Printing Fine Art Photography
Painters have been using this printing technology for many years:
You have probably seen painters paint on the front of a canvas and also on the sides. These paintings could hang directly on the wall just as they are without a frame. If you could not afford an original painting from the artist, many artists offer to sell you a reproduction print at a reduced price.
This same process that has already been used for many years for the
reproduction of paintings is now also being used more for fine art photography.
For paintings, this is usually a photograph or scan
of an original painting put into a digital file and then printed on canvas. For
photography, this would be a scan of a negative or a direct digital file
from a digital camera.
These canvas prints could be framed or stretched
on thick wooden bars as a canvas wrap and sold. These
are often referred to as a "Giclée" print, but other
terms such as "pigment print" or "archival
inkjet print" on canvas are used.
The images in this article are for sale, click any image for information.
What is a gallery canvas wrap?
Gallery canvas Wrap is an artistic alternative to the way photography
is traditional displayed. The
photograph is printed on canvas with a extra white border to hold the
staples. The canvas is then stretched so that the canvas wraps around
all four of the sides and onto the back of the frame. The
canvas is secured to the back of the wooden frame with staples. These
staples do not show on the photographic image area on the front or sides. A
good quality gallery wrap should be tight on the front with no sagging
areas and the corner areas should be folded neat and flat as possible.
area on the side also contains the photograph’s image and has a
finished appearance even when viewed from the side.
This method of stretching and preparing a canvas allows for a frame
less presentation of a finished photograph.
Back side of canvas showing wooden bars
Detail of staples and corner wrap
Advantages of having fine art photography printed as a canvas wrap:
- Canvas wrapped photographs have a unique look that is not available
with regular frames. Because the photograph is printed
on canvas, which has more of a woven texture, the photograph has more
of an artistic look which is currently very popular. The canvas wrap
can also appear three dimensional.
- Having a photograph printed on canvas and wrapped around stretcher
bars may be initially more expensive than printing on a traditional
photo or inkjet paper but there is no need to have the additional expensive
of a custom frame. A photograph printed as a gallery canvas wrap
could even come out with a lower overall cost.
- A gallery canvas wrapped photograph is ready to hang. There
is no need to go to a professional framer and make decisions on mats
colors, frames styles and then find out how expensive frames can cost
even with a discount coupon. Since canvas prints do not use glass,
the photograph can be seen clearly without glare or reflection from
In the situation of very large photographs, in most cases the costs
could be much less to get a gallery canvas wrapped photograph Vs framing.
If you normally purchase your frames ready made in standard frame sizes,
you can avoid expensive custom framing if you happen to purchase from
an artist a matted photograph that falls within a standard size. In
the situation of a gallery canvas wrap, the photograph can be any odd
size and still hang on the wall as is. This allows
the fine art photographer to compose the image as they would like without
the need to fit traditional standard frame dimensions.
- The gallery canvas wrapped photographs are very light, even
in very large sizes. This makes them easier to hang and
without glass, easier to move without the fear of breaking. No
special hanging tools are required; if the canvas wrap comes with traditional
D rings and wired across the back; you can just use standard picture
- Cleaning can be done without damaging the photograph
by dusting or using a lightly damp clean cloth. This is due to
the sprayed or rolled on protective clear coating. This clear coating
also protects the photograph from ultraviolet light and fading.
printed using pigmented inks will last longer without fading than photographs
printed on traditional photography paper. In
my opinion, all modern printing methods last a long time, some just
- Photographs printed on canvas can be printed larger than on paper
with the same file resolution. Part
of this is because the texture of the canvas Vs the flat paper. Also,
canvas prints are usually printed larger than prints on paper and
normally viewed from a further distance.
Canvas prints are usually printed at a lower resolution such as
150 DPI, while prints on paper use a much higher 300 DPI. In
terms, you can go larger on canvas with the same resolution file or
Recent Advances in Print Technology:
There are many more ways to order fine art photography today than
in the past. Traditional fine art photography was previously
only available printed on photo paper that was processed in chemicals.
The advancement is inkjet printing technology within the last 10
years has been life changing on how fine art photographers do their
printing. Many advances have been made in higher quality printers,
fade resistant pigmented archival inks and an assortment of quality
printing papers. This has allowed individual photographers
or commercial labs the freedom to print individual high quality photography
with superior color and detail at a lower cost. The higher
end printers usually come in sizes to print 17”, 24” or
44” wide and even longer lengths. Most fine art photographers
use Epson printers, but both HP and Canon printers deliver excellent
Images printed on paper or canvas using an inkjet printer with archival
inks will last even longer than traditional photographs. Images
printed on canvas use the same process as printing on paper. Instead
of putting paper into the inkjet printer, you place high quality
canvas that is developed to absorb the printer’s inks. When
the inks dry, the canvas is then coated with a UV protective clear
coating. This coating is usually sprayed or rolled on. This
coating protects the photograph’s colors from fading from UV
light. The coating also allows for cleaning the canvas surface
with a clean damp cloth without damaging the image. After the
coating dries, the canvas is stretched on wood bars.
Canvas printing options
Variety of canvas sizes:
Photographs can be offered in as many sizes in canvas
as it can for non canvas prints. Canvas prints can be small such
as 11” x
14” or as large as 40” x 60”. Custom sizes
can be really made any size. Small canvas wrapped photographs
will be much more expensive per square inch than larger canvas prints. This
is due to the many production steps that are the same for smaller and larger
canvas prints. Medium
or large sized canvas wrapped prints are much more cost effective.
I just sent in an order for a customer for a 30”x45” canvas wrap
print with 1.5 inch sides. While the actual size of the front of the
canvas wrap print will be 30”x45”, the actual print on canvas will
need to be larger to account for the wrapping. The actual printed image
area will be 33.5” x 48.5” when laid flat before it is stretched
on the wooden structure.
This additional printing area is another reason
that canvas wrapped prints cost more. Most customers are not aware that
the actual print size is larger because photographers list the size of the
canvas front for simplicity.
Variety of canvas widths:
Depending of what the printer or the artist is offering, you may have
the choice of different thickness on the side of your gallery wrap. Many
common thickness are ¾ or 1 inch (Thin), 1.5 or 2 inch (Thick)
or 2.75+ inch (You really want to make a statement).
For prints 20" x
30" or smaller,
thin sides are fine. For larger sizes, I feel 1.5 or 2 inch sides looks
better and provides a stronger wooden frame support
for larger pieces of art. The canvas wrap thickness is a personal choice
for any size print but it should be taken in consideration of what important
part of the image will fall on the canvas sides that you may prefer to
be on the front.
Image wrapped around the sides, solid black sides or mirrored sides:
An example of a gallery wrap print with the image printed around the
sides is shown at the top and of the blue door with cactus below.
Besides the thickness, the photographer or your printer may also offer
the option to have the sides of the gallery wrap colored in a solid color
such as the popular black. When the canvas sides are black they
do not cover up any of the image area, the image is displayed in full
on the canvas front. Having
black color printed on all four sides also has a very nice
bordered or frame
look when viewing the canvas wrap from the sides. See sample print
of Mesa Arch below with black sides. Other side colors such as white
or a matching color to the image may also be available.
If you take the option of having solid color sides, if you later decide
to place an optional frame around the canvas print, you will not
be covering up any of the image area since none of the photograph
image was ever printed on the sides. I recommend having black sides
when the canvas front size is smaller than 16" x 20". On
the smaller prints, having the image wrap around the sides may not be
best when important areas to the composition of the photograph are near
If those areas are on the sides hold image area important to the composition,
the image may appear to be too tightly cropped when viewed from the front.
This is not as much of an issue on larger prints. The
amount of image displayed on side will also increase with the thicker
edges such as 1.5"
or 2.5" wraps.
In the door images
below, the small
canvas print on the left with 3/4 inch sides seems tightly cropped. The
rest of the image area is on the wrapped sides which are not visible
from the front. The entire image is shown on the right. If
this image used the option of black on the sides, it would look more
similar to the door image on the right with the original composition.
Another gallery wrap image option is to have the sides show a mirror image
of part of the images showing on the front. If you have 1.5" borders,
the printer will duplicate 1.5" areas on all four sides. You can see an
example shown on the canyon photography below. This works for many images that
you do not wish to crop any of the picture area from showing on the front.
On some images that have strong repeating lines such as the canyon image example
below, the mirrored side sections are more noticeable and may not be the best
choice from those images. In most cases, you do not see the mirrored effect
once it is on the wall.
Even if a fine art photographer doesn't offer gallery wrap, mirror
wrap or black side options on there web site, you can always call them
and ask. Many times, it is difficult to add so many custom options
on the web site but that does not mean that these options are not available.
While some of this shipping information can apply to non canvas photography
orders, it is still good information to know. In the situation
in which you are having the fine art photographer mail you a single very
large canvas print, you may want to consider a different method listed
times shipping large canvas prints can be very expensive since they could
be oversized if over 20”x30”. If you are ordering
multiple large canvas prints, it may be more cost effective to ship them
together on stretcher bars.
If ordering just one large canvas print, it can be better to ask the
photographer to mail you only the canvas print without the wooden stretcher
bars. The “print only” cost should be less than the
finished stretched canvas price. These prints can be rolled up
in a strong cardboard tube and arrive safely to your home.
You can then just bring the canvas print to your local framer and ask
for it to be stretched on a wooden frame. The results will be the
same in the end, and the cost of the local stretching will be less than
what you saved on the “print only” price and the greatly
reduced shipping cost in many cases.
Another advantage of having the fine art photographer mail you the photographs
is that if you ship over State lines, the photographer does not have
to charge the customer sales tax which is over 9% where I live. This
can make up for much of the shipping cost on an expensive canvas purchases.
Gallery wrap with black sides and gallery wrap with image mirrored on
Should you get a gallery wrap?
It always comes out to personal choice of what looks you prefer. As
a professional fine art photographer, I like having different print options
as part of my creative process. Canvas printing is one more way
I can offer my customers custom choices at a
competitive price when compared to the cost of a traditional framed
I feel that if you get a canvas print and see it on your wall, you
will love it.
The images in this article are for sale, click any image for
more information or visit one of my galleries above to see additional
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Additional articles for artist:
1. Selling your art at an art show
2. The artist / gallery relationship in the world of the alternative art gallery
3. The artist reception - A social event or a business opportunity
4. Artist printing photography on canvas
5. How artist can protect themselves from internet scam orders
Additional articles for photographers:
6. Cleaning your digital sensor
7. Photographing Antelope Canyon, Utah's best slot canyon
Copyright 2011 Bob Estrin
Feel free to link to this article from your non commercial web site.