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Canvas Prints Buying Guide - 10 Factors to Consider

18 Mar 2024
Canvas Prints Buying Guide

Photo on Canvas Print Ireland Buying Guide - 10 Factors to Consider in 2024

2024 Update

It's been 8 years since I originally set out to write a comprehensive explanation of what factors to look out for when buying a canvas print in Ireland so I’ve come back to this subject with some fresh insights for 2024. 

The canvas prints market and indeed the wider online photo printing market has changed and we’ve had to change our approach to respond back to that. Some things are different in 2024 and some things are still the same.  Let’s take a look:


Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. What’s the lasting appeal of Canvas Prints - New insights for 2024 here!
  3. Image Quality - New developments in 2024.
  4. Image Subject Matter - Updated
  5. Composition - Is Your Composition Good Enough for a Canvas Print
  6. Types of Canvas Prints On The Market - Updated for 2024
  7. Materials Used to Make You Canvas Print
  8. Stretcher Bar Guide - Updated for 2024 
  9. How is the Back of the Canvas Finished
  10. Packing and Delivery of Canvas Prints
  11. Gifting Canvas Prints
  12. Canvas Print Lead Times - New insights for 2024 here.


  • 1. Introduction

    Update for 2024. As I look over what I wrote eight years ago, most of it is still pretty accurate, perhaps with one exception which is that many thousands of more people have been through the process of ordering canvas prints online - either with us or with one of our competitors.  Customers are more knowledgeable and have developed buying habits and preferences themselves.  

    Over the past eight years, the big international players have tightened their grip on the canvas prints and online photo printing market generally.  It’s harder for likes of small, independent players like The Canvas Works to compete but we have to find a way! 

    For me, I always come back to this point: I didn’t go through college and 10 years of a career in advertising to knock out cheap canvas prints that won’t last. Where’s the job satisfaction in that? So we focus on service, on value, on technology and above all on quality canvas prints.  Thankfully, there seems to be enough of a demand out there for high quality photo on canvas prints that will last the test of time. It’s a joy to be part of transforming our customers’ memories into tangible physical prints that they can be proud to have or gift. 

    Here’s what I originally wrote in my introduction…..

    My name is Patrick Ryan and I’m the head honcho here at The Canvas Works. We’re based in the beautiful coastal town of Kinsale, in County Cork, Ireland.  And it’s from this idyllic location in West Cork - the start point of the famous Wild Atlantic Way, that we make our world-renowned canvas prints, framed prints and series of vintage style travel posters.


    I’ve been turning my customers’ photos into canvas prints and framed prints for over fifteen years now.  I’m self taught.  Before The Canvas Works, I worked in advertising agencies for a decade and prior to that I studied Law. I’d never have guessed I’d end up in Kinsale, making high quality canvas prints for customers all over the world - from Dublin to Dubai and Belfast to Boston.


    But here’s the thing. After over ten years of printing, I realised this year that I’ve never sat at my computer and written properly about the process of printing on canvas and putting down on paper all the factors that I consider are essential to making a great canvas print.


    I looked around online and I found that actually, no one else had done this either.  And yet, every day, thousands of customers all around the world order canvas prints with one company or another.  Whilst many of those images are great and many of the companies making the prints do top notch work, I think there are some fairly fundamental knowledge gaps in the buying public when it comes to the details of ordering canvas prints.


    And that’s no surprise - it’s pretty technical after all.  But I felt that if I could put together a fairly comprehensive buying guide to canvas prints and outline the 10 most important things to consider before you place your order, then I might just help someone out there create a print they can be proud of - regardless of who you ask to print it.


    So this is it.  Read on and you’ll be armed with the most essential information you need for ordering fantastic canvas prints, framed prints and more.

  • 2. What’s the lasting appeal of Photo Canvas Prints?

    New insight for 2024:

    Looking back over what I wrote here, there’s something missing.  Or maybe it wasn’t missing back then but has come into focus now.  And that’s the fact that in this hyper digital world of social media and instant messaging, having a real life physical canvas print to hold in your hands and hang on your wall is such an antidote to the always on, digital culture in which we all live today.

    It’s just not the same looking at photos through an always updating news feed or scroll. Taking a moment that matters in your life and committing it to canvas is a statement - you’re marking it out as important, significant and worthy of commemoration. 

    Perhaps in 2024 we need that more than ever. 

    Here’s what I originally wrote…..

    What’s the big deal with canvas prints anyway? Why are they so popular? You have to remember that 15 or 20 years ago, this sort of technology just didn’t exist. People bought 6x4 photos from their local chemist and if they ever had a framed photo print, odds are it was sold to them by a photographer following a formal sitting.


    In the 1990’s wide format digital printing arrived and all of a sudden it was possible to print professional grade photos from a PC.  Meanwhile, there was a trend for contemporary interiors, open plan living and a more casual style in our homes which tended to suit the look of a photo canvas print.  The final piece in the jigsaw came with advances in digital camera technology - first point and click cameras, then digital SLRs (the big professional looking cameras with interchangeable lenses) and finally the incredible power and convenience of mobile phone cameras.


    Canvas prints suited digital printing so well because they could be made relatively cheaply, they were easy to ship and if made correctly, canvas prints looked beautiful in the modern, contemporary home.  I also think that the tactile nature of the canvas was a lovely change from the formal nature of framed prints behind glass - it’s lovely to be able to touch the canvas and feel the weave in the print.


    With the rise of e-commerce, canvas prints were the ideal product to order online and ship anywhere (size and weight permitting) and we saw an explosion in companies offering customers more and more ways to print their photos.  


    Today the canvas prints space is extremely competitive and odds are you’ll find a wide range of companies offering them wherever you happen to be in the world.  In the UK and Europe, Photobox and Snapfish dominate, whilst in the US, Walmart, Canvas Pop and Easy Canvas Prints are just a few of the names you’ll find.  You’ll also find newer players like Social Print Studio doing great work.


    Here in Ireland, The Canvas Works was probably one of the very first in the canvas prints space. So, that’s the basics of the industry and how we got here.  Now, what to think about for your very own canvas print masterpiece?


  • 3. Image Quality a Huge Factor in Canvas Prints.  Updated for 2024

    Updated for 2024: This is still the biggest factor in what makes a good canvas print.  Basically you get out what you put in.  But eight years ago there was pretty much no such thing as AI.  The technology landscape has completely changed such that now there are some incredible software services that can radically improve the quality of a photo so that what was previously not worth printing on canvas can be very successfully turned into a stunning photo on canvas print.  We use AI image enhancement almost every day at The Canvas Works to vastly improve low resolution customer images into high quality printable files for photos on canvas.

    The other huge improvement has been the quality of cameras on smart phones.If you compare a smartphone from today with one from 8 years ago, the camera lenses and on board image processing is vastly improved. There’s just no comparison! Today a smart phone can take the kind of photo that could only be taken on an expensive digital SLR 8 years ago. 

    What does this mean for buying a canvas print? Well, image quality is still king but today you have to really go out of you way to provide a low resolution file for a canvas print. It usually only happens when it’s a gift and even then, the dawn of AI means the photo can normally be fixed. 

    Here’s what I originally wrote……

    Hands down, no arguments - this is, in my considered opinion, the single most important factor in determining whether you get a great canvas print - or any other type of print for that matter. And it’s hardly rocket science right? If your image is not of sufficient resolution - it really doesn’t matter how good the canvas print company is because it just can’t be printed.


    But here’s the most important point.  After over ten years of printing, I can categorically say that most people (and by most, I mean a significant majority) just don’t understand resolution sufficiently well to be sure they are using an image of sufficient quality to make a good canvas print.


    Is that the customer’s fault? Absolutely not.  We’re talking about normal people here - mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, young and old.  Pixel dimensions, file sizes, dpi? Don’t even go there.  What most people see is a file that looks good on a screen - tablet, mobile or desktop - so why won’t it look good on a canvas? Sure, you can try to educate and provide help but this stuff is complicated and way beyond most normal snappers.


    The good companies will have systems and policies in place to deal with this.  The bad ones - and there are many - will just go ahead and print your file and then blame you afterwards for supplying a poor quality print file.


    I took the decision long ago that at The Canvas Works, we would not go down that road.  It’s just lazy.  We’d rather refund an order than print a poor quality image. And we do that all the time. But often we don’t have to cancel the order - we can just ask a ton of questions about how the customer took the photo or how it was sent to them and then we can locate the high resolution version of the file.  


    That requires an effort and level of service that some of the big companies won’t or can’t provide because they are so automated.  We’re still small enough to care but big enough to be able to refund an order rather than just take the money!


    When it comes to image quality and resolution, it is possible to draw up some general guidelines.  For example, facebook photos are generally only suitable for very small canvas prints - or bigger canvas prints if they are part of a collage.  Likewise, instagram photos suit smaller canvas prints - up to 50x50cm.


    And if a photo is on your phone and you can e-mail it without being asked what size you want to send it, don’t try to make a canvas print out of it because it’s just too small!  The safest route with a small image is to e-mail it to the company you want to make your canvas print and ask them straight out - “Can I print this photo and what size would you suggest?”.


    By doing this, you get it in writing from the company and you can hold them to it afterwards if your print quality does not match your expectations.  Works every time!


    1. Image Subject Matter - Is this photo really worth printing?


    Updated for 2024: To be honest, I still stand by this completely! It’s an awkward one because I’m not sure it’s my place to tell a customer that their photo isn’t great. It’s very subjective and one can never fully know the motives behind a customer wanting to print a particular photo onto canvas. 

    Here’s what I originally wrote….what do you think?

    Okay, home truths time.  Not every photo should be printed - much less so as a canvas print.  Now, I totally get that this is very subjective.  One person’s masterpiece is another person’s fish and chip wrapper.  And it’s certainly not our place at The Canvas Works to ask this question - if the photo quality is good enough, we’ll generally print it.


    That’s because very often, there are personal reasons for wanting to print a photo which, at first glance, may not appear to be worthy of a canvas print.  


    But leaving those special circumstances apart - it is worth asking yourself why you want to print any particular photo on canvas? Is it in focus? Is there a lot of digital noise? Is the light just too poor? Are the kids looking at the camera? Are their eyes open? Is all that snot going to look good when it’s blown up to 60x40cm?


    Canvas prints at their best need a good quality photo and a well taken photo.  If the resolution is good but the actual photo is not great - we’d say think about whether you should print it.  After all - this is going on your wall and is capable of lasting a life time.  So if you can get a better shot of the kids, then take a better photo and don’t just print the one you think is “just okay”.

    1. Composition - Has Your Photo got the right Composition for a Canvas?


    Update: This is all still totally true and looking back over it, maybe I need to start being a bit more forthcoming with customers about poor composition.  Especially when it comes to photos of people at tables where there’s loads of bottles and half full glasses.  These photos rarely make great canvas prints but I still see them being ordered quite a bit. 

    I’ve separated out this factor from the point above because it’s just so crucial.  So you have a high resolution image and it’s in focus and the light is good.  Maybe it’s a photo of all the kids together.  We know how hard that can be to get! 

    But unfortunately - there’s a whole table of food, plates and half empty bottles and glasses in front of them.  Or half their heads are missing.  Or the person on the far left is only half in the shot.


    Composition of Photo for Canvas



    Composition is not easy to get right.  The other really big mistake we see with photos of kids and animals occurs when a tall person (by tall I mean adult) photographs a little person (by little I mean child).  What do they do? Very often, they stay standing and point the camera down onto the child. Result? Poor photo that is not going to make a great canvas print - or any other sort of print.


    Good composition will often mean just thinking about moving your feet or your height.  Kneeling down, bending over, lying down, changing your perspective.  And then thinking and looking at everything that is in the frame.  Why is half the telly in the photo? Is that a person’s leg or arm? Who’s in the background?


    If you can think about your composition and take a moment or two to compose yourself and your photo - you may well end up with an image that is worth printing on canvas.  It’s easier than you think!


    6. Different Types of Canvas Print Styles

    Update for 2024: Looking back on what I wrote originally in this section, it was mostly focused on the subject of collage canvas prints.  Back then, this was a fairly new product but over the years, it’s become very popular and very familiar to customers.

    What i still think is overlooked a little even in 2024 is the ability of shape to radically change the impact of your canvas print.  Cropping to square or panoramic is in my opinion an often overlooked option and one that has great potential to stand out on your wall.  Try it and see for yourself!

    Here’s what I originally wrote….

    Another vital factor in a great canvas print is the style of print you want to make.  Let’s start at the very start - what are you options?  Well, you can make a canvas print of a single image or you can group a bunch of photos together - like a collage.  And that collage could be neatly orgnaised like a grid or it could be randomly organised in a custom style.


    Likewise, think about the shape.  There really are only four options - square, landscape, portrait or panoramic (like a letter box).  Thinking carefully about your shape choice is a really easy way to go from average canvas print to awesome canvas print.  If for example, it’s a close up shot of your baby or young child, then very often a square canvas print is a nice way to go.  It fills the canvas and contrasts nicely with the round shape of the face.


    If it’s a sunset or a seascape, panoramic shapes can be very effective and look great over a sofa.  Sometimes a simple crop can turn a regular photo into something much more interesting.  Be creative and think outside the box.  


    Collages are a great way to go for holiday photos or wedding photos and can be a clever way of compensating for photos that are a little on the low resolution side because each image is printed at a smaller size.


    The bottom line is that if you think ahead of time about your photo and go for more unusual shapes or layouts, you’ll often end up with a canvas print that is admired more often.

    7. Materials used to make your Photo on Canvas


    Update for 2024: To be fair, almost any company out there today will be using decent materials.  Maybe with the exception of the stretcher bars themselves which can vary a lot in quality.  It’s not so much about the materials as much as the service, advice, support and ethos - these are the areas which can really vary from company to company. 

    Oh and do ask if the canvas prints are printed on gloss or matte canvas - most people prefer matte in my opinion. 

    Here’s my original piece…..

    Okay, this is one for the company but don’t be afraid to ask or look for the information.  What sort of technology are they using? Are they throwing around fancy terms like giclee? Is it printed on matt canvas or gloss canvas or somewhere in between? What sort of inks do they use? How heavy is the canvas? Is the print laminated and if so, what sort of process is employed?


    At The Canvas Works, we print on a 400gsm satin canvas with a very white base.  We use pigment inks over dye sub technology.  Pigment inks will last longer but can be less vibrant.  We laminate our prints using a HVLP spray system.  Others will apply a heat sealed film to the canvas.  The advantage of that approach is that the canvas is practically waterproof and very durable afterwards. The disadvantage is that it’s basically a piece of plastic on top of the canvas and it feels totally different.


    Of all of these considerations, I think the sort of canvas is the one you should pay most attention to.  If it’s a gloss canvas, think about how that will look on your walls under light. Many companies avoid gloss canvas for this reason so it’s worth asking the question.

    1. Stretcher Bars for Canvas Prints - Look out for Wedges!


    Updated insights for 2024: 

    As far as stretcher bars for canvas prints goes, things have changed here over the past 8 years and mostly for the better.  First off, what’s a stretcher bar? Simply put, it’s the wooden frame you can’t see - it’s what the canvas is stretched over. 

    We’ve changed our stretcher bar supplier over the past 8 years.  We now source our bars from a sustainable maker in the EU.  We never went down the route of buying bars from China and never will.  Most of the big international players source from China because they’re the cheapest.  So if you only want cheap canvas prints, you should know that’s where they come from.  

    Personally I prefer to pay a little more and buy within the EU where I know the product has to meet EU standards and the forests are ethically and sustainably managed. 

     Stretcher Bars for Canvas Prints

    This is another factor in a great canvas print that all too often gets overlooked.  I think the reason for this is that it’s largely invisible.  Out of sight, out of mind.  But in reality, your canvas print will only last as long as the frame that it’s stretched over and the inks it’s printed with.


    The bad news is that there are literally tons of different ways a canvas print can be stretched.  And there are tons of different suppliers and manufacturers of stretcher bars.  Here’s what you need to look out for:


    The most common way you will see cheap canvas prints made is with bars that are underpinned on the reverse instead of joined using tongue and groove.  You’ll know a tongue and groove frame because it should come with little wedges that you can hammer into the frame.  This pushes the stretcher bars away from each other and has the effect of tightening the canvas print.  It’s ingenious and pretty vital when you think that your canvas print could be hanging up in a room for 50 years. Over that time, it’s very likely to lose a bit of tension but if your canvas print has those wedges, you’ll be able to fix it.


    We use beechwood wedges to re-tension our canvas stretcher bars.  We have two profiles of high quality pine stretcher bars - one is 19mm deep and the other is 40mm deep. Both types comes with wedges - make sure your canvas prints have wedges that will allow the print to be re-tensioned over time - this is absolutely crucial!


    So remember, just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about them.  Build quality and materials are old fashioned rules that still matter.  Put the right stuff in and you get the best stuff out.


    1. What to Look Out For on the Back of Canvas Prints


    Update for 204:

    Honestly, I’m still amazed at how bad some canvas prints look when you turn them over.  I know much bigger companies than us who routinely ship out canvas prints where the staples are visible on the back, there’s no tape to tidy everything up.  I know it’s the back but that’s just lazy - don’t put up with it!

    Here’s what I originally wrote:

    There are a few other minor details that can really influence the final score of your canvas print.  We call them the finishing details - and they matter.


    First and foremost - look to the corners of your prints.  How are they finished? If it’s lumpy and badly folded, that’s a sign of an inexperienced finisher.  Are the corners folded in at the top or the sides? If you can see the folds on the side of your print - it’s ground for returning it in my opinion.  A well folded canvas print should be neat and tidy with very little bulk.  It should be tightly stretched.

     Wedges for Canvas Prints

    Likewise, how are the staples inserted? Does it appear uniform and consistent? The volume players will use machines for stretching but we’re still doing each and every one by hand and I think that still gives the best finish.  What about tape - are the prints neatly taped off on the reverse so the staples are not exposed to the elements? Some big companies do not offer this finish as a standard and the prints can look awful.


    Finally, how is the canvas print hung? Is the bracket provided and attached? If you’re giving the canvas print as a gift, it’s nice to know that all these details have been considered by your canvas print supplier and the person getting the canvas print won’t have to do their job for them by finishing it off properly.  

    1. Packing & Shipping of Your Canvas Print


    My thoughts in 2024:

    This one is probably not so much a big deal anymore.  Most companies do a decent job on this.  I suppose one area where we all need to improve is our use of plastic. But most companies still use bubble wrap because there is no economical alternative.  We try to re-use our plastic and cardboard wherever possible in our canvas prints packaging. 

    For shipping, we now use An Post and find them very reliable.  The most important issue for us is that our prints arrive safely - damage in transit is very frustrating for customers and for us as we will always replace if our canvas prints are lost or damaged. 

    Here’s my original piece……

    How your canvas print is packed and shipped is another crucial factor in our list of the top 10 things to consider when buying a canvas print.  Will it arrive in one piece and who will deliver it? Can I track it? Do I need to sign for it?

    As part of our competition research, we’ve just ordered a canvas print from Social Print Studio based in San Francisco.  For international orders, they say it can be up to 4 weeks which seems like a very long time.  We’ll see if it’s worth the wait!

     Photo on Canvas Shipping

    Another crucial factor is packaging.  Canvas prints are pretty delicate and need good packaging.  Again, from our competition analysis, we know that how the prints are packed varies greatly.  The last set of prints we ordered was from LALALAB in France. They arrived packed in a way that I personally would never have allowed to leave The Canvas Works.  


    Packaging and presentation becomes even more important when you are gifting the canvas prints so it’s vital that you chose a company who places the proper importance on finishing details like this.  Indeed, one can make the point that the best canvas print in the world is valueless if it arrives damaged.

    1. Gifting Canvas Prints

    Gift a Canvas Print

    This brings me to the penultimate point in our buying guide for canvas prints - gifting.  Canvas prints make wonderful gifts.  Unique, personal, thoughtful - a good canvas print really does tick all the boxes for a great gift.  


    So you have to make sure of a few details.  I’ve covered off the packaging point above, but another factor to consider is the ability to add a nice note to your gift.  At The Canvas Works, we do this part pretty neatly - with a choice of custom gift tags and the ability to add a message will is also printed and placed on a nice tag.  We can also gift wrap on request.


    At the end of the day, a gift is a little piece of drama. Unboxing and unwrapping is a vital part of that drama and excitement.  So consider all this in your deliberations over who you ask to make your canvas print.


    1. Canvas Print Delivery Times - Updated for 2024

    There’s an update here but it’s another pinch point for us and one that is genuinely hard for small players like us to deal with.  Eight years ago there was no such thing as same day delivery or even 1 hour delivery! Big e-commerce has all moved towards a model that is built around unbelievably fast lead times.  We just can’t do this.  

    Here’s what I originally wrote….

    So this is one area where the bigger players can have the edge.  At The Canvas Works, our standard turnaround is 7-9 days.  Some people may not want to wait that long and might therefore decide to order with one of the big guys who can do a 2 day turnaround.  


    We offer an Express service for when you need your canvas print in a real hurry and it is a popular choice at very busy times of the year like Christmas.  At quieter times of the year, our free delivery service is much quicker than 7-9 days so our advice is to find a supplier who sets out all these details clearly so your expectations are managed from the outset.


    As I mentioned above, there are companies that I admire who keep their international customers waiting for delivery for quite a long time.  Most people are prepared to wait a week or ten days I think but anything longer than that seems a little excessive.


    What’s crucial, as always is that the information is set out clearly in advance so that when you place your order for your canvas print, you have a clear expectation of when it should arrive.  Good communication is essential.


    So there you have it - my buying guide to ensuring you get yourself a canvas print that’s worth your hard earned money.  The most important thing I can say to you is try not to believe that every canvas print is just like the next - they’re not! 

    Sure, the canvas print space - like many other mass produced markets is becoming commoditised but there are differences in both the products and the companies who make them.


    Thanks for reading this post and I’d love to hear from you if have a view on it. If you’ve found a canvas print company you think I’d be interested in, please let me know!


    And if you’ve read this far, do me a favour and share this article on your social networks.





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