The quality truth in canvas printing.

I’m sure that you would agree that it’s hard to filter out what separates superior quality canvas, from inferior quality canvas, with every single supplier using the same buzzwords, such as best quality canvas, or museum quality, maybe you’ve even heard the term giclée canvas”, or artist canvas.

But what if I told you that these buzzwords are nothing more than totally meaningless, over used, and misleading marketing jargon? Every single canvas print house says they have the best quality, and most of it is bullshit. I’m calling out the industry, on bullshit. 

So, size being equal, what is the difference between a $25 canvas print, and a $100 canvas print?
Let's go over the different types of printing being used for canvas, as well as some of the materials, so that you can make a properly informed decision to make sure you get a truly high quality canvas print.
There are really 3 main categories of large format printers being used for canvas printing.
Latex ink printers, Solvent, and aqueous inkjet printers. It is aqueous inkjet that is typically referred to by photographers and artists, as inkjet printing. But I bet you didn’t know, that all 3 of these categories are considered inkjet printers, and inkjet, is actually broken down into those sub categories. 
Latex, and solvent printers are typically what you will see being used by cheap, volume producing print houses. These printers are really made for the signage market, so don’t have photographic accuracy, since signage is meant for commercial applications, typically viewed at a distance. Also, signage is really meant for shorter term applications, and there’s really no need for it to last beyond 5 years. Due to the low cost and large volume output, many print houses started using them to print on canvas, because it’s so cheap to manufacture.
If you look directly at the specs in the marketing right from the manufacturers, for long term applications greater than SIX MONTHS, they state that lamination is strongly recommended in order for it to have longevity prior to fading out.

Let that sink in for a minute. What do we hear from canvas makers that are using these printers? They are claiming longevity of over one hundred years, and using terms such as archival, but most are NOT even using laminates, or coatings, because if you’re not looking that deep into manufacturer claims, and just looking at the sales and marketing collateral, the printer manufactures are saying over one hundred years for their canvas, but when you actually look into it, you see that in order to get past SIX months, the same manufactures are also saying that laminating is critical. 

 

So, let’s narrow this down a bit more then. With latex and eco solvent out of the way, we’re left with aqueous inkjet printers, and when more knowledgable photographers and artists are using the term inkjet, or archival, or pigment prints or saying giclée, they are traditionally referring to the aqueous inkjet printers. For clarity, even within the aqueous inkjet printer range, there are a LOT of models meant for different applications, and some of these models are manufactured specifically for the photographic and art reproduction market. It is these printers that have the highest imaging quality, with the most colours available. The inks in these printers are specifically made to have the highest print permanence, and have fade resistance of over two hundred years. Archival pigment printing, museum quality, giclée printing, these are the printers and inks that are actually being referred to, and what people are expecting when using these terms.

 

When you look at the inks on the aqueous inkjet printers, for the photographic and art market, you should expect about eleven to twelve different colours of ink cartridges in these machines, where as, with latex, and solvent printers you typically find four to eight. This is just one of the reasons that the aqueous inkjet printers made for photographic applications have SO much more colour, vibrancy, accuracy, and also, is one of the reasons they cost a bit more. That’s a lot of ink.

 

So now we know, that in order to hold up to those marketing terms honestly, the technology should be aqueous inkjet.

 

Even for this type of printer, and ink, there’s still the canvas itself to consider. Let’s face it here, there are TONS of types of canvas out there. Some more expensive than others. What you really want to look for here, to get top quality, and maximum longevity, is something that is both acid-free and OBA free. OBA’s are optical brightening additives that react with UV light, that fade out over time, and could cause colour shifting. Most canvas media is loaded with OBA’s to get a bright white base.

 

The canvas that we use here, is both acid-free, and OBA free, but yet still has a really bright white base, as it uses what is called chroma white, which is designed specifically to get around the OBA and brightness problem, and is colour stable, colour accurate, consistent under different lighting conditions, and is truly archival. 

 

Unlike other canvas print shops, what we use here is third party tested and certified by the Fine Art Trade Guild to be fully archival. It’s also one of the few canvas types that is actually manufactured here in North America. 

 

Even with this type of printing, you really still need to coat the canvas to get maximum quality and longevity. What we use here, is a liquid spray coating, that is specifically formulated to work with the exact canvas type that we use. This coating is what gives maximum colour lustre, while keeping the final canvas print glare free, and this combination of coating, and canvas, is what gives it the third party certification of archivability. 

 

The last consideration when it comes to canvas printing, is the level of automation in handling your files. The more automated the adjustments are, the less control you have on the final output. This means that highly automated workflows, can adjust your colours in very undesirable ways. 

 

Automation is great for reading the resolution of the image, but resolution, is only a small part of the overall equation when it comes to get a superior, solid quality file to print from. We personally look at each and every single file that comes through here, one by one. And we look at everything. All the things that automation can’t catch. If there are any odd colour shifts, dust spots, or ANYTHING at all that doesn’t quite look right, you’re going to know about it, and we’ll take care of it before printing it out.

 

So to get a truly high quality output, it’s not just about the printer, or just about the canvas. It’s really about the entire system being used, from the printer, to the ink, to the canvas media, to the colour management, and the amount of automation and attention that the individual file is being given, as well as the skill of the person producing your canvas print.

 

To recap, taking all of the marketing bullshit out of the equation, If you are a truly quality focused person, and want real results that equate to “museum quality”, “best quality”, and all of those over used terms, then here’s what you want to be looking for.

 

  • Aqueous inkjet printer. 
  • Pigment based inks with eleven or twelve colours. 
  • Acid free and OBA free canvas. 
  • A canvas weight of at least four hundred grams per square meter. 
  • Either a UV protective laminate, or liquid coating.
  • A workflow that has the operator looking at each file individually. 


That is what it takes to actually hold up to those claims that print shops are making. If you need help printing your photos on canvas email kevin@kacanvas.ca or visit www.kacanvas.ca