Making prints on a softly textured canvas can provide a pleasing, painterly look to your images. Printing on canvas can also eliminate the need for an expensive frame and matting, remove glass as a barrier to viewing, and provide an additional step in the creative process.
However, canvas prints typically require some sort of finishing treatment. You should definitely plan to apply some sort of liquid coating or spray to provide protection against display hazards. After the coating has been applied, you can brush on some clear gels that will enhance the surface texture of the print and make it look more like a one-of-a-kind piece of painted art.
Once you start investigating all of the canvas finishing options that are available, you’ll discover a host of new ways to enhance the aesthetics and perceived value of your prints.
Here are a few points to keep in mind with regard to finishing canvas prints:
The Right Coating Can Add Protection: Canvas prints are often displayed without glass in the frame, or are displayed “as is” on the stretcher frame. They are more vulnerable than prints framed under glass, because the surface of the print can absorb airborne contaminants such as ozone and VOCs (volatile organic compounds), oil and dirt from hands and fingers, water, etc. Without the protection provided by UV glass or Plexiglas in a frame, the canvas is exposed to UV rays from daylight and artificial lighting. Applying a high-quality liquid coating or spray to a canvas print helps keep the print protected from airborne contaminants and UV light while preserving the aesthetic appeal of the textured surface of the canvas.
The Right Finish Can Change the Aesthetic Appeal and Make Each Print Unique: Many painters and photographers I work with now regard print finishing as an additional step in the creative process. With coatings and acrylic gels, you can modify the perceived color, contrast, and texture of your prints.
Protective coatings are available in matte, satin, and glossy finishes, which can be used to change the overall look of your prints. For example, applying a moderately glossy finish will often improve the perceived contrast and color saturation on images printed on a matte canvas.
You can also be creative with how you layer your protective coatings. For example, try a matte or satin finish first. If that doesn’t look right, you can apply a glossy overcoat as a top layer. Similarly, if your print surface looks too glossy, you can tone it down by adding a layer of satin or matte-finished coating.
Don’t be afraid to experiment! Some photographers apply both matte and satin/gloss finishes in selected areas of the print – which can give each print a unique look and feel.
After the coating is dry, you can use a gel and a handheld brush to add transparent brush strokes to selected portions of your work or the entire image. These brushstrokes can add texture and depth to a print, and make every print different from the others.
The Coating Must Be Compatible With Your Ink and Canvas: Painters have long used different types of varnishes to protect their original artworks. However, most of these materials aren’t compatible with the inks and coated media used in inkjet photo printing and art reproduction.
Coatings compatible with inkjet prints can either be solvent-based or water-based. The solvent-based coatings are typically used with ink and media combinations that aren’t promoted as “instant-dry” or water-resistant. I’m not a big fan of the solvent-based materials, simply because of the smell and, in some cases, the toxicity of this type of product.
Water-based coatings, such as PremierArt Eco Print Shield, are toxin-free and work quite well with pigment inks such as the HP Vivera Pigment inks used in the Designjet Z3200 printers and water-resistant canvases such as HP Professional Matte Canvas.
You Can Choose from Several Application Methods: Finishing materials are most often applied with a brush, foam roller, or spray gun. Some protective coatings are also available in an aerosol spray can.
I prefer to use a roller, as it is much simpler to use, and is well-suited to fine-art workflows that involve coating only a few pieces at a time. A spray gun is ideal if you’re working with large pieces, or higher volumes of prints. Spray cans are convenient, but can be tricky to use and cost more.
Generally, more than one coat will be required. In part, this provides more protection. But it can also help prevent the coating from cracking when the canvas is stretched. You can test how many coats you need by coating a test print first. Fold an inked corner over tightly. If you notice cracking, you need to apply another layer of coating.
· If you hire a framer for your canvas prints, make sure the company’s staff is familiar with stretching inkjet canvas. Incorrect technique can give uneven results
· Work in a dust-free, environment. This includes the table surface, rollers and brushes, and airborne contaminants.
· Allow sufficient time for your prints to dry before you first coat them and between each layer of coating. How much drying time is required will depend on the temperature and humidity of your working environment. Generally, prints made with HP Vivera inks on HP media will dry down enough for coating within a day. Experiment with some test prints on scrap materials
· If you are using a roller, keep a second damp roller handy to smooth out excess coating material, remove bubbles, etc. This really saves time.
· Once the print is finished and hung, your best bet for occasionally removing dust is a feather duster, gently applied. I keep one just for this use, and replace it once it starts to show signs of embedded dust and dirt.
I’ve long felt conflicted about finishing my prints. When I first tried it years ago, most of the products available used smelly, potentially toxic chemicals. I didn’t have time to experiment with some of the creative effects that could be achieved with gels and I was skeptical that a spray or liquid clearcoat could add to the archival life of a print.
Those days are gone. Today there are many non-toxic/non-hazardous sprays and liquids that can applied to protect the entire print surface as well as gels that can be applied either to the whole print or selected areas of the print for artistic effects. Plus, independent testing groups such as Wilhelm Imaging Research have shown that products such as Premier Eco Print Shield can extend the display life of a print.
Finishing products can be applied with a spray gun, roller, brush, and even one’s fingers!
What are some of the reasons one would want finish a print?
Protection of Print Before They Are Framed. Even if a print will ultimately be framed and displayed behind glass, a good, evenly applied spray can protect the print from the accidental scuffing, scratching, fingerprints, or sneeze-damage that can occur as the print is handled and packed up for transport from your studio.
Protection of Unframed Prints. Some photographers and artists regard the glass or acrylic used with frames as a barrier to accurately viewing all of the colors and details in their work. And canvas is typically displayed unframed or framed without glass, so the viewer can fully appreciate the subtle textured weave of the canvas.
Any print that is framed without glass needs to be protected, not only from UV light and abrasion, but also from airborne contaminants such as cooking fumes, cigarette smoke, and insect residue. Printed canvas that will be stretched to create a gallery wrap needs to be protected from the abrasion that can occur while the print is being stretched. Even inkjet-printed pages that will be bound into an album or portfolio book need protection as the pages will be frequently touched and turned.
Appearance. Some sprays can change the appearance of an inkjet print to better resemble continuous tone printing, by reducing or eliminating gloss differential and bronzing. The gloss optimizer used during printing with the HP Designjet Z-series printers greatly reduces or eliminates these problems, but many enthusiasts and professionals who use printers without gloss optimizers have discovered that the right spray can even out the gloss on a print surface.
Artistic Effects. Some photographers and artists now use different types of gels and varnishes to embellish their prints before they are matted and framed. These gels can either subdue or enhance overall contrast and color or add texture or brushstrokes.
Perceived Value. If done well, print finishing may make a print more attractive to a potential buyer or collector. Hand-embellishing a print by brushing on a gel makes each print a unique piece of art.