C David Tobie: Papers, Canvasses, and Print Size
Oct 2012 02

Most photographers and digital artists have a preferred medium to make their prints on. Some prefer gloss, luster or baryta surfaces. Others lean towards fine art matte papers with a watercolor paper feel. And then there are those who prefer canvas, gessoed, or ungessoed. But the choice between these media types is not only a matter of personal preference. There are also scale issues that need to be considered when selecting media.

Let’s start by considering small prints. When a print is small enough, the only media types which are effective are the gloss media class. This includes a wide array of textured gloss papers as well. Semi-gloss, luster, semi-matte, egg-shell, and a number of other names simply denote textures which have been applied with a texture roll during the manufacturing process. The new baryta papers also fit in this category. These papers resemble the surface on 1950s era black and white darkroom photo paper, and as such are most often used for B&W images, but they fall in the same size constraints are the other members of the gloss category.

Gloss papers can be used for tiny wallet size images and other small “snapshot” size prints. Their fine surface offers maximum detail, making them the only reasonable choice for images in this size range. It is not until images approach the Letter/A4 size that matte art papers become practical, especially for photographic images. Canvas, with it’s even heavier texture, does not see much use until closer to the 13″ x 19″/Super B size.

So this defines typical minimum sizes for the three main classes of media. Now let’s look at maximum sizes. Thicker versions of papers in the gloss category can be used for larger prints, though they are more frequently replaced with matte media in such sizes. Both these media groups are typically matted under glass. As prints get larger, keeping images flat without adhering to a backing board becomes difficult. And the increased size caused by proportionally wider mats means larger frames, which, in turn, must be progressively heavier to support the glazing. This combination of issues makes large framed gloss or matte paper prints bulky, fragile, and difficult to ship.

This is where the virtues of canvas prints stand out. While small canvas prints can be matted and framed in the manner of paper prints, it is much more common to stretch canvasses. Frames are optional with stretched canvas, and can be left up to the customer to choose to match the room the image will be hung in, or left off entirely, especially for a modern look.

Stretched canvasses avoid the additional size increase caused by matting, as well as being lighter in weight, and eliminating glazing. When framed, the frames can be much lighter weight than frames for large paper prints, since the stretchers already provide the structural support, and no glazing is involved. This makes canvas the most cost efficient medium for very large prints, in addition to being much simpler to transport.

From the information above, it is possible to develop a system of media selections that relate to print sizes, as well as personal preferences and other factors. For example, small prints could be offered on a favorite baryta media, transitioning to specific matte art paper for medium sizes, then to a non-gessoed canvas for the largest work. Factoring in other practicalities such as standard paper sizes, ink capabilities, and printer widths should result in a practical set of media options with appropriate sizes for each.

Having a preselected series of media for all sizes of prints allows you to be sure to have the necessary output profiles for each media. This reduces wasted time, media, and ink, by minimizing trial and error prints. SpyderPRINT can build profiles for all the media types described above; but the best time to build and tune these profiles is before you need them, not in the middle of printing an important job.

Outsourced printing adds a further complexity to these decisions. Gloss output is available at most sizes from a wide variety of sources, though they increasing are not chemical photo prints, but a lower grade of inkjet type print from devices such as the HP Indigo. Baryta and Matte prints typically require a specialty printing source that has in-house inkjet printers. Canvas prints are available from an increasing number of sources, but most use gessoed canvasses: canvas coated with a gesso-like material, so that the fabric is not visible, and only a bit of the texture shows through, as is typical for canvas used for oil painting. Ungessoed canvas can most often be found at the same type of fine art print maker that offers matte and baryta prints. Find your preferred sources for outsourced prints, and get copies of their output profiles to use for your own soft proofing before you start a print job, to assure the best results, and fewest delays.

C. DAVID TOBIE has been involved in color management and digital imaging from their early development. David has worked to see affordable solutions put in place for graphic design, prepress, photography and digital imaging, and then taught users how best to utilize them. He has consulted internationally for a wide range of color-related companies, and is best known by photographers for his writing and technical editing of texts and periodicals for the photo industry such as Mastering Digital Printing, and Professional Photographer magazine, and his seminars on color and imaging at photographic workshop around the globe. David is currently Global Product Technology Manager at Datacolor, where he develops new products and features for their Spyder line of calibration tools. His work has received a long line of digital imaging product awards including the coveted TIPA award, and a nomination for the Spyder line of calibration tools. Much of David’s recent writing can be found at his photography blog: cdtobie.wordpress.com, and his samples of his photography can be seen at: cdtobie.com.