Fine Art Prints on Paper Vs. Canvas

By Jagg Xaxx ; Updated September 15, 2017
Canvas and paper can each give a print a very different feel.

When purchasing a fine art print, one of the decisions to be made is whether you want it on paper or on canvas. Each of these surfaces has different qualities and different strengths and weaknesses. Just as important as the decision between paper and canvas is the decision of which printer and framer to hire. High-quality work will look good on either paper or canvas, just as poor work will not look good no matter what surface is carrying it.

Details Are Better on Paper

Because paper has a smoother surface than canvas, details will be sharper and more evident when printed on paper. This is more of an issue on smaller prints, because viewers will look at them very close up and the weave of the canvas will be more evident, and will interfere more with the image, particularly if it is a very rough grade of canvas.

Bigger Is Better on Canvas

On very large prints, the weave of the canvas will not be an issue, because viewers will look at the print from farther away in order to see the whole thing, and the weave of the canvas will then be relatively smaller in comparison to the image. In addition, canvas is structurally superior to paper for large areas, and will be less likely to develop waves in its surface over time.

Canvas Looks More like a Painting

If the print is of a painting, and you are seeking a realistic reproduction, canvas will definitely provide that more than paper, for the simple reason that nearly all oil paintings are done on canvas, and a reproduction on canvas will have a surface texture that is more similar to the original.

Paper Has Size Limits because of Matte 40 x 60

There are practical limitations to the size of a paper reproduction. This is because paper, in order to be mounted and framed properly, needs to be surrounded by a matte which keeps the paper away from the glass in front of it. Matte is not commercially made in sizes larger than 40 by 60 inches. Assuming a matte measurement of 4 inches on a side, this limits the size of the image to 32 by 52 inches.

Paper and Canvas Require Different Framing Methods

Canvas can be mounted on a wall with a simple frame around its edges, or even be hung with no frame at all. Paper, for reasons of both aesthetics and durability, needs to be more elaborately mounted and framed, with backing behind it and matte and glass in front of it.

About the Author

Jagg Xaxx has been writing since 1983. His primary areas of writing include surrealism, Buddhist iconography and environmental issues. Xaxx worked as a cabinetmaker for 12 years, as well as building and renovating several houses. Xaxx holds a Doctor of Philosophy in art history from the University of Manchester in the U.K.