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Printing On Canvas

2007-12-01 updated 2010-01-09 • SEND FEEDBACK
Related: howto, printing
Scan of canvas proof print using cheap Epson Workforce scanner
(The scanner did a decent job overall,but picks up some reflections from the texture of the canvas,
which are not seen by eye when viewing the print.

This article is an experience report with prints made on canvas at Picture Element, a Santa Clara, California service bureau. See also the March 7 2013 blog entry. UPDATE late 2020: Picture Element has moved to Oregon.

My first experience with this canvas material was when Picture Element printed Egret in Reeds for me on an Epson Stylus Pro 9800, and then wrapped it onto a wooden frame—the same type of frame you’ll find when you buy an artist’s original painting; a wooden square with the canvas stretched over it. Picture Element also applies a special coating to the image, which both protects it from ultraviolet light, and increases the color saturation and the richness of the dark tones.

The end product is stunning, and best of all it is ready to hang on the wall (a big time-saver). There is simply no comparison in viewing quality to the banal plexiglass-over-white-matte approach.

With certain images (eg Egret in Reeds), viewers will believe think they are looking at a painting. This is an attractive feature, and an indication that the end result crosses boundaries.

Egret in Reeds

Picture Element’s process

Picture Element prefers not to go into the details of its proprietary approach, but I can vouch for the outstanding results—the finished image shows excellent gamut, deep blacks, well saturated colors, little or no reflective glare (with matte finish) and moderate texture—all on a print that doesn’t crimp or tear or stain (at least not without deliberate effort). Great for houses with kids!

By comparison, the Epson canvas “paper” and a few other brands I’ve seen are relatively glossy, and create troublesome reflections for the viewer. For that reason, I hadn’t really considered canvas a viable option before.

About Picture Element

Mike Chambers (no relation) is the proprietor of Picture Element, having years of prior experience, most recently at Calypso Imaging (formerly in Santa Clara, now in Santa Cruz). While Calpyso Imaging is an excellent company to do business with, Picture Element deserves your strong consideration, especially if you live in the San Jose area. It’s a small shop, offering a number of services such as print-making, fine-art reproduction, GatorFoam mounting and personal attention—give them a try!

How the prints are made

Mike Chambers* of Picture Element discusses the way he makes his canvas prints, discussed in a blog entry:

Whatever the process, the results are terrific.

* Mike Chambers of Picture Element is not related to Lloyd Chambers (author of this blog), nor is there any financial relationship—just a satisfied customer.

Comparing gloss, satin, and matte finishes

Picture Element printed three copies of One Eye in the Kingdom of the Blind for me, finishing one print with a gloss finish, one print with satin, and one print with matte. The paper was identical for all three images.

The first thing to be noticed is that the gloss finish shows the deepest blacks and best contrast. The satin finish is nearly as good as the gloss, and the matte finish shows a significant reduction in contrast, with less detail apparent in the dark tones. Since the prints were all identical to begin with, the differences are due to the coating applied after the images were printed—much like wetting a stone or a piece of wood will bring out the colors.

Which one is best? Hard to say. The gloss is very appealing for its deep, rich blacks, but it can be subject to glare if the lighting is non-optimal. The satin is an excellent compromise, offering nearly as good detail in the dark areas with similar contrast. The matte would be an excellent choice if lighting cannot be controlled, such as varying lighting from a window of skylight.

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Comparing deep blacks

The images of the prints shown below were taken handheld, and there was slight variation in the framing.

The monitor used to view them should ideally be calibrated in order to see the differences accurately; rely on the conclusions of this article if in doubt.

Matte finish
Satin finish
Gloss finish

Comparing glare

The images of the prints shown below were taken handheld, and there was slight variation in the framing and angle of view, so it is not a perfect comparison. However, the images accurately show the reflectance of each finish (matte/satin/gloss). A camera angle was chosen to maximize glare off the print.

Matte finish
Satin finish
Gloss finish


All three finishes produces very pleasing results.

The choice of finish will depend in part on the viewing conditions for the finished print. For the deepest blacks and most saturated color, choose the gloss finish, preferring satin if glare is likely to be an issue. For more difficult viewing conditions (open window, skylight, etc), choose the matte finish. By comparison, if the image will be illuminated by a carefully-placed spotlight, such as a Solux bulb or other high-quality lighting source, the gloss finish is likely to produce an attention-grabbing result with no glare problems. The satin finish is also an excellent choice.

The subject matter of the image might also be a consideration; for images with strongly saturated color, the gloss finish could either be “over the top”, or it could really bring out the colors in a way reminiscent of a 4X5 'chrome. A small test print will help in deciding—and the author is still learning.

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