This week I was lucky enough to be able to take a look at Breathing Color’s new media Belgian Linen, and today I’m going to relay my findings, as well as a cool way to create a home-made panel to show this beautiful media off.
Let’s start with a little bit of background about my tests though, which starts, as it always does when I introduce a new media type, with the creation of my ICC profiles. I won’t go into details on this, but I always create my own ICC profiles, because that always gives the best possible results when printing. Having given the 24 x 11-inch test target an hour or so to fully dry, enabling the colors to stabilize, I scanned the 2380 color patches using my X-Rite i1 Photo Pro 2 spectrometer, which you can see under the Color Management section of my B&H Photo Gear page.
Then, to avoid the color issues with the Canon ImagePROGRAF PRO-4000 large format printer, I associated the newly created ICC profile with the Media Type that I registered with the printer, as this is my preferred method to get great color out of this printer. I explained the problem and how to work around it in Episode 573 so check that out if you are interested.
I have created so many color test patch sheets over the years, that I’m pretty much able to see how good a media is from the patch sheet, and I was already getting excited as I saw the patch sheet emerge from the printer. Even just looking at the contrast between the raw linen color on the back of the media compared to the white printable side had me giggling like a teenager.
Before we go on, let’s take a look at some of the Breathing Color information on this beautiful new media. From their website, we can see that Belgian Linen™ is a unique European textile which is woven in Belgium by members of the Masters of Linen Club. It has been prized for thousands of years for the high quality, softness, and durability it offers. It naturally has a rich color absorption and is lint-free and hypoallergenic.
Breathing Color combines this remarkable material with their advanced ink receptive coating technology, resulting in the highest-quality inkjet textile available on the market. They also provide the following bullet points of information…
Archival Certified: OBA free and 100+ years certified archival by the Fine Art Trade Guild (view certificate)
HD Image Quality: We’ve used our most advanced inkjet coating technology yet to make your prints on Belgian Linen look their sharpest and have deep, rich colors and blacks.
Strong and Durable: Linen is 30% stronger than cotton, making it the perfect textile for printing gallery wraps or rolled prints.
Sustainably-Made: The flax seed used to make Belgian Linen are grown from one of the most ecological fibers in the world
Revered by the Old Masters: Belgian Linen™ has been used for centuries by famous artists such as Dali, Whistler, Monet, and more!
18 mil Thickness 425 gsm Weight: This luxury linen textile is thick and heavy weight. It feels substantial and expensive in your hands.
So, we know thanks to Seth Godin that all marketers are liars, but in this case, I can attest that everything the Breathing Color team says about this media is 100% true.
Let’s continue and take a look at a screenshot made with ColorThink Pro to compare my new Belgian Linen profile with two others. The Belgian Linen is the semi-transparent color-filled profile, and I have compared it firstly, to the Breathing Color media that I have so far felt to be the best matte media I’ve ever used, which is their Signa Smooth. I thought that Signa had a wide gamut for a matte media, but as you can see, it fits nicely inside the Belgian Linen profile, which is a good 10% or so larger, and that’s a big difference for a matte media.
In Wire-Frame, I’ve actually included Breathing Color’s Vibrance Gloss, to show you that gloss media is generally going to give a wider gamut, and you can see by how low the wire frame goes, that the darkest black that Vibrance Gloss will provide is much darker than its matte cousins, but for matte media, the other two are still very, very respectable.
I know that these charts aren’t easy to glean a lot from when you have to view a static screenshot, but to hopefully help some, here is a different angle, again with an arrow pointing to each of the profile representations.
So, we can see from these 3D representations that Breathing Color’s new Belgian Linen is very capable with regards to the color gamut, but let’s take a look at a straight print that I made before we jump into the details of the home-made panel that I’m going to walk you through today.
Feel the History
Although Belgian Linen is a canvas, I think it’s texture is so beautiful as it is, that it doesn’t necessarily need to be wrapped like a regular canvas print, although, of course, it would be beautiful as a gallery wrap as well. I selected a photo from this year’s Complete Namibia Tour because I figured it’s rugged and worn look would suit the Linen. I printed it out using my fine art print border ratios at a size of 18 x 24 inches, because this is the size that I generally print at when printing for myself, and I keep them in an 18 x 24-inch binder.
It’s hard to see in this image, but the quality of this print when you hold it in your hand is absolutely unreal. Belgian Linen is very flexible and relatively forgiving with regards to handling, yet it has a weight that almost helps to recall the history of this media, and the artists that have laid their brushes down on this canvas.
A Closer Look
It isn’t very easy to see, but here is a 100% crop from near the center of a photograph of this print at an angle. Hopefully, though you’ll be able to see the almost painterly feel that the texture of the Linen adds to the photograph. Of course, the photo I selected has a painterly feel too, but I think they really compliment each other.
When you consider that Belgian Linen is $180 for just 20 feet on a 24″ roll, compared to $138 for 40 feet of Lyve, Breathing Colors other matte canvas, you almost automatically take more time over deciding what you want to print on it. Of course, if you are going to use this canvas for customer prints, you’re going to have to price them accordingly, but the appeal of this media should make it an easy sell, especially if you are able to meet face to face with your client and show them samples.
OK, so let’s move on and talk a little now about the home-made panel that we’re going to make and then print for. I first introduced this method of presenting prints five years ago in one of my columns in the Craft & Vision PHOTOGRAPH magazine. I actually prepared a second panel back then, so I am going to use some of the photographs of the process from 2014, so forgive me if the look of the images varies a little.
To me, printing is a wonderful way to complete our photographs. As I mentioned earlier, I have an 18 x 24-inch binder that is full of prints that I simply make just for fun. I generally use a printing afternoon as a way to wind-down. It’s almost like a way to give myself a little bonus, as I love the entire process, and the thrill of holding a tactile print in my hands never gets old. I think it gives us a way to be more intimate with our work than we can be by only ever viewing it on a computer or TV screen.
As an extension of this, I developed this relatively simple yet effective form of presentation that although takes a number of days to create as you wait for things to dry, feels very fulfilling to finally hang on the wall when you are done. I should mention though that this method is probably best kept for personal use unless you can source a panel that is made of archival material. I did not, as we’ll hear.
Required Materials and Tools
So, the main component of our presentation piece is the panel itself. I bought a piece of 600 x 450 x 5.5 mm MDF board at the local DIY store for $3 and had a guy at the store cut it down to 600 x 400 mm with their band saw. I don’t have a lot of DIY tools, so this was easier and most accurate.
I also bought a length of 24 x 40 mm pine, long enough to cut two 40 cm bars and two 25 cm bars from. This cost $8. A bottle of strong wood glue cost $4, and the brackets to attach the string to the back to hang the panel cost $2. You will also need some archival glue to actually stick your print or canvas to the panel, which you can get from Breathing Color or University Products for around $8. You won’t use up all of the adhesive on one panel, so we’re probably looking at around $15 cost for the materials, and then the price of your print media and ink, which my printer’s Accounting module tells me was around $30.
Tools required will vary and you can perhaps improve on some of these, but you’ll basically need a saw, a miter cutting block and clamp to hold your wood in place when you cut it to 45 degrees. You’ll also need a good sharp cutter, a cutting mat or surface that you don’t mind marking, and a steel rule. It’s best to avoid using a plastic rule for trimming as the blade of your cutter can ride up the rule into your fingers, which always best avoided. I also used a $10 band clamp to hold the back frame together for 24 hours as it dried, but you could improvise if you don’t have one of these. You’ll also need a screwdriver and pencil, and I think we’re ready to go.
Deciding Your Panel Size
I chose 600 x 400 mm for my panel size, because I wanted to display a standard cropped image. Most DSLR cameras create 3:2 aspect ratio images, so I was able to buy my materials before I decided on an image to print. If you have a specific photo in mind, and you have cropped it away from the standard 3:2 aspect ratio, you’ll need to check the proportions and buy your panel accordingly.
For example, you might have cropped to a 16:9 ratio. In this case, if you wanted to create a 600mm wide panel, the height would need to be 337 mm. For a totally arbitrarily cropped image, you could use the pixels to calculate your panel size. For example, say your base image is 4882 x 3624 pixels, you could divide 4882 by 3624 to get your aspect ratio, which is 1:1.347, and again using the 600mm width, divide 600 by 1.347 for a panel height of 445 mm.
Of course, you also need to ensure that you can actually make a print large enough for your panel. As you’ll need at least an inch wrapped around the back of the panel, you probably need to deduct two inches or 50 mm from your paper size to ensure that you can actually print your image.
Build the Panel
So that the panel will stand away from the wall, we’re going to build a frame to attach to the back of our panel. Use a miter cutting block to first cut off the end of your wood at 45 degrees.
Then measure from the outside edge to where you’ll need to cut your first frame bar. For my panel, I cut the long bars at 400 mm and the short bars at 250 mm.
Once you have your four bars cut, match them together to get the best fit, and apply your wood adhesive to the ends where the bars need to be fixed together, and then clamp them together. I use a $10 band clamp for this, which works very well, but you might be able to use other clamps, or maybe even screw this frame together. Ensure that if use adhesive you check how long you need to keep the wood clamped together. My adhesive was good to work the wood in one hour, but requires 24 hours to fully set.
I then aligned the frame on the back of the panel, and measured the distance from all four edges until I had it in the center, then marked around the inside of the frame with a pencil, then applied adhesive to the frame, and lowered carefully it into place, aligning it with the pencil marks.
Then we get to reap an often-overlooked benefit of being a photographer, and use some of our collection of oversized books to apply pressure to the frame as it dries for a further 24 hours.
I then use some small, hinged brackets from the framing store to attach some string to the back of the frame so that I can hang it on the wall. Now we’re ready to move on to the printing.
Prepare to Print – Adding Borders
The edges of our panel have some depth, so we have to decide if we are going to print the image a little larger, and lose the edges of our image, or to avoid effectively cropping the image on the face of the panel, we can extend the image out, as we often do when creating a gallery wrap.
For this, I use ON1 Software’s Perfect Resize. You can launch Perfect Resize from within Capture One Pro, Photoshop or Lightroom etc, or simply export a PSD or TIFF file and open it in standalone Perfect Resize. As canvas can shrink a little when when we apply glue later, I need to add about 4mm to the width, so I enter 604 mm in the width field and because I have Constrain Proportions turned on, Perfect Resize automatically calculates my image height.
In the Settings panel, I set the Image Type to General Purpose and Method to Genuine Fractals, and use the default settings. I reduced the amount of Sharpening that Perfect Resize would usually apply, as I generally sharpen a little when printing, You can view the image at 100% to check the effects, but I generally find that Unsharp Mask gives me the best results as the sharpening method. If you are upsizing an image a lot the Progressive sharpening method can be better, but again, it’s best to check at 100% as you make these changes.
I use the Gallery Wrap settings to mirror the edges of my image out to form the sides of my panel, and because the board is 5.5 mm deep, I need to reflect my image out by at least that much. I actually choose 2 cm here, so that the image wraps around the back of our panel a little. If you don’t have Perfect Resize you can use any photo editing software to extend the canvas size, then transform the edges out to create a similar effect.
Remember to add whatever border size you created when you print. I added 4 mm on the width and 2.6 mm to the height of my image to allow for shrinkage, and another 2cm border for the edges of the panel and a little on the back of my panel, so have to add a total 44 mm to the width of my print, which is the height in this screenshot, because the print is rotated for printing.
As you can see, I created a custom page size in the Canon PRO-4000 printer drivers that is 609.6 mm wide, which is 24 inches, to match the roll width. I then specified the height of the page as 684 mm. To recap, my panel is 600 mm wide, and I added a 2 cm reflected border in Perfect Resize, and I told Perfect Resize to add a further 4 mm to allow for the canvas shrinking when we put glue on it. So that’s 600 + (20 x 2) + 4, for 644 mm. Because there is plenty of leeway on the 24-inch roll, we don’t really have to worry about the sides. Note too that I have my new ICC Profile selected and the Rendering Intent set to Perceptual. Most of the time for photographic prints, Perceptual will be what you need to select, although there are exceptions.
Before we continue creating our panel, here is a photo of the printed face of the Belgian Linen canvas, so that you can see the texture again. I’ve also laid a piece of the canvas over the print, so that you can see what it looks like on the back. You can actually buy Belgian Linen Natural from Breathing Color, which I might try at some point, but the print side also looks like the back of canvas that you see here, so it would give interesting results for sure.
I usually like to give the print a day to fully dry. Once It’s dry, I trimmed the canvas so that there was a border of exactly 2 cm on all four sides. The next part is a little bit tricky, and I actually tried experimenting with a different method this week, but I prefer my earlier method, so I’ll show you the photo from my original article. Note that the back of the Belgian Linen does not look like this. It’s the brown stuff that we just looked at. The point here though, is that I measure in 4 cm from the corners of my trimmed print, then cut the corner off at approximately 45 degrees, and then cut out a notch of 5.5mm, which is the thickness of my panel. This allows us to fold the canvas up around the panel and then brings the flaps nicely into the corners where they meet.
I actually tried cutting after I’d applied the glue this time around, and as you’ll see shortly, it was a bit messy. The canvas wet with glue is difficult to cut, so the above method definitely works better for me.
The Sticky Bit
To stick the canvas or paper to your panel, you could use 3M spray adhesive, probably number 111 if you are printing on canvas, as 111 is good for wood and cloth, or check for compatibility of the two surfaces if you are using other materials. Although the archival qualities of your panel will depend on your media as well as the board material, because Belgian Linen is archival certified, I used archival glue from University Products, but as I say, my wooden board is probably not archival, although the print that I made five years ago has not faded or discolored at all, so I figured I’d just go ahead and use archival glue again. I also use a toothed spatula from a DIY store to spread the glue.
Having squeezed plenty of glue onto the face of the panel, I then scraped it out with the toothed spatula, as you can see here.
Ensure that your work surface is clean, but also keep in mind that you are going to get glue on it, so you may want to lay down some paper or something to protect your surface. Then place your panel on the back of the print, and align the corners with the notches that we made on each corner. Apply some pressure over the entire panel to ensure that it is stuck, and continuously check that the panel doesn’t slide around on the print, taking the corners out of alignment. After a few minutes, the adhesive will dry enough to stop the print from moving, and then you can apply your adhesive to the edges of the print. Again, this is a photo from my original article because I didn’t like the result with the experimental method I tried this week.
Once you have glue on each of the flaps fold them up and over the back of the panel, and keep stretching and rubbing the back edges, with a dry rag if necessary, until it’s fully adhered to the back of the panel.
This is what the back of my new panel looks like, and as you can see, the corners are not very nice to look at. Although this is fine for a print for myself, if this was a product for a client, I’d have scrapped it and started again, considering my experiment a failure.
Another thing that I learned this time around, is that if you pull the side flaps up too tightly, the thread of the canvas can get ruptured slightly. This might also be caused by the fact that my panel board has very sharp corners. Gallery wrap stretcher bars are usually slightly rounded to avoid this. Here’s a photo of my second lesson learned though, so that you can see what I mean.
Here too is a photo of my new panel hung in the entrance to our Tokyo apartment. I really like the simplicity of this kind of presentation. At approximately $45 including the print on Breathing Color’s Belgian Linen canvas, I feel that it’s worth a bit of time to put together, but it’s a labor of love. Or perhaps just my way to staying intimate with my art. I get great satisfaction from the act of completion with a project like this. If you also like tinkering around in addition to your printing addiction, maybe you can also give this a try.
I know I took this article away from a straight forward review of Breathing Color’s new Belgian Linen, but I hope you found it useful. I would like to finish by reiterating how beautiful I think this new media is. It’s expensive, and probably not going to be for every day use, but when utmost quality is necessary, Belgian Linen is it.
You can pick up both the white-coated Belgian Linen and Belgian Linen Natural from Breathing Color here.
Let’s finish with a word about print rotation. As I am not allowed to hang my prints anywhere in our apartment outside of my studio without my wife’s permission, we decided on this photograph together. Although I was disappointed that I didn’t get a flamingo head poking up into the sun on this year’s Complete Namibia Tour, I still really like the warmth and atmosphere of this photo, and it became a firm favorite of my wife’s too as soon as I got home.
There is only so much wall space, and we try not to fill all of our walls with prints anyway, so we have started to rotate prints a little according to the season. Being Japanese, my wife appreciates art differently according to the season, and that is rubbing off on me a little too, so we have fun with this.
For example, the panel that we’ve had here for the last five years is the original one that I made for the Craft & Vision PHOTOGRAPH magazine article. For that print, I used my photo of a church on the mountainside near Vik in Iceland. To us, that photo really suits the summer months, mostly because in Japan people rarely control the temperature outside of the main living space, so this entrance area gets really hot, and the cool feel of Iceland helps to balance that out.
Conversely, as we enter Autumn now, and the temperature has finally started to fall a little, we were looking for something that kind of felt warm, but not hot. My wife feels that the similarity between the end of the day signified by the setting sun in this new print feels similar to how Autumn is like the end of the heat of summer, although not as sad as the winter. Winter actually is different again. Similarly, because this entrance area is not heated either, it’s freezing cold in here during the winter, so we won’t hang a print of a winter scene, despite me having thousands of them. We’ll probably either keep the warmth of this print, or look for something that conversely warms us up, to counter the winter cold.
Either way, we have fun thinking of which art to hang based on the location of the print and the season. Do your tastes change by season, or do you take things like this into consideration as well when deciding what to hang on your walls? Let us know in the comments below. I’d love to hear how you approach this subject.
Today we’re going to look at the new Silverada Pearlescent Metallic Canvas from Breathing Color. As you’ll see, Breathing Color continues to outdo themselves when it comes to bringing the fine art printing community and industry exactly what they need to create top class prints easier and better than ever before.
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As I’ve mentioned in the past, the first look that I usually get of a new type of media that I’m looking at, is the printed patch sheet that I use to create the ICC Profile that I’ll use for all future prints to that media. For the sake of any new listeners, I print mainly with a Canon iPF6350 imagePROGRAF 24″ large format printer, so as you know, any profile that I create like this is specific to this printer and media combination.
I’m always excited to see this patch sheet come out of the printer, as you can learn a lot about a new type of media just from this. You can see right off the bat that Silverada Pearlescent Silver Metallic canvas has the incredibly rich colours that we’re used to from Breathing Color, but they have once again increased the gamut with this media.
Silverada Canvas Patch Sheet
The gamut of a media and printer combination is the range of colours that can be reproduced on that paper or canvas on a specific device. Although Breathing Color media always has a huge colour gamut, you generally still find a few areas that won’t just print without a little adjustment, especially with lots of yellow-greens in the image, like the one we’ll look at in a moment, but when I soft-proofed the image I printed for my gallery wrap there were no areas of the print that were out of gamut, and that’s incredible.
Remember that to easily soft-proof an image, if you use Adobe Lightroom, you can just go the Develop module and then his the S key on your keyboard, to enter the “soft-proof” mode. You then have to select the ICC profile in the pulldown, but if I’m loosing you here, I’ve already covered soft-proofing is Episodes 215 and 319, so we won’t go over that again today.
When we print an image, we always have to consider what type of media we’ll select for a specific print, based on the image itself, and also where the image will be displayed. As you can see from the photo of the printed profile patch set, the pearlescent metallic properties of Silverada Canvas make it quite glossy and reflective, and this can cause problems if you intend to hang your print in a location with a bright light source in front of it.
Now, I have a location in my studio that I wanted to hang a print, in a dark corner that no window light shines directly into. I decided to print an image from Iceland last year to brighten up that corner of the room, and figured that the feel of the metallic canvas would give the image some luminance in that dark corner. I’ll give you a little more background shortly, but first, here’s a photo of the finished 20 x 30 inch Silverada gallery wrap, hung in my dark corner.
I purposefully didn’t shine any light onto the image, but I hope that you can tell from this photo that the resulting gallery wrap has a certain luminance that I wouldn’t have achieved in this dark corner without the subtle reflectiveness of the Silverada Canvas.
Conversely, here is the same gallery wrap hung in the middle of another wall where there is a window opposite and slightly to the right. You can see how much light the right side of the canvas is reflecting, and so I want to impress on you here the importance of selecting your media with your display location and image in mind. I would not select Silverada for this image in this location, although my Lyve and Crystalline Satin Canvas gallery wraps look great on this wall.
Silverada Canvas with Reflection
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t use Silverada in a place with a light source opposite, you just have to select the right images to print. As an example, here are a couple of photos of black and white prints that I also made to test Silverada, and the metallic reflective surface here really helps to bring them to life.
Black and White on Silverada Metallic Canvas
Black and White on Silverada Metallic Canvas
It’s always difficult to really show how good a certain media is in photos, but I’m sure you will be able to appreciate the beautiful deep blacks that you can get, as well as the quality that the texture and reflectivity of the metallic canvas brings to the images, helping the lighter areas to really shine through in contrast to the deep blacks.
Let’s get back to my main gallery wrap test once more now though, with this photo in which you can once again see the texture in the surface of the canvas. This is taken at an angle of course, so the perspective of the photo itself runs out some, as does the depth-of-field, but if you click on the image to view it large you’ll see that the canvas really adds a beautiful texture and depth to the print.
Silverada Canvas Texture close-up
Recap on the Process
I also wanted to give you a bit more information on actually working with the canvas to make your own gallery wraps. Note that from my 22 megapixel 5D Mark III files, I had to upsize the image by around 160% using onOne Software’s Perfect Resize 8, to give me a beautifully detailed large prints. I’ll be talking about Perfect Resize a little more in the coming weeks, as I review a new online print service that I’m working with at the moment, so stay tuned for that.
One of the great things about Silverada is that it doesn’t need laminating. You can laminate it with an HVLP spray gun, and this will increase the durability and longevity of the print, but with Silverada already being OBA Free, which means that it contains no Optical Brightening Agents that can shorten the longevity of media, so it’s pretty much archival, though I understand that tests are still being done.
Again, I’ll go into more detail on this in the coming weeks, but note that I also use onOne Software’s Perfect Resize because it not only enables me to easily upsize the image for large prints, but it can automatically create the mirrored borders required for these edges of the gallery wrap. It might take a bit of concentration to figure out what you’re looking at, but you can see in this image (below) that the edges of the photo have been mirrored and added to a 1.85″ border around the edges of the image in preparation for printing. This saves me from losing the edges of the actual image.
Landmannalaugar for 20×30″ with 2″ borders for a Gallery Wrap
Once printed, all you have to do is build your frame and fix it to the back of the canvas. I did a time-lapse video a couple of years ago in Episode 303 that shows you how to actually put a canvas gallery wrap together, so I won’t go through this again today, but do note that I am now stapling the backs of my gallery wraps, as opposed to trimming the surplus away as I used to do.
Silverada is not as stiff as the Crystalline Canvas that I reviewed in Episode 380 of this Podcast, so you could probably get away with simply trimming away the edges of the canvas along the back edge of the stretcher bars, but since I started to staple the backs of my gallery wraps, I think this is generally a nicer way to complete the product, and does guard against the canvas coming away from the adhesive tape over time, so I’ve continued to do this with Silverada, as you can see in this photo.
Silverada Canvas Stapled Back
You can also see how neatly the corners are finished when using the Breathing Color stretcher bars. I use the EasyWrappe Pro 1.75-inch bars, and as I mentioned earlier, this is a 20 x 30 inch gallery wrap. To create a 20 x 30 inch wrap on a 24″ wide roll media printer, you don’t have a lot of space on the sides to work with once you’ve added those almost 2″ borders, so as you can also see here, there’s only a little bit of canvas to staple to the back, but it works fine.
You can see that I also just attach a small metal bracket to either side of my gallery wraps, and then tie some string between the brackets to hang the gallery wrap. I buy this from an art/craft shop here in Tokyo called Sekaido, but I’m sure you can find something similar in your neighbourhood too.
So, to wrap this up, I’d just like to summarise that although you do have to be careful what you print, and where you’ll hang a Silverada Pearlescent Metallic Canvas gallery wrap, it’s an absolutely incredible canvas. The huge colour gamut and depth and richness of the colors are second to none, and the Breathing Color EasyWrappe system makes putting these beautiful finished products together a breeze.
Remember, if you decide to look into the Breathing Color gallery wrap system or pick up any of their other media, you can get a $20 with our code MPB20. You can even just pick up one of their sample packs to see why I am totally in love with Breathing Color products. Since I switched to Breathing Color almost four years ago now, I’ve basically stopped using media from any other manufacturer, although I used a lot up to that point, so I have a great base to make my comparisons from.
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I recently took delivery of two new types of paper and a new canvas from Breathing Color, and having profiled and worked with them over the last few weeks, today I’m going to discuss some of the attributes of these new media types and how I’m going to be introducing them into my printing workflow.
If you get all excited about these papers and run off to the Breathing Color web site to place an order before we finish, note that we have a discount code, MBP20, for a $20 discount, but I’ll give you more details on this at the end of the Podcast. The first two of these three media types have me very excited though, so I do hope you also give them a try at some point. I usually like to save the best ’til last too, but I’m bursting to tell you about Breathing Color’s new Vibrance Metallic paper, so let’s jump into that first.
Breathing Color Vibrance Metallic
Until now, there haven’t been any true metallic inkjet papers available, apart from as a selectable media at some professional printing houses. There were a few companies that created inkjet metallic paper, but it didn’t really compare, until now. In true Breathing Color style, they have totally outdone themselves with Vibrance Metallic. This paper has a depth and quality that I’ve never seen before. Sure, I’m usually a matte guy. If I’m reaching for a paper to print for myself, it’s pretty much always matte, but I have a feeling that is going to change for at least for some of my printing.
Even as I printed out the patch sheets to create ICC profiles for these three new media types, I could see that Vibrance Metallic was very special. Of course, all three of these media types that we’ll look at today have excellent color gamuts and incredibly deep blacks, but Vibrance Metallic is like off the charts when it comes to depth and punch, but it’s not just about punch. There’s a subtle beauty that brings out the best in many types of photo. I found images with large swaths of color or dark areas look best on this paper.
I tried some of my almost totally white winter scenes, which also look beautiful, but as you can see in this photo (right) the paper does have a silver look to it, which really enhances some images, but doesn’t necessarily add anything and maybe even detracts from a some snow scenes. All photos have their better matched media though, so we don’t have to try to find a single paper that will work with all of our images.
The biggest challenge I had in putting this review together was finding a way to actually shoot photos of the printed metallic paper in a way that would help you to see just how good it is, and I don’t really know if I’ve achieved that, but here is one of my favorite black and white shots that I’ve printed so far. I’ve put the paper in a position where the light from my studio window is reflecting in the top right corner, as I find that it’s these reflections that give you part of the feeling of depth. I’m really not sure that you’ll get this, but looking into this photo feels very much like peering at a slide, where you almost feel as though there’s a 3D type of depth and richness to the image.
Tokyo Metropolitan Building on Vibrance Metallic (Click to Enlarge)
Here’s another black and white photo, this one of the Cocoon building in Shinjuku, Tokyo, that I printed on both Vibrance Metallic and Pura Smooth, the paper that we’ll look at next. Here you can easily see the slightly silver metallic look of Vibrance Metallic on the left, and the slightly yellow feel to the Pura Smooth. We’ll touch on that shortly, but I wanted to note that although this looks beautiful too on the Metallic paper, for this one, I kind of still gravitate to the matte version, so we definitely still need to match our images to our paper. This is how it should be though, and this is part of the fun and excitement of printing in my opinion.
Vibrance Metallic (Left) and Pura Smooth (Right) (Click to Enlarge)
I’ve posted this double print comparison in higher resolution than normal too, so open up your browser as wide as it will go and click on the image to dive into the detail a little more.
“Houwa” on Vibrance Metallic (Click to Enlarge)
Black and white shots look great, but color images are simply beautiful on this paper too, especially ones with lots of dark patches or swaths of color. Here is a shot from the Zoujouji (temple) here in Tokyo, where some people were sitting for Houwa, a kind of buddhist sermon. I know this isn’t coming across totally in the photo, and I’ve purposefully left in some reflections from my studio, but this is probably my favorite of the images I’ve printed on Vibrance Metallic so far. As I hold the print in the window light of my studio, it’s almost as though I’m back looking through the side door at the temple again, as I was of course when I shot this. There are reflections in the image too, and I think that is a point to note when looking for images to print on metallic. Water, reflections, highly dynamic images, and I also believe HDR images will work very well on Vibrance Metallic.
It is of course available in sheets as well as rolls, and with our discount code, it really won’t break the bank to give this paper a try, and I reckon that’s the only way you’re really going to be able to fully appreciate this paper, to try it for yourself. When you look at the price of the rolls of Vibrance Metallic, you might initially think that it’s much more expensive than other roll media from Breathing Color, but do note that most rolls are 40′, whereas Vibrance Metallic is 100′ long, so you get one and a half times more paper for about a 25% higher price. It’s a steel really.
The second new paper I’ve just started using from Breathing Color is their new fine art matte paper, Pura Smooth. This is a simply beautiful paper, and as excited I am about the new metallic, matte paper is probably still going to be my favorite media. Although it lacks the punch that the high gloss metallic does, Pura Smooth is a subtle, almost sublime paper. Again, here’s a photo of a print, but it will be difficult to appreciate just how beautiful this paper is without holding it in your hand.
Deadvlei Trees on Pura Smooth (Click to Enlarge)
There used to be a time when matte papers were difficult to print on, with weak color and not very deep blacks, but those days are long gone. The color gamut of Pura Smooth is again off the chart. This was the case too with Optica One, my matte paper of choice from Breathing Color, but there is one major advantage that Pura Smooth has over Optica One, and that is that it is OBA free.
OBAs are Optical Brightening Agents, that absorb ultraviolet light that we can’t see, and emit blue/white light that makes the paper look a brighter white. This isn’t always a bad thing, and papers can still be archival certified, even if they use OBAs but they are considered to be unstable, and can break down over time, reducing the longevity of the prints, and therefore should be avoided if possible. There are other profiling concerns too, but I actually just wrote an article for a future issue of Craft & Visions PHOTOGRAPH digital magazine in which I go into more detail on all of this, so I won’t cover it here today.
Because Pura Smooth does not contain OBAs, this is part of the reason why it looks a little yellow, compared to the metallic paper, in the double black and white comparison shot that we looked at earlier. You really only notice this though, when the paper is held against a very bright white paper, or something more neutral, like Vibrance Metallic. Otherwise, the prints just have a beautiful, slightly warm tone to them, and wreak of quality.
I’ve always been very happy with Optica One, and because it is archival certified, I’ll use up my current stock before switching, but Pura Smooth is going to be my new go-to matte paper. It’s just beautiful, and OBA-Free. You can’t lose.
Crystalline Satin Canvas
The last of the tree media types that I want to talk about today is the new Breathing Color Canvas, Crystalline Satin. When I first heard about Crystalline, I was very excited, as this canvas does not need to be laminated. Although I have perfected my application of the Timeless Laminate for Breathing Color’s Lyve Canvas, it’s still extra work, and requires an extra day to let it fully dry. Crystalline canvas does not need that, and my tests show that there is no cracking along the edges of the canvas when you stretch it onto the stretcher bars, which is one of the main reasons you need to laminate.
20×30″ Crystalline Satin Gallery Wrap Using Staple Method (Click to Enlarge)
Without lamination, the edges crack and the white canvas shows through, looking horrible. In addition to that, without Lamination, canvas is usually susceptible to dirt and scratches, and cannot be wiped down with a damp cloth if it does get a little dirty. Crystalline is water resistant to a degree though, and can be wiped with a damp cloth to remove excess dust, even without lamination. You probably still don’t want to go rubbing at the printed surface for very long, or I’m sure you’ll lift the ink, but being able to give a canvas a quick wipe down is pretty much a necessity. Remember you hang gallery wraps straight on the wall without a frame or glass to protect them, so the collection of dust and sometimes a bit of grime is a real issue.
So, what’s the downside? Well, after I ordered my Crystalline canvas I found that it is not archival quality. I’m not sure if this information was just released or I just overlooked it initially, but Crystalline is only rated to 55 years before the print may start to deteriorate, and 75 years if you do apply a laminate. You can apply Timeless or Glamour II varnishes to Crystalline canvas, but it has to be applied with a HVLP Spray gun, which I don’t have or want to use. This was a bit of a blow, as the lack of necessity to laminate was the major attraction over Lyve Canvas, my current canvas of choice from Breathing Color.
The color gamut of Crystalline canvas is simply amazing. Very deep blacks and excellent color reproduction. It’s a pleasure to work with, but so is Lyve canvas. With the longevity in mind, I will continue to stock and use Lyve canvas for any and all work that I create for customers. I will use the Crystalline canvas I currently have for casual printing at home, because I’m not that concerned about the archival qualities of a home print, and the ease of use makes this canvas very attractive, but that will be the extent of my use. I really can’t put my name to anything that I’ll be sending to a customer, unless the formula is improved or a new canvas is released that doesn’t require lamination, but is still archival certified.
Another thing that you need to note about Crystalline is that you have to staple the edges to the back of the stretcher bars. I had actually intended to start doing this anyway, and had already bought a heavy duty staple gun, but I forgot to use this method when I put my first Crystalline canvas gallery wrap together. The result was that within 30 minutes of my hanging the gallery wrap on my studio wall, the edges came away from the adhesive tape on the stretcher bars as we can see here (below).
20×30″ Crystalline Canvas Gallery Wrap without Staple Method
Needless to say, this doesn’t look good, although I noticed that Breathing Color do recommend that you apply a bead of their archival glue along the edges of the gallery wrap, or to use the staple method, to stop the edges of the canvas from lifting away from the stretcher bars. I’ve confirmed that using the glue is somewhat effective, but if you are going to use this canvas, I’d strongly recommend using the staple method, as you can see in this photo (below).
Crystalline Canvas with Stapled Back
You normally want to leave a 1/2 inch of canvas to stable to the back of the stretcher bars, but as I made a 20×30″ gallery wrap with a 24″ roll printer, I have to cut it a little fine on the long edge, although it’s still enough to table the edge down with. Although I never had a problem with the edges of my old Lyve Canvas gallery wraps lifting, I actually prefer this method and will be using it going forward, so I’m not raising this as a demerit for Crystalline Canvas, but it is something that you’ll need to note if you give Crystalline a try for yourself.
Remember that Breathing Color don’t sell through camera stores etc. so if you do want to try any of their media, visit www.breathingcolor.com, and don’t forget that you can use the code MBP20 when you checkout, for a $20 discount on orders of $20 or more. This code is used to identify people that I recommend to Breathing Color, and you get a discount too, so please do use it. Note too that I only ever recommend products that I fully believe in, and as with today’s review, you will always get my honest opinion of any product I work with.
I hope this has been of some use though. I’m always excited when Breathing Color release something new, because they are continuously pushing the boundaries in inkjet media, and I even though the Crystalline canvas doesn’t hit it out of the park for me, this is still a huge step forward, as it Vibrance Metallic, and now having an OBA-Free fine art matte paper in Pura Smooth! I’m currently a very happy teddy.
Many times I’ve been asked how I sign my fine art prints, and having received an email recently from listener Tanya Mattson from Pennsylvania, USA, I decided to go into a little bit of detail on this in today’s episode. Apparently Tanya and her husband had watched the video I released recently showing the lamination process for Breathing Color Lyve Canvas, and during the intro I signed the canvas print that I would be laminating, and it was watching this that triggered the question.
So, firstly thanks for watching the video Tanya, and thanks for the question. Tanya had asked for details of the pens that I used, and also if they were archival, so let’s touch on these areas in turn.
Signing a Canvas from my Video
I have tried many pens over the years, and right now I use a variety of pens depending on the paper and purpose.
Sakura Color Products Corporation Pens
The pen that I’ve used the most and I still use sometimes is a photo signing pen from Sakura Color Products Corporation. I use this still for some matte prints, but it’s a good pen for signing gloss prints especially. It’s basically a felt-tip pen, with a large and a fine tip, on either end of the pen. I quickly took some photos to show you, and I’ll put these images into the blog post and the Enhance Podcast, so you’ll be able to see them on your iPhone or iPod, or go to my blog if you are listening at your computer.
Although pretty good for signing gloss prints, the problem I found with felt-tip pens like this is that the tips can be relatively dry, which leads to the signature looking patchy when signing matte paper like the Hahnemühle Photo Rag or textured papers like their Museum Etching fine art paper. Another option for signing matte papers, and these are archival too of course, is a good old pencil. Pencils are good for signing in the border of a matte print, but don’t work so well when you have to sign over the photograph itself, unless it’s very pale and you use a relatively soft pencil. The problem with softer pencils though is that they can smudge easily, so not the best idea.
The other pen to the left of the photo signing pen in the photo is also from Sakura Color Products Corporation, and this is another felt-tip, but is a pigment based pen, so it certainly feels better to use on archival quality fine art prints. I have three of these in different thicknesses. A very fine one, for signing small prints, and in the same vein, a medium one for medium sized prints and a pretty wide tipped one for large prints. It doesn’t look great to sign with a great bit fat pen if your print is only pretty small. The signature starts to carry too much weight in my opinion if it’s too thickly written. The same problem happens with these Pigma Graphic pens though, in that they tend to be a little on the dry side for signing fine art matte paper.
Uni-Ball Signo Pigment Gel Pens
For my matte prints, and also for the canvases that I’ve recently started doing, I’ve settled on a pigment based gel ink range of pens from Mitsubishi, under the name Uni-ball Signo. These don’t have the problem where they dry up while writing, even on matte papers, and they push out enough ink to be able to easily write on heavily textured canvas, as you will have seen in the video that I released as episode 164, in which I showed you the Breathing Color Lyve Canvas lamination process.
As for whether or not these gel pens are archival, I’ve never been able to find conclusive evidence that they are, but I have found numerous forums and artists web sites discussing people using them, and have not been able to find any threads discussing them discoloring or hurting the paper in any way. Now, of course, this is unlikely to happen straight away, but also helping me to make up my decision to use these pens is the fact that I actually bought a set of these pens in various colors for signing prints some seven years ago, and I still have some old prints signed with the same pens from that time, and they haven’t altered at all with time.
The ink in the original set of pens did dry up though, so when I was looking for a pen to sign my new gallery canvas prints recently, I had to buy some more, but on searching for pigment gel ink pens, I ended up at the exact same make and model that I’d bought seven years ago, so I checked my old prints, found no problems, and went with these pens. Seven years might not be a long time in the scheme of things, but I’m pretty happy to bet that they will not show any problems over the long term.
I didn’t buy a whole range of colors this time, as my original idea of using a color that complimented the print went out of favor in my mind after the initial thought. What I did buy though is the three colors that we can see in the photo here, which is black, silver and white.
Black is my default color for most prints, as it’s understated and doesn’t scream for attention. This is the color that I used to sign the print that I showed in the video in episode 164, and I have also started using this to sign in the border of matte fine art prints, as we can see here.
Signature with Stamp
The white pen is great for signing on black or in very dark corners of prints, as we can see in this next photo, which is the corner of a canvas print for my December exhibition here in Tokyo.
White Signature on Black
I also bought a silver pen, but in reality, it’s a nice light to mid-tone grey, which I’ve started using for some black and white prints, like the long exposure of the Towada Lake with the wooden jetty that we see here. These pigment gel pens are only $1.50 so I figured I’d pick one up, and I think it looks quite good on the darker grey. Again, I want the signature to be noticeable, but not scream my name out to people, and so the three colors that I have right now seem like a good range to have.
Silver on Grey
I’m not sure if these can be bought outside of Japan with the same name but as I say, my pens are from Mitsubishi and they are called Uni-ball Signo. The part number for the black is UM-153 .24. The .24 seems to indicates the color. The white pen has a .1 on it and the silver pen is .26. I also have a UM-151 .24 which is a fine tip black for smaller prints. I haven’t yet been able to find a medium tip, but I’m keeping my eye out for these, to complete my range. Note though that as I said earlier, these same pens that I bought some seven years ago dried up while I wasn’t using them, so you probably don’t want to go crazy and buy a whole range of these, unless you are going to be using them regularly.
Tanya also mentioned in her mail that the gel pens she’d found tend to leak too much ink, so I did just want to mention that I haven’t noticed these pens leak as such, though they do put out a lot of ink once you start writing. I find this a benefit when signing matte prints or the canvas, as I mentioned earlier, but another trick that I use is to always keep a piece of canvas or matte paper hanging around to do a practice signature before I actually sign the print. This not only helps to condition the pen before signing a full sized print, but it also helps me to write my signature more smoothly. When you’ve just printed out a 24×36 inch canvas, costing around $17 just for materials, the last thing you want to do ruin it with a messed up signature, and believe me, I’ve come close a few times. I always get nervous when I’m signing prints, so the little practice beforehand really helps.
Before we finish, I did also just want to touch on that age old question of whether or not to actually sign the prints in the first place. Well, for my December Exhibition, I am going to be signing all of the canvas wraps, because I really have to sign them before I laminate them, so that the signature is locked in there, as part of the piece.
I’m still undecided as to whether to sign my Hahnemühle Photo Rag and Museum Etching fine art prints, as these can easily be signed afterwards, and I generally like to give the customer the option of having me sign it or not. Now, I am going to add that I personally would prefer to sign my prints. I’d like to think that my name will be carried with the print, and I’d also like to think that anyone that was willing to part with good money to own one of my prints, would also like it signed. Even on my Web site, where people can order prints, I have the signature as an option that can be turned off, but in practice, I don’t recall anyone ever actually ordering a print that didn’t want it signing. I guess with this in mind, and the fact that I personally would prefer to sign them, making this an option is more of a statement of modesty than anything else.
I probably should also let you know before we finish that the signature that I use to sign my prints is not my everyday signature. I’m sure if someone was to analyze this signature they’d say that the huge underlining was a display of over confidence or conceitedness. To be honest, that’s totally intentional. I think that the very act of putting artwork out there for viewing and more important for purchase requires confidence, and a certain amount of “look at me”. With that in mind, when I started to sign my prints, I created this new signature just for that purpose, and I think that’s perfectly OK.
There is also the question of whether to sign over the image, in the border, or even on the matte. Again, I vary what I do depending on the work. For canvas wraps, there is no border, so I find an area of the bottom right corner to sign. For fine art prints with a border, I generally sign in the border, but again, I make this an option when purchasing the print. If the client wants to frame right up to the edge of the printed area, I have no problem with signing over the photo itself. I have also signed the matte, but when I sign the matte, I also like to sign the back of the piece with a pencil, in case the matte is changed at any point in the future.
I would also like to add that I always include an insert with my prints, telling the user when and where the image was taken, and on what printer and paper it was printed, and with what inks. Whether this is totally necessary is up to you, but I think if nothing else it makes the presentation more professional. For framed pieces, these inserts will be dropped into the back of the frame, to save them getting lost, unless they are intentionally removed of course.
Following some great communication with the Breathing Color Team over the last week, here’s a video to share a new process for laminating Breathing Color Lyve Canvas with their Timeless Laminate.
This is pretty much where I’d got with my initial experimentation, though now, based on new advice from Breathing Color, we apply the laminate with the roller, rather than pouring it onto the canvas and spreading it out from there.
You can also view the embedded video on your iPad, thanks to a recent Vimeo update!
OK, so following more experimentation, I’m really pleased to tell you that this process is now so easy that a monkey could make a good job of it. The remaining problem of the white flakes of congealed laminate that stuck to the canvas and ruined it during some of my earlier attempts was caused by the foam rollers that I bought from Breathing Color. I got some different rollers, ones with short hairs on them, not made of foam, and they worked a treat.
The application was easier, and I was able to laminate four 24×36 inch canvas prints with one roller. I then went on to laminate two more fine art prints and two more smaller canvases as an experiment, and I did not see the white flakes at all. I was also able to roll a little longer to work out the lines that sometimes appear on the canvas, but it wasn’t necessary to roll any of the four canvases for more than a minute or two. They have now dried and look great! I’m now totally happy with my decision to buy into the Breathing Color Lyve Canvas and Timeless Matte Laminate system.
Thanks again to the guys at Breathing Color for their incredible customer service, patience and help, as we worked through the earlier problems.
Breathing Color have also kindly provided a $20 discount for MBP community members. Enter the code MBP20 when checking out for $20 off any order of $20 or more.
If you haven’t tried Breathing Color products yet this might be a great time to try. For example, you could pick up a roll of 17″ x 20′ Lyve Canvas for just $9 with this discount! You could also add a pint of Timeless Laminate too, and give the process a try for yourself. If you go for the Matte Timeless though, don’t buy the foam rollers from Breathing Color! 🙂