I often get asked why is there so much price difference with canvas prints? And I always used to dismiss this with “you get what you pay for” and while this may be true in a lot of situations a lot of people still fail to understand why there is so much price difference? After all, a canvas print is a canvas print – or is it?
I think the first thing to understand is there is a large difference between canvas art and your own photos printed on canvas. Most canvas art is produced in
China and as you probably expect is a lot cheaper to produce there than had it been manufactured in the In most cases there is nothing wrong with the quality – not spectacular but not poor. “Average” is probably a good description. If you want something cheap for your wall then there is certainly nothing wrong with it. Or, that is until you try and clean it and realise that it hasn’t been coated with a protective varnish and your feather duster has actually marked it….. Still it was cheap! Similarly, I’ve actually seen a large Scandinavian store selling canvas prints or more appropriately, canvas art, which upon closer inspection turned out to be paper with a canvas texture printed onto it! Quite clever as it did give a close resemblance to a canvas print but in reality was a little misleading. Again – it was cheap! U.K.
On the whole there is nothing wrong with canvas art providing you know that is what you are buying. One thing to remember, though, you will find it a little odd to walk into someone else’s home and find the exact same picture hanging on their wall as what you have on your wall. Due to the volumes that canvas art is produced in this is particularly common. It’s a bit like “the green lady” of the 70’s – everybody had one. Or even Hilda Ogden’s ducks from Coronation Street. It is art I suppose but it’s not exactly unique or even inspiring after you have seen it so often.
Personalised canvas prints are tailored exactly to your requirements. Custom sizes – no problem. Adjust the colours, or sharpen the image – no problem. Remove a blemish / touch something up – no problem. Consequently, the bespoke option costs more. Think of it like a fine restaurant as opposed to a fast food joint. The service is better – not to mention the materials used are far superior in quality. But it does cost more.
There are several parts to each canvas print and in each case they can be of high or low quality – it really just depends on how much you want to pay. Let me explain the differences.
Firstly, the most important part of the canvas print is the canvas itself. Is it a high grade canvas? Will it go yellow? Will it tear or go baggy? More importantly will it fade? Just like old newspaper going yellow so can canvas. But then not all papers turn yellow with age and the same is true with canvas. A good quality canvas will have been tested (artificially under arc lights) and should not change colour. Good quality archival canvas does cost more but then your canvas prints will last a lifetime and not just a couple of years.
Secondly, does the colour of your canvas print look okay? A good canvas printer will use a RIP (Raster Image Processor if you really want to know). Why are RIP’s important? The simple answer is they are colour profiled correctly. In layman’s terms they are calibrated properly as opposed to what came out the box. It can make all the difference from getting an okay canvas print or a great canvas print. A lot of printers who don’t use RIP’s will tell you they don’t need them. Well my answer to that is simple – try opening the same file on two different computers and look at the difference on the screens. You would be surprised at the differences and they were supplied like this “out of the box” – unless of course someone has been fiddling with it! So, why should this not also apply to printing? And if they actually took the time to calibrate the printer and spent the money (did I mention RIP software is expensive?) then you would see much, much better results with colour. Again, this costs more to do.
Thirdly, how many people have tried ink refills? You know the usual story – “how much for that ink? – it’s cheaper to buy a new printer”. And then you promptly go off and buy a refill cartridge. Well guess what, the same also applies in large format printing. Cheaper copy inks are mostly available for Epson large format printers. In fact this is one of the reasons why we switched to HP as the Epson copy inks have been giving the large format printing industry a hard time. Copy inks are just that. If you are printing something like a exhibition that has a shelf life of perhaps a year then there is nothing wrong with them, but to use copy inks on people’s treasured memories and hand them out as canvas prints knowing full well that the colours are not as good as they could be and they also have no manufacturer guarantee on longevity is a disgrace. We only use genuine HP Vivera inks – they are long lasting and high quality, but they do cost more than copy inks.
Fourthly, stretcher bars are more than just wood. Everyone knows the obvious things to look out for, like knots, but it is the unforeseen problems that can ruin your canvas prints. Cheap stretcher bars are truly awful. I have seen everything from bits of 3” x 2” wood sawn and glued together to kiln dried wood (green wood) which will warp over time. The simple fact is if there are no wedges in the back then you cannot re-tension the canvas if it starts to go baggy over time. 3” X 2” wood is cheap but the word “nasty” easily trips off the tongue as well – you cannot re-tension it. Similarly any wood force dried in kilns will warp. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if you allow the wood to dry naturally that it is far less likely to warp. Proper, high grade stretcher bars are not rough to the touch – they are smooth. Also beware of pulped “wood” frames (I use the word wood loosely) – dear, oh, dear, oh, dear, what a disaster. No strength and usually no wedges either. Proper stretcher bars cost more – it’s as simple as that, but then they do last a lifetime.
Fifthly, not all woods are sourced from ecologically sound sources. We only use FSC certified stretcher bars which means they are harvested from sustainable forests. Cheaper stretcher bars have no guarantee of this. Personally I would rather pay a little bit more knowing that I’m not trashing the world in the process.
Sixthly, is your canvas print varnished? The varnish has many advantages. It enhances the canvas by deepening the colours and giving a lovely richness to your canvas print. It acts as a barrier which prevents abrasion and scratching. It even prevents U.V. damage. The trouble is that it takes an element of skill to apply it evenly and will take a while to dry (overnight is best). Still fancy that “same day canvas”? Thought not. Did I mention that you can wipe your canvases clean with a damp cloth once they have been varnished? I certainly wouldn’t try that without the varnish as you will mark a non varnished canvas print. As you have probably already guessed, proper canvas varnish is not cheap. Don’t take my word for it – do a search on Google for “Glamour II” and look at the prices. Ouch! Now you know why a lot of printers don’t want to use varnish and will try and palm it off on you without the varnish.
Lastly, never forget service. I once heard a horror story of a person sending a rectangular shaped image to get printed online only to find that because the website default was a square that the top and the bottom of the image were chopped off. To make matters worse the company concerned then argued with the customer saying they asked for this so it was their fault! Honestly, a perfect example of how not to run your business. We don’t rely on gimmicky computer software to print your canvases en masse. We check it and if it’s not right we tell you in advance and where appropriate will give you our recommendations. Again this personalised service means you get what you want – but it does take extra time which costs money.