Acrylic Prints Vs Canvas Prints
It’s a question we get every so often.. what is the difference between an acrylic print and a canvas print? There are significant differences and advantages/disadvantages to both but before we get into those let’s discuss the materials and process involved in each.
Acrylic Photo Prints
The acrylic print is referred to by several names such as acrylic face or photo mount and the general acrylic name is often referred to as plexiglas (plexiglass), lucite or perspex which are just brand names of acrylic (everything you wanted to know about acrylic here!). There are also two distinct processes of creating an acrylic print – direct printing on to the material vs printing onto paper and then face mounting to acrylic (the acrylic and print are adhered with 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 or 1″ acrylic in front of the print. The face mount process is a more difficult process and more expensive, but well worth it. Here’s a look at a 1/4″ acrylic face mount showing the acrylic face and dibond backer with the print sandwiched in between.
We are firm believers in the face mount method which provides greater color pop and vibrancy as well as color permanence (ie far less prone to fading over time). Photo colors always look best printed on professional grade photo paper and the acrylic face mount takes advantage of the refractive quality of acrylic which helps to illuminate your print in the right lighting. No other display technique can match an acrylic face mount in terms of vibrancy which is why this technique continues to grow in popularity among professional photographers.
While pictures online don’t really do them justice here’s a shot of one of our acrylic prints using metallic paper which adds even more color pop and vibrancy behind acrylic. No, this image hasn’t been photoshopped! .. and it looks even more brilliant in person. (This was photo was taken by a customer of ours at the Bellagio in Vegas. It’s the ceiling made of blown glass by Dale Chihuly. Our customer does license this image if you’d like one yourself – contact us for details).
The canvas print process has been around for a long time first using an offset printing process, but in more recent times canvas prints are created by dye sublimation or inkjet printers in what is commonly referred to as giclee. The goal is to create the oil painting, old-fashioned look from a digital photography and many people like this style. The canvas gallery wrap has become one of the popular mainstream ways to present a photo because it’s much cheaper than traditional framing and modern photo mounting. With a canvas gallery wrap, the canvas image wraps around the frame and is attached to the back creating a frameless piece.
Here’s an example of a canvas gallery wrap which I think is a good representation. Again, you won’t get the vibrancy and resolution with canvas, but it can be a nice look depending on the image. You can purchase these with the image wrapped around the side, but I like this look better with just a solid color on the side.
Here’s a closer look at how the two products compare.
Durability (Advantage Acrylic)
Acrylic has the advantage here for both the print directly on acrylic and print on paper then face mount behind acrylic methods. The acrylic provides UV protection typically from 70 – 99% depending on the type of acrylic used and 100% moisture protection if going with a direct print on acrylic (less so with face mount). That’s not to say there is no protection with a canvas wrap. You’ll want to ask your print shop, but I’d imagine most will apply a post-print varnish to help protect against UV rays and moisture. How about dropping? Well, not recommended for either medium, but canvas has the advantage of being light so damage is minimized 🙂 Acrylic is shatter resistant and lighter than glass, but it can chip in the corners or edge if dropped or abused (FedEx and UPS I’m talking to you! That said we bulletproof all our packages and shipping damage is rare as well as fully covered by insurance). How about scratching? Both are vulnerable to scratching, but you can use acrylic that is scratch resistant at a considerably higher cost. Scratching shouldn’t be an issue at all provided the print is packed well, carefully hung and cleaned properly (ie using a damp, soft micro fiber cloth).
Uniqueness (Advantage Acrylic)
Not much of a contest here. Acrylic in a unanimous decision. Obviously, you’ve heard of the acrylic process for displaying your photos or you wouldn’t be reading this 🙂 But ask your friends, family and co-workers if they have ever heard of an acrylic face mount and you’ll get a dazed look of confusion. While the process is becoming more popular it still hasn’t hit the mainstream yet. Photographers looking to stand out from the crowd are having great success with the acrylic presentation. When you walk into an art gallery and see traditional frame after traditional frame with a few canvases mixed in, then see an acrylic photo mount, it does stand out. We’ll get into that a bit more in the appearance section. On the other hand, canvas is everywhere and even be purchased at a a Walgreens.
[UPDATE: this article was originally written 5 years ago and since that time we’ve seen an explosion in the number of companies offering acrylic prints .. almost all are direct printing to acrylic and you can even get one at Costco! Please note though that not all acrylic prints are created equally and you get what you pay for. Quite a few now or even coming from China and India. Before considering purchasing an acrylic print please read our Acrylic Prints Buyer Guide.]
Appearance (Depends On Preference, But Acrylic More Impressive By Far)
No doubt, appearance is a matter of preference. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. Acrylic provides a sleek, modern and vibrant look which looks terrific in modern decors while canvas provides more of an old-fashioned look. Think a log cabin the woods or above Grandma’s fireplace 🙂 Ok that may be a bit of an exaggeration .. canvas can work in a modern decor too. With the canvas print, you get a purposefully grainy look to give it the oil painting look, while acrylic is sharp and vibrant particularly when combined with metallic paper. The blacks will be much more pronounced and you’ll see a 33% increase in color gamut over canvas. In addition, the acrylic provides a rare refractive property in that light refracts within the acrylic to provide that near 3-D look and greater color vibrancy.
Transportability (Advantage Canvas)
Hopefully you won’t have to do much moving of art or any moving at all for that matter. I think we can all agree that moving sucks! I’ll give the edge to canvas in the transportability department. It’s lighter and probably a bit more scratch resistant than most acrylics.
Price (Advantage Canvas)
Canvas in a landslide. If you’re on a budget, but still want a decent look, canvas is a great alternative to traditional frames and modern photo mounting using acrylic. It will generally cost about 50% less and considering there are price wars going on every day in the canvas market we suggest you sign up to a few newsletters of canvas print providers to get a screaming deal. There are sales every week it seems and the big companies are driving prices even lower. In my opinion, you will see prices drop over time for acrylic pieces, but only for those companies that print directly onto the acrylic because it is far less labor-intensive and less prone to “breakage”. The traditional diasec acrylic photo mount process that we model our process after is not as common because it’s not an easy process to master and produce as “gallery quality” (free of bubbles and dust).
While we have changed a couple things in our process and can’t reveal ALL our techniques, here’s a video demonstrating our acrylic face mount process that many have found very helpful. No we don’t recommend you try this at home 🙂
The Bottom Line
If you have the budget for acrylic it’s well worth the extra cash and you will not be disappointed, particularly if you’re a photographer trying to sell your work. With so much competition today, it’s imperative to stand out from the crowd and unique display techniques such as acrylic photo mounting provide that unique wow factor that will help you stand out in the crowd.
In corporate settings, acrylic prints will provide a higher end, more professional look. First impressions are everything and acrylic will make a statement. There is a reason that many are calling acrylic mounts the next big thing in photo displays (actually it’s been around for a long time, but far from the mainstream).
For families, the decision is more difficult and we understand that cost is a big factor which is why we have a nice first order discount, volume discounts and permanent discounting for our loyal customers. The canvas prints are much more budget friendly for families that want to stretch the art budget a bit farther.
If you have your mind set on going with acrylic, then you’ll want to check out our feature article on what to look for when searching for an acrylic printing service since there are many companies now offering these and producing them in quite a few different ways. Here is our acrylic product page with more details, photos, video and pricing.
Alternatives To Acrylic & Canvas (Bamboo, Birch, Aluminum, Dibond & Gatorfoam)
What if the acrylic print isn’t in the budget or you don’t care for the canvas look? You’re in luck! At Bumblejax we provide a range of options to meet just about any budget and style preference.
Bamboo – beautiful, eco-friendlier product but priced similarly to acrylic
Birch – this is our more budget-friendly wood photo mount product
Aluminum – your photo printed and mounted to 100% raw aluminum
Dibond – basically the same look and thickness as the aluminum product but about 25% cheaper
Gatorfoam – our cheapest product if on a tight budget .. just be careful with these since it’s more fragile