If you’re at all like me, 99.9% of the images you’ve captured and created still sit in the abyss of your computer. But there’s that .1% – you know what I’m talking about. There’s those few images that are just SCREAMING to be printed, but you’re not sure how or on what media. Then you have to decided which of the HUNDREDS of printing companies to choose from. I took on this challenge with a few of my “screaming” images in hopes of saving you some time and giving you one less click of the mouse to have to make.
I believe most clients (and photographers) aren’t going to look at an image and tell you whether or not the dimples on a canvas are too tight, if the metal print is too metallic, or if the acrylic print looks too acrylic. Heck, most people aren’t even sure what an acrylic print actually is. (This link is for those of you that care.) So in this review, I’m going to share what I feel matters most for you and your clients.
CANVAS Print Test
One of the most popular forms of print over the years has been on canvas. A canvas print is great because you don’t need to do too much with it. No need to worry about what color mat, what the width should be, and if it matches your walls. No need to worry about what kind of frame to use, how thick it should be and what color. A canvas simply comes stretched on a wooden frame ready to hang and enjoy. (Although you can have them framed if your heart desires.)
They have become so popular that they are even available and more affordable to the “non-photographer” than ever before. I used to always order canvases for my clients through Canvas On Demand. Now it seems as if they have a groupon available all year round and they keep reminding me of this in all of my Facebook ads. I became a loyal fan of Canvas On Demand about 8 years ago when they sent me a 40X60 canvas for a client. The bottom corner bowed about a ½ inch from the wall so I sent them a picture of it. They told me to keep it and there was a new perfect one on my doorstep within days – great customer service! Before doing this review, I thought it wouldn’t change my mind. Has it?
I was pleased to hear positive responses from some of the top printing companies. Canvases were sent to me from Canvas HQ, Canvas On Demand, Miller’s, and Pro DPI. I submitted an image from my trip to Iceland, when I first met Jim Harmer and was invited along this ImprovePhotography.com podcasting journey. Unfortunately, I submitted the wrong edited image, as this one I submitted still shows some haloing. I look at it as just another opportunity to critique the print job! (And maybe the photographer.)
The dimensions of the canvases I received are 20X30 and 1.5” thick (for the most part). During the review process, there was slight confusion that caused one canvas to be a bit smaller. Nonetheless, this is about the quality.
First Glance Test on Canvas Prints
For the most part, the quality of the canvases are the same. The texture of the canvases appears to be identical. All four of the canvases are tightly wrapped around a stable wooden frame. Tight folds on the corners keep the canvases from feeling loose. Canvas On Demand had the tightest fold, whereas the others had a slight bump in the material – none being a concern though. There are many different options for backing and how to hang them. Each company seems to have their own method for what they feel is best. I prefer backs that are closed instead of exposed, but that may be an additional expense. My point is… they are all about the same until you look at the image quality. Pro DPI performed the best in this test.
COLOR: Canvas prints
When it comes to comparing them, the biggest difference was in the coloring. Pro DPI had the strongest contrast with the most vivid coloring and most accurately matched the image I edited and saw on my monitor. Canvas HQ was next closest in color, but it appears as if the clarity and shadows were bumped up on the print making it brighter than what I ordered. Canvas On Demand seemed slightly faded and I started to notice a hint of pink showing up in the sky. Millers seemed to be even more faded with even more pink in the sky.
Overal Winner for Canvas Prints: Pro DPI
The price on these depend on whatever additional features you add such as the backing, hanging options, or finishes added to the canvas. At the time of this review, a 20X30 from these companies ranged between $135 – $150. In my opinion, the difference of $15 shouldn’t determine the decision. After having a chance to compare the four of these companies, here are my final thoughts…
PRO DPI – I’ll be ordering from you again! I know what I’m going to be getting when my image on my computer matches your print job!
Canvas HQ – “A” for effort, but for the same price I want my image to look the way it does on my screen.
Canvas On Demand – Your Groupons make it hard for me to leave you. I’ll continue to recommend you to friends because of how affordable you can be at times. For now, it’s goodbye, but you’ll always have a place in my heart.
Millers – You’ll always have my business, but not because of your canvases. Keep up the AMAZING work you do with your quick turnaround time on your albums. I’m placing another order this week!
Metal Print Test
Every now and then you have an image that needs a little pop. If you feel you can’t get it on a normal print or canvas, try it on metal! An HDR on canvas isn’t going to do the same as an HDR on metal. Personally, I wouldn’t print a family photo on metal. I love the way metal looks with my shots from the INDY 500, NFL, and landscapes – images with bold colors and high dynamic range.
Similar to hanging a canvas, there’s not a lot you need to do with a metal print. Most of them come ready to hang with different options based off of the company you order from.
For this review, I chose an image from one of my favorite cities – sweet home CHICAGO! I picked this image because of the lights on the marquee and cars driving by with the reflective buildings in the background. Here’s the original…
FIRST GLANCE: Metal prints
Do you see it? Do you see how vastly different each one is compared to the others? Didn’t think so! For the most part, they are fairly identical. Side by side you can tell that the image from ArtBeat is a tad darker than the original compared to the others. However, you really need to view these in person to see any difference because of how the light reflects off the metal from the angle in which you are standing. The most obvious differences that can be seen are in the red color on the sign and the detail in the sky.
COLOR: Metal Prints
The metal from Bay Photo has the richest red in the sign and the overall colors most represent the image I edited on my display. The colors from ArtBeat seem to be a little faded compared to the others. ZNO had the brightest red in the sign yet they also had the darkest sky showing more contrast between the clouds. MPIX has the second richest red with colors most like my original.
Overal Winner for Metal Prints: Bay Photo
Honestly, not knowing the difference, I’d be happy if I received any of these for my clients. I’m sure that’s not what you wanted to hear though. Bay Photo is my top choice when it comes to overall appearance because it most matched the way I edited it on my computer. ZNO and MPIX are a tie with both having rich colors and saturation. ArtBeat was more faded than the rest and didn’t have the pop that the others had. HOWEVER, at the time of this review, ZNO was almost HALF the price of the other three. Is it worth saving a little bit of money for a little bit of quality? That’s YOUR decision.
ACRYLIC Print Test
What do you get when you put a metal print on steroids?… An acrylic! Acrylic prints are by far THE best way to display your most EPIC of EPIC photos! I knew immediately which image I wanted to test. I took a panorama shot standing on the top of a karst in China last summer on an Improve Photography travel workshop. A portion of it stood out the most, so I cropped that section for the review. The view and colors were UNBELIEVABLE! Check out the image below…
I received an acrylic print of this image from Bay Photo, Miller’s, and Nevada Art Printers. My heart sank with disappointment when I opened the first box. I had seen so many stunning examples of acrylics that I had my hopes up. How could I go wrong with this shot? When I opened the box and unwrapped the acrylic from Miller’s I thought to myself, “NOOO! Was I supposed to color calibrate something???” Here’s what I received…
You can see why I was disappointed. This isn’t the same image I spent hours editing on my computer monitor. There’s no color in the sky. Everything about it has a faded brown tint. There’s no life to the image. As I slowly opened the next box, from Bay Photo, I thought to myself, “Self, this will be the test. Either you screwed up and are going to look like a horrible photographer since you committed to this review, OR, redemption.” Here’s the result from Bay Photo…
Okay, so some of you are laughing right now thinking, “Horrible.”
I think, “REDEMPTION!”
I was so excited to see the image come to life. The greens were green. The sky was pink with a purple tint just like I recalled that morning as the sun rose through the fog. I was, and still am, very pleased with how this acrylic turned out from Bay Photo.
I had one box left to open. This one slightly bigger than the others. Since this image was originally shot and composed as a panorama, I ordered a large 16×48 panorama acrylic from Nevada Art Printers. It’s the exact same image that the other two 20×30’s were cropped out of
The saturation and details in this acrylic from Nevada Art Printers is breathtaking. The greens look more natural showing all the different shades from the tree tops to the fields below. The image has so much more depth to it. It almost feels as if you’re viewing it in 3D. I’ve had this image on display in a couple different places now and comment after comment is made about how “magical” it looks. Sure, the subject helps a bit, and they may say the same about the acrylic from Bay Photo, but I don’t feel I’d get the same response with the acrylic from Miller’s.
Overal Winner for Acrylic Prints: Nevada Art Printers
I can not stress to you enough how beautiful acrylics are in person! Miller’s is such a great company and their albums are amazing, but I feel they need to stick with the album process. I will not be ordering a canvas, metal, or acrylic from them anytime soon. I was happy with the acrylic from Bay Photo and may be ordering from them again. HOWEVER, if I want the best my money can get and believe it’s worth paying for a huge EPIC acrylic, I’ll be ordering it from Nevada Art Printers.
This review was written and conducted by Brian McGuckin.