Choosing a Canvas Printer

If you've never had your photos or artwork printed on canvas, you're in for a treat. But before you decide to invest in your first canvas print, research the company you intend to use. Ten years ago, only a few printers were offering giclee printing on canvas, but today, there's a host of canvas printers to choose from. Some are exclusively online, and others are down the street at your local pharmacy. You want a quality canvas. One that will last a lifetime. But what sets one canvas printer apart from another? Is it the size of the company? The amount of time they've been operating their business? And how do you really know you are going to get what you wanted? Purchasing something you have little knowledge about can sometimes be intimidating, but choosing the best printing company will seem a bit less overwhelming, if you know the right questions to ask.

Questions to Ask Your Canvas Printing Company

  1. Do they perform regular printer maintenance? This is something that is extremely important, especially if you intend to order multiples of the same prints either now or later on down the line. Inconsistency is a common problem among canvas printshops, and a lot of it has to do with improper maintenance.
  2. How old are their printers? A printer that is over 6 years old is outdated, and likely not able to produce the best canvas print. Advancements in ink-jet technology mean more colors of inks and ink-jets with a wider color range. Color accuracy can be sacrificed if their printers are any older.
  3. Are they using name brand canvas? Originally some of the name brands like Lexjet, Breathing Color, HP, Epson, etc offered all cotton canvas but it seems to be rare now days. A good way of knowing this is simply to ask whether or not they are using a poly-cotton blend of canvas. This is important as all-cotton canvases tend to deteriorate, fade and even yellow, over time. In addition, poly-cotton canvas repels dust better than canvas and over-all lasts much longer. 
  4. Are their inks pigment based? If they are not using pigment based inks, chances are they are either using dye or solvent based inks. Dye based inks are more suseptible to smudges and scratches and are also more difficult to coat with a protective finish. Solvents, are getting better but don't quite match up to the pigment based inks yet. The solvent inks are also normally reserved for banners and signage. There are not many people using dye based inks anymore unless they are running an older printer but we are starting to see imprvements in the solvent realm.
  5. Are they a photo lab? Be weary of companies that specialize in another product line.  Even though photo labs work daily with images, the lab printing process is entirely different than the giclee process used for canvas prints. If you ask you may even find that they are outsourcing their canvas prints to other companies, in which case you have no direct communication with the printer and rely on the photo lab to be your middle man. Even if not, as they do not specialize in canvas printing, they may not have the proper facilities, expertise and equipment to produce high quality canvas prints.
  6. What type of mounting frames do they use? If you intend to let them mount your canvas, you will want to find out whether or not they are using sap-free lumber. Kiln dried pine seems to be the most popular among quality canvas printers and is not likely to crack, warp, or become brittle.
  7. What wrap method do they use for mounted canvases? When mounting, there is more than one acceptable way to wrap and secure a canvas print to the frame, but the preferred method is illustrated below. Stay clear of the bed-sheet method, which is also illustrated. This is not the proper way to wrap and mount a canvas. Obviously because it is not as visually pleasing, but more importantly, prints wrapped and mounted using this method are often difficult to fit properly into frames.
  8. Do they provide a proof of your canvas print for review? Beware those who do not allow you to see what the finished product will look like. Surprises are best left to birthday and anniversary parties. Some print companies have online print creators that allow you to view the print as it is created in real-time. Others will send email proofs which need to be signed off on before printing begins. If the company does not offer you the ability to view what your print will look like before confirming the order, you will do best to try another company. Even if they offer a satisfaction guarantee, learning the hard way  and/or waiting for them to get it right can prove time consuming if not costly.
  9. What is their turn around time?  The quicker the turn around time, the better. Usually. Anyone who boasts your order will ship the same day is sacrificing quality and cutting corners. Normally, several business days is acceptable. If the company takes any longer (and it isn't during the Holiday Season) chances are they are outsourcing their canvas print orders to a different company.
  10. Do they add at least an extra inch and a half border to non-mounted prints? The border is important. Those who mount their own canvas need this extra space.
  11. Are they using acid free adhesives? If you are having your canvas mounted something else, such as matboard, make sure they are using only acid free products. Some contain chemicals which can harm your canvas and the inks.
  12. Do they apply a protective coating to their canvas prints? To ensure your canvas lasts as long as possible, a clear coat protectant should be applied which contains UV inhibitors. Acrylic (water-based) coatings are preferred as they do not give off the same fumes as the lacquer based coatings (which are thought to be more durable).
  13. How do they apply their protective coating to the canvas? Rolled on coatings are not the best choice. Instead opt for a spray on protectant if possible. This will ensure an even coating without the lines that sometimes appear on those coated by a rolled on protectant. Also stay away from those who use a heated lanimate process where a thin film is applied over the surface of your canvas. This can dull colors considerably.
  14. Are they offering a dust cover option on the back of the canvas? Some companies do not which is not necessarily bad however for a more refined finished look a dust cover is nice. Also, it helps prevent buildup of dust and enviormental particals in the back of the canvas. We find a large number professional photographers now insist on a dust cover backing since it implies the canvas print is produced by a company with higher standards.
  15. Is the canvas ready to hang right out of the box? Again, it is not a bad thing however it is nice when you receive a canvas print you do not have to deal with installing hanging hardware on the back.

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