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What Should You Print Your Artwork On?—Paper vs. Canvas vs. Metal

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What medium you print your artwork on plays a big role in how your artwork will look. Even after calibrating your monitor, colors will look different as your print medium changes.

To give you an idea of how your artwork will look like, here's a rundown on the most popular print mediums.

Paper

There are a ton of paper choices you can go with. There are paper that are naturally warm, paper that will have colder tones, and a plethora of texture choices.

But the biggest differences lie in the finish. There are 4 print finishes used today.

  • Glossy
  • Matte
  • Semi-gloss
  • Metallic

Glossy

For sharper images and strong colors, go with glossy paper. Second only to metallic prints in terms of darkest darks and saturation.

Because of this, anything that features a high level of contrast will look gorgeous on gloss. The dynamics of the colors comes to life when printed on glossy paper.

For some uses, the sharpness and vividness of glossy paper might actually work against you. Glossy paper is not forgiving on file imperfections. Noise and any kind of calibration issues will be painfully obvious when you hold the print in your hands. If you’re looking to blow up your image, go with a different medium.

Another downside of printing on glossy paper is how reflective it will be. In certain lighting, the glare can be harsh and ruin the viewing experience.

Wear gloves when handling, very susceptible to fingerprints.

Matte

Matte paper will have little to no sheen. No sheen, no reflections; which makes matte paper a safe option for when you don’t know where it will be displayed.

Prints on matte paper, however, won’t be able to match the sharpness and vividness of glossy paper prints.

Instead, this sort of muted colors and dulled edges helps create a dreamy, nostalgic aesthetic.

Also, because colors aren’t as strong on matte paper, details in your highlights and shadows become more visible. This helps bring out a rich texture on sharp areas.

For matte prints, fingerprints are not an issue.

Semi-Gloss/Lustre

Semi-gloss and lustre lie somewhere in between matte and glossy. The colors are sharper than they would be on matte paper, but not as vivid as they would be on glossy paper.

Also, because of the slight texture on semi-gloss and lustre paper, reflections are diminished.

Be careful though. lustre and semi-gloss are not the same. Usually, lustre finishes will have more of a texture. Beyond that, differences will vary depending on which brand you’re buying from.

For lustre and semi-gloss, fingerprints are not an issue.

Metallic

Metallic paper is much like glossy paper except for one difference—the metallic sheen. This creates an especially unique effect. The metallic sheen creates a glow which makes the print almost look 3D.

(also whites won’t be as white as metallic paper has a silverish tint)

Colors are vivid and saturated, darks are dark, and details are very accurate which makes metallic paper great for highly detailed, high contrast artworks.

Like glossy paper, metallic prints are very susceptible to fingerprints.

Metal Prints

Metal prints are very similar to metallic prints. Colors are vivid, details are illuminated, and the 3D effect even stronger on metal prints. Also because the dye is infused directly into the metal, metal prints are noticeably less glossy and reflections are much more clear.

Metal prints are UV resistant, scratch resistant, stain resistant, fingerprint resistant, basically it’s the Superman of art prints. Any blemishes can easily be wiped off with a damp cloth.

They do not require any additional mounting and can be framed as soon as you get it. Placing it behind glass or acrylic will diminish the 3D effect so it is recommended you frame these (and metallic prints) without any sort of glazing.

Metal prints does take some skill to get right so do some research to find a good supplier.

Canvas

Canvas is a texture-heavy print medium. Because it is highly textured, details are softened and not as sharp. This can work to your advantage in two ways:

  • If you’re looking to blow up an image, printing on canvas can help you hide any noise or imperfections that arise
  • It can create a dreamy, nostalgic aesthetic

If you would like details to be preserved, try sharpening your image before sending it to the printers.

There are two ways you can order a canvas print:

  1. Rolled
  2. Stretched

Order a rolled canvas if you plan on storing it to be sold. It can always be wrapped later and having it rolled saves much more space.

Otherwise, order it stretched. Stretched canvas comes in two forms:

  1. Gallery wrapped. This is when the image is wrapped around the frame’s edges, so glimpses of the image can be viewed from every side.
  2. Museum wrapped. Here, the sides are wrapped with a blank border and the entire image is front facing.

Museum wrapped canvas prints are usually framed whereas gallery wrapped are usually hung as is.

Breaking up your image into different panels is another way to spice your canvas prints.

https://unsplash.com/photos/RdK0E9Ynk4g

(photo by Panos Sakalakis)

Canvas prints are durable and can be cleaned with a (lightly) damp cloth.

Wrapping Up

There’s no right way to print your artwork so try a bunch of different mediums to see what fits for your artwork.

Please note that any gloss, texture, or unique effect will be either lost or highly diminished when placed behind glass.

Beware of this especially when ordering canvas and metal/metallic prints.

Here’s a cliffnotes of what was just covered:

Paper

  • Can go with glossy, matte, semi-gloss/lustre, or metallic
  • Glossy and metallic feature vivid colors, darkest darks, and high detail
  • Semi-gloss/lustre and matte paper feature much less glare, and are fingerprint resistant. Colors not as vivid, darks not as dark, and details not as sharp
  • Metallic prints have 3D effect, whites not as white

Metal

  • HD colors and sharp details
  • Even stronger 3D effect than metallic prints
  • Extremely durable and be cleaned with glass cleaner
  • Expensive

Canvas

  • Textured
  • Can hide noise and other image imperfections
  • Image can be broken up into different panels for a creative display

Thanks for reading!

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