Choosing a Medium

So you've chosen a print.  Now - what medium to select?  Well, the good news is there are no bad choices.  But there some things to consider in making the right choice for you.

Certainly price is a consideration, but I think the more crucial questions are what differences are there between the options and why might one choice be better for you than another.  So let's leave price out of it, talk about these choices and then have a look at a few examples.

Paper, Paper, Paper

If you're going to go with paper, you know you're going to need a frame and probably a matte.  You can certainly use your own, whether you work with a framing shop or just pick one out at a store.  Or, when you get to the Style tab when ordering, you can look at a wide variety of frame/matte combinations available right here. 

Depending on the frame, a framed print could be very modern or more traditional.  But either way, framing is a value statement.  It implies that the print is special enough to deserve to be displayed in a very special setting.  Consider if that is the style you're going for, or whether you are aiming for something less formal. 

Okay, but which paper?   Great question!  Here are the options.

Metallic Paper:  Don't let the "metallic" scare you.  I've seen some prints where you actually see metal where the lighter colors would normally be.  That's not this.  Don't get me wrong, that can be a nice effect, but can look gimmicky if not used judiciously.  Metallic paper is great for rich colors and sharp details.  There is a subtle iridescence to it depending on the light and the position of the viewer - and it looks amazing!  The finish is smooth and just a little glossy.

Watercolor Paper:  This is thick and very textured.  Colors seem just a tiny bit subdued and details are not as crisp as with the metallic paper.  It is beautiful, refined and sort of pushes the style of the picture toward the same effect as canvas.  The finish is matte -  no gloss at all.  Watercolor paper is well suited for broad landscapes and some of my abstracts.  It would not be the best choice (in my opinion) for cityscapes and architectural prints where crisp definition is the name of the game.  Take this into consideration as you think about the prints you like and your overall decor.  The right picture on watercolor paper will be a subtle stunner!

Smooth Fine Art Paper:  This is a high-end paper.  It is rich and the details are crisp.  In a way it is a happy medium (no pun intended) between metallic and watercolor.  The finish is smooth (hence the name) but still barely textured with a "lustre" finish - definitely not glossy, but just a little bit of a sheen when compared with a matte finish like the watercolor paper.

 

Canvas

Canvas looks incredible for the right picture.  Since we're dealing with fabric, expect a little less crispness in the detail department.  I've done some panoramic cityscapes on canvas and while I was pleased with them, I knew deep down inside that it was not the best choice.  On the other hand, I have a couple of my abstracts on canvas at home and people are surprised when they learn that they are photographs and not paintings!  Really, canvas is a great choice for just about anything where it's not crucial for colors to absolutely pop and details to be as sharp as possible.   Now having said that, here's a canvas print I have at home. Since the bridge is such a huge part of the picture and there is so much contrast between the bridge and the sky, it comes off as being very crisp.  But have a look at the close up and you can see the canvas texture.

      

One other characteristic of a canvas print, if you are thinking of displaying it along with paintings, it lends consistency.  Even though there is a mix of paintings and photographs, the canvas helps tie it together.

Canvas prints have a matte finish, they look great unframed and can span the distance between more traditional decor and modern.

Metal - White Gloss and Metal - White Matte

Metal prints are great.  There, I said it.  I love them, and the fact that you can get either a gloss or a matte finish is awesome.  The "white" part of this is really of no consequence in terms of the finished product.  Think of it as like printing on white paper, or white canvas.  Metal prints are definitely more contemporary in their look, and have a "backer" on them so that they appear to float about 3/4" off the surface of the wall.  They are surprisingly light in weight, so very easy to hang. Here's a comparison of glossy and matte, and a picture of the backer and included hanging hardware.

     

You can see a little bit of glare on the glossy metal print on the left, while the matte print retains rich colors and crisp details with no glare. 

In addition to looking great, if your print is destined for a wall in a kitchen or bathroom, they will hold up beautifully where a paper or canvas print might not fare as well.  I would pick metal for almost any photo.  If going with an abstract that looks a bit more "painterly", I think my vote would still be for canvas. but even some of them like "Martian Rush Hour" or "The Visitors Are Due in Millville" (above) would absolutely stun on either canvas or metal.

Acrylic

Acrylic is top-of-the-line.  Everything I love about glossy metal prints is upgraded when done in acrylic.  There is no option for matte finish - strictly glossy.  But for crispness, definition and colors that just about jump off the print and pull you in it is the way to go.  Now having said that, let's talk about gloss for a minute.  When deciding to go with a glossy print (whether acrylic or metal), think  about the surroundings and your decor. 

  • If the print is going to be near or opposite windows, think about how the outdoor light will affect your enjoyment of the print. 
  • If the print is going somewhere like an inside hallway, or somewhere where there is not a lot of light coming in the windows, you probably won't be dealing with glare too much.
  • Glossy finishes feel much more at home in modern decor. In fact, in some modern settings shiny surfaces can be a deliberate style choice, regardless of glare.  But you really need to consider whether glossy is right for what you want. 

Here's a side-by-side of "Pier Energy 1" in acrylic, shot from different angles to compare how the glare from a nearby window affects it.

     

See how rich the colors are?   That's acrylic.  It's the highest price point and the look is stunning, but if you are worried about glare, matte metal is a great alternative.


So there you have it.  Hopefully this has been helpful.  When you find a picture that resonates with you and makes you feel something, you want to make sure it is displayed in a way that fits its environment.  Think about where the print will be displayed - the light, the surroundings, other art in the same area.  Pick a medium that works well for the picture and for where you intend to enjoy the picture.  Art enriches our homes and places of business.  It's a great investment!