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A History of Canvas Prints and How They are Made

Marian Keilson, Freeport, NY, August 1, 2012 – WL Concepts & Production, Inc. of Freeport New York manufactures point of purchase displays (POP), point of contact displays, and large format printing services for the retail trade. The company is not a tradition ad agency, but work with agencies to fulfill their clients’ POP needs.

For centuries artists have chosen canvas as the material to showcase their masterpieces. Prior to the 20th century, linen was used to make canvas when cotton wasn’t in common use. The surface of canvas is not perfectly smooth; therefore the texture has an effect on each painting when it’s applied.

Because of this texture, a slight distortion may occur, which is why the realism of paintings of classic art is hard to approach. A modern artist typically attempts to combine the properties of their canvas with their paint to make a better quality painting. Before the days of modern canvas, an artist would make his or her own canvas. They would layer raw material, again usually linen with lead white paint, then polish the surface repeatedly for as long as a month.

Today, most canvas is made from cotton. Cotton based canvas can achieve the same level of perfection as linen but in fact may be a better material than linen for the production of canvas prints. Cotton canvas can stretch more than linen and has a more even mechanical weave that can last for decades.

Canvas prints give the appearance and texture of a handcrafted artwork but in reality is simply a software program’s transfer of a photograph that has been applied to the canvas. Transferring photos and making canvas prints has become a large business in the past 10 years


Repligraph is a dye printing process on canvas. A computer is not part of this process as the prints are reproduced from negatives. The dyes use an oil paint base so they are best in reproducing oil paintings and give great results. The dyes are very long lasting, estimated to last for at least 100 years.

With the digitograf printing process the inks are also oil based but have a gel finish making it more durable then repligraph printed pieces. With this process, an oil painting can be replicated to look almost like the original.

IRIS Printers

A common printing process used especially in commercial applications is called IRIS. Great for display signage, custom displays and window graphics it uses an inkjet method of printing applying a vegetable based dye. This method is especially good when reproducing watercolor paintings.

If you have this process done, be sure to have your printer put a UV coating over the canvas print to reduce any fading from the sun. Some canvas prints will have a varnish applied to the finished product. This provides a clear, hard, protective shield. The varnish is simply a clear mixture of a drying oil and resin and since it contains no pigment like paint, usually dries clear and transparent.

Get The Right Color

Digital cameras and scanners create an image by using only three primary colors, Red, Green and Blue, the same three colors your computer uses to show a display on your monitor. A full color printing press uses a different combination of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. Each color is applied separately one overlaying the other. This is the process that most magazines, display signage and window graphics utilize. If you are particular about getting the best copy possible, you will want to convert the image as seen from your digital camera into the format used by the full color printing press prior to giving it to the printing company.

What Is A Wrapped Canvas?

A technique where the canvas is stretched and wrapped around the sides of the framing board is a unique way to display canvas prints. The wrapped canvas is done with special stretcher bars in order to make them strong enough to hang unframed without warping. Although stapled, the staples are on the inside and not visible from the front or any side, it’s ready to hang just as it is.

Today, canvas is still a popular choice for display signage. The material brings a sense of quality and longevity to the message portrayed upon the canvas. In terms of ad signage, the materials can deliver just as much of a psychological message as the ad copy and imagery itself.

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