There are literally hundreds of different media types (paper, canvas, poster board, metal & vinyl) in many surface textures (matte, satin matte, smooth matte, glossy, high gloss, linen, etc.) Many are available in both cut sheets as well as rolls. Some printers pride themselves in being media mavens, always ready to suggest a different paper or canvas. Giclee Yoshimatsu specializes in reproducing fine art that closely matches the original. Since most paintings and drawings are produced on paper or canvas, this is what we focus on. At a client’s requests, we can produce prints on other media but that may delay the process while printer profiles are created, tested and verified.
Paper for fine art reproduction generally has a matte surface but, even among matte media, there are significant differences. Matte smooth is different from matte textured and different still from matte velvet. In canvas media, there are matte, satin and, even, glossy surfaces. That doesn’t mean the canvas is smooth and slick like a photographic paper, just that the ink-receptive coating is satiny or glossy. The underlying canvas is still textured, just like canvas used for paintings.
Another criteria of critical importance to fine art reproductions is the inclusion or absence of OBAs (optical brightening agents,) chemical additives used to create an appearance of a brighter, whiter finish to the media. Since most media are produced from wood pulp, the natural color tends to age toward yellow/orange. OBAs are added to make the media appear whiter and brighter. The downside of OBAs is that they comprise unstable molecules that can yellow over time, leading to discoloration. For this reason, we recommend that only non-OBA papers be used for fine art reproductions you plan to sell.
Canvas can also have the same issue as most are made from natural products such as cotton, linen and flax. The same cautions apply to canvas prints containing OBAs, even when the print is coated and displayed under UV glass. To avoid OBAs, we recommend Epson Exhibition Canvas Natural (Matte, Satin or Gloss.) Below are two prints on Epson Exhibition Canvas Matte with OBAs. The one on the right is straight out of the printer with no protection while the one on the left has been sprayed with two coats of different varnishes. They’ve been left out in bright, hot summer sun for several weeks for an accelerated aging process. (These photos are simulations. I’ll post the true images in a few weeks.)
This is a good point to address varnishes. There many types of coatings and varnishes for fine art reproductions. I’ve tried about a dozen but, at this time, have reduced my choices to PremierArt Print Shield ($15 at ITSupplies,) PrintGuard ($18.95 at Dick Blick) and Krylon Conservation Varnish ($10.50 at Jerry’s Art-A-Rama.) I don’t yet have a favorite and am waiting for the results of long-term testing. Regardless, almost every print, paper or canvas, can benefit from a varnish coat. Many varnishes claim to make the print waterproof but, in general, a better term would “water resistant.”
Having said all this, keep in mind not all OBAs are the same and not all prints require the same longevity. If print permanence is not a primary concern, this may all be moot in your circumstances. To quote Prof. Walter Kotschnig from a speech at Holyoke College, 1937, …keep your minds open—“but not so open that your brains fall out.” Also, new OBAs from reputable companies are much better than older chemicals so it’s possible the OBA issue will fall by the wayside in the future.
Bottom line, we recommend heavy matte papers and natural canvas media without OBA from the company that produced the printer. Epson printers should use Epson media and Canon printers should use Canon media. As always, there are exceptions such as Hahnemuhle, Canson, Moab and a some others but their higher quality may not always justify their higher costs. The bottom line will almost always dictate the best cost/quality equation.