounted on a wooden frame. Staples are used to secure the canvas. The staples are mostly placed on the back of the frame. Please note, a canvas print is not the same as a canvas painting. Canvas prints have a lot of similarities with canvas paintings. Both are made from the same materials, except that painters use paint for their artworks and printers use inks.

Topics

- What is a canvas print?
- How to print on canvas
- Canvas prints vs. other framed prints
- Gallery wrap
- Number of panels
- Sizes and shapes
- Wooden frame and its thickness
- Fading
- Staples
- Color accuracy
- Clean
- Coating
- What is canvas (the medium)?

What is a canvas print?

Technically speaking, a canvas print is a piece of canvas with an image printed on it. Canvas is a type of medium used by the printing industry, just as paper is a type of medium. When we talk about canvas prints, we refer most of the time to a gallery-wrapped canvas print. Gallery wrapping is a technique where you wrap and stretch the printed media and secure it on the back of a wooden frame. The frames are mostly made out of pinewood and are the same frames painters use for their paintings. The wood used to construct these frames are called stretcher bars.

Canvas Print Frame

There is an image printed on each canvas. The printing is done by large format printers. Once we have the canvas print and the frame, it’s time for the assembly. The canvas is stretched around the wooden frame. Stretching requires a special tool called a stretcher tool. Once it’s stretched, the canvas will be secured with staples. Stapling is always done on the back of the frame.

Staples in canvas print

Now that the stretching is done, it’s time to fold the corners of the canvas. The folding can be done in multiple ways. It requires some practice. Once the folding is done, the canvas print is gallery-wrapped. Sometimes a hanger is placed on the back of the product. However, this isn’t necessary for hanging. It hangs fine on the frame itself.

Unique features of canvas prints:
- The image is permanent.
- The print is mounted on a wooden frame.
- It has a unique canvas texture.

Canvas Print

The quality of the print is determined by a few factors, these are: media profile, image resolution, inks, dpi (dots per inch) and printing resolution.


How to print on canvas:

To print on canvas there are a few basics you need. These are:
• A printer
• Canvas
• Printing software.

Printer
Printing on canvas is done by large format printers. But it could theoretically also be done with your inkjet printer at home. There are three types of printers capable of printing on canvas. These are: solvent, latex and inkjet printers. Inkjet inks are also known as aqueous inks. Please note, inkjet printers using dye ink do not work well. Dye prints look nice at first, but show their true face after a few weeks. The reason is that dye ink fades fast, very fast. Also, lasers printers don’t do the job very well either. They are not designed to print on canvas. 

For printing on canvas, fine art printers are recommended. Fine art printers are equipped with a large number of different ink colors. Some of the more modern fine art printers go up to eleven inks! This results in a large printer gamut. For those wondering what gamut is, a gamut is the range of colors that a printer can print. Later on, we will discuss more about gamut and color accuracy.

Canvas
There are lots of different types of canvas available on the market. We can distinguish canvas into three main categories. These are: polyester, pure cotton and a blend of these two materials. All of them are perfect for printing, but there are a few differences. More detailed information about this subject can be found here. Other than material difference, there is also a difference in weight. The weight of canvas is measured in GSM, meaning: grams per square meter (g/m2). As an example, if you have a 330 GSM cotton canvas, it means the weight of each square meter is 330 grams. The thickness of thread, coating and number of threads all contribute to the weight of a canvas.

Most of the time the GSM also says something about the thickness. The higher the GSM, the thicker the canvas. This is important because not all printers can handle every thickness. If your printer handles max 400 GSM and you try to feed it 450 GSM the printer will most likely jam and possible damage the printhead.

Printing software

To get the most out of your canvas print, printing software is strongly recommended. All professional canvas producers use software for printing. It’s better known as RIP, which means raster image processor. Currently there are loads of different RIPs to choose from. A huge benefit of RIP is that the software allows you to create a custom printing profile. A printing profile is basically a file containing all information a printer needs to print correctly on a certain type of media. Using the wrong profile results in poor printing quality. With every printer come some generic printing profiles. These can work fine, but you can’t beat custom-made profiles.

Another reason to use RIP software is nesting. With layout tools, large print batches can be created. Lastly, RIPs are great for color management. For productivity and efficiency, using a RIP is a must.

Canvas prints vs. other prints

What is it that makes a canvas print unique? A canvas print has a characteristic that makes it a one-of-a-kind product. To start, it’s wrapped and stretched on a wooden frame, just like a painting. This gives it an interesting and unique 3D effect. The downside is, it’s permanent. Other than a photo frame, you can’t swap the image of a canvas. Also, the media used. Photo paper is equally smooth. Canvas is textured. This gives the canvas print the appearance of a painting. Another advantage is the weight. Canvas prints tend to weigh less than photo frames. This makes hanging easier.

Gallery wrap

Gallery wrapping is a very commonly-used technique in the canvas industry. It’s a method used to stretch and wrap the canvas around the sides of a wooden frame. The canvas is secured with staples or stacks on the back of the wooden frame.

In some cases, the print on the canvas continues on the side of the frame. It’s also possible the sides are in a solid color. Another popularly-used method is using reflect.

Image: solid, reflect and continuous

Gallery wrapping can be done either by human, or by machine. When done by human, it requires craftmanship. A quality gallery wrap has a number of properties. These are:

• The canvas must be super taut, no wrinkles or unevenness.
• No cracking in the corners. Some cheaper canvasses tend to crack when stretched.
• Folding must be tight and tense.
• High quality frame. Should be made of finger-jointed and knot-free laminated wood. This is the ultimate protection against warping.
• Made by hand. No machine can stretch as tight as an experienced craftsman can.

Image: gallery wrap

Panels
A canvas print can exist out of a single panel or numerous panels. The most commonly seen is the single panel print. When a canvas print has 2 panels, it’s known as a diptych. If a canvas has 3 panels, it’s called a triptych. When one image is printed on multiple panels it’s referred to as multi-panel wall art or split art.

How many panels are used is up to the client. There are no specific rules on how many panels should be used. When using multiple panels, certain shapes can be created. The most commonly-seen are the diamond and wave shape.

wave pattern / diamand shape


Sizes and shapes

Basically, canvas can be produced in any size and in most shapes. Typical shapes are rectangle and square, but even a hexagon is possible. At CanvasConquest we produce rectangles and squares only. The size of a small canvas print is about 16” x 12” (41cm x 30cm), while a large canvas print can go up to 60” x 40” (152cm x 102cm). Canvas prints can be found in almost any size. It’s the nature of the product. The size is easy adjustable because of the flexible materials. Canvas can easily be cut to size, the same as the stretcher bars.



Fading of canvas prints

Unfortunately, canvas prints don’t last forever. The issue is, they fade over time. No need to worry. There are methods available to fight the ageing of your favorite canvas print. When buying from a respected vendor, like CanvasConquest, you can be assured measurements have been taken to make sure your prints will last a lifetime.

The biggest enemy of a canvas print is direct sunlight, UV light exposure. Hanging your canvas prints in direct sunlight without protection will cause fading. That’s why all commercial canvas sellers should coat their canvas prints. UV coating is also called varnish in the industry. Once a print is varnished, it’s better protected against UV.

It doesn’t really matter which type of ink is used as long as the print is coated/protected. It does matter when the canvas isn’t coated. Uncoated canvas prints fade faster. If using dye inks, fading could start after a few weeks, and with solvent, after a few years. If you decide not to coat your print, make sure you don’t hang it in the direct sunlight. This is what most damages your unprotected print. Canvas prints sold by CanvasConquest are always coated.

Staples

To secure the canvas on the wooden frame, staples or tacks are required for mounting. Stapling can be done using a hand tacker or professional compressed air-powered tacker tool. Stapling using a hand tacker is the slower method. The advantage is the lower level of noise. An air-powered tacker tool requires eye and ear protection. Please note, the damage that can be done to the human body using an air-powered tool is significantly worse than when using a hand-powered stapler. Always wear proper protection.

Color accuracy

One of the challenges of printing on canvas or any other media is getting the colors right, because you want to match what’s on your screen with the actual print. The hard part is that you need to convert RGB to CMYK. RGB stands for red, green and blue. These are the primary colors of light. CMYK represents cyan, magenta, yellow and black, the primary colors of ink. RGB is used in televisions, phones and monitors, while CMYK is used in the printing industry.

Now the major difference between the two is that RGB is represented from a light source, while CMYK is reflected off a physical surface. If we take RGB and mix the three components, we get a white. If you mix a red, green and blue with a paint substance, the outcome would be something like a dark olive green. If we want white while using CMYK, we wouldn’t use any ink, because the canvas media would be our white source. These differences explain why it can be difficult to transfer colors from a monitor screen to a canvas print.

Another concern is color coverage, also known as the earlier-mentioned color gamut. Some of the colors shown on your monitor (RGB) cannot be produced in CMYK. Some of the colors that are hard to reproduce are bright blue, green and red. The inks used in CMYK are not able to mix and ‘reach’ these colors, better known as “out of gamut”. This is easiest explained using the image below.


Image is not 100% accurate, as example purpose only.*

It's possible to enlarge the gamut of printers. The better fine art printers (used by CanvasConquest) are equipped with extra inks. These printers have CMYK + light magenta, light cyan, green, orange, light black and light light black.

Last, a canvas art producer can’t work without a spectrophotometer. A spectrophotometer is an instrument that helps you calibrate your printers.

How to clean your canvas
How to clean your canvas depends on where you bought it, or how you produced it. If you got your canvas print from CanvasConquest it’s best to use medium water temperature with a cloth. Wipe it gently without rubbing it. It’s not advised to use any chemicals while cleaning. This could damage the canvas. If your canvas print isn’t produced by CanvasConquest it’s wise to test on the back of the frame first, to be sure you don’t damage the front. Not all canvas prints are coated, and thus not protected against water. This could lead to major damage to your print.

Canvas frame

The frames used with canvas prints are made out of wood – mostly pinewood. The frame is always made from 4 separated bars, and these bars are called stretcher bars. The bottom and head of these stretcher bars are milled. The milling is done to create a joint connection. With this joint connection, different stretcher bars can easily connect with each other.

Image: milled head stretcher bars

A known issue in the industry is that canvas prints tend to warp over time. Unfortunately, this is a property of wood. Larger canvas prints especially are affected by this problem. Luckily, there are ways to fight this issue. All quality canvas prints, like the ones produced by CanvasConquest, are made from laminated and finger-jointed, kiln-dried, knot-free stretcher bars. This is the one and only ultimate protection against warping. We will explain the differences between the types of stretcher bars.

Solid stretcher bar
With solid, we mean made from one solid piece of wood. Overall, this type of stretcher bar offers the lowest type of protection against warping. No other measures are taken to fight warping, other than that they are dried. This may work for smaller sizes, but can cause issues with larger canvas prints.

Solid wood stretcher bar

Finger-jointed stretcher bar
A finger joint is a joint that connects two pieces of wood with each other. Doing this results in greater strength of the wood. It’s called finger joint, because it’s composed of several meshing wedges. These meshing wedges look like fingers. The joint is held together with glue. Finger-jointed wood is less prone to twisting and warping. This explains why it should be used in canvas wall art.

Finger jointed stretcher bar

Laminated, finger-jointed stretcher bar
Finally, the laminated, finger-jointed stretcher bar. This bar is dried, finger-jointed and laminated. So, three types of protection against warping. This is the type of bar used by CanvasConquest.

The thing with wood is that it runs with or against the grain. This is a known weak point. By laminating it, we mean cutting it in to small pieces or layers and gluing it back together. While we do so, we make sure all of the grains run parallel. Of course, all bad pieces will be removed, like knots and other imperfections. Once everything is glued back together, all weak points are gone, and because all grains run parallel, the bar is a lot stronger now.

Finger jointed laminated stretcher bar


What is canvas (canvas printing medium)?

 

Canvas is a fabric. It’s strong and textured. The exact type of material may vary. This could be cotton, but polyester or a blend as well. There are a few differences between polyester and cotton. To start, polyester is a synthetic material, and cotton is natural. Polyester is the cheaper material. The texture of polyester is smooth, while the surface of cotton contains fibers and looks like a blank canvas painting, heavily textured. Polycotton combines the cheaper price of polyester with the texture from cotton, the best of both worlds. Lastly, the type of weave used impacts how the canvas looks. The most commonly used is Oxford 2/1 weave.

If you wonder if you can get yourself a piece of cotton fabric and run it through your printer and get some decent results, no you can’t! Canvas needs coating before it is printable. What coating it needs depends on what type of printer is going to be used with the canvas. For that reason, inkjet canvas doesn’t work with solvent canvas, and the other way around. Please note, you do not have to coat the canvas yourself. If you buy canvas as a media, check the label if it is suitable for inkjet/latex/solvent. Canvas always comes pre-coated.