May 02, 2010
Printing photos on canvas is one of those "throwback" trends that is suddenly all the rage right now. There are lots of reasons for this both from an esthetic and a financial point of view. For one, people just love how canvas prints look.
Yes, that stretched, three-dimensional effect makes canvas photos look like paintings (duh!) which is appealing to anyone seeking to "art up" their home or studio. What's also nice about canvas prints is their simplicity: no framing necessary; no glass required; no mattes. Just bang a nail in the wall and hang your stretched canvas photo print.
Of course, if you are printing and stretching canvas photos on your own via an inkjet printer, you know there's nothing instant about it. In fact, it can be a real pain. To help ease that pain—while also separating you from your hard-earned dollars—many labs and Web sites now offer canvas photo printing and business is, reportedly, booming.
Along with selling canvas prints directly to consumers, labs have been making a play towards pros—particularly wedding and portrait photographers—who might want to offer the service to their clients. One such online lab that came onto my radar recently is called YourPhotoOnCanvas. com which had a booth at both the PMA and WPPI shows earlier this year.
The site has mainly targeted consumers up until now—it does back-end canvas print fulfillment for Costco—but it recently launched a Pro service offering stretched canvas photo prints at reasonable "wholesale" prices. I recently tried out YourPhotoOnCanvas.com's Pro service to produce both color and black-and-white canvas prints of my work and here's what I thought.
While the market for online services that print photos on canvas has gotten rather crowded lately, YourPhotoOnCanvas.com (YPOC) sees its experience as a main selling point. The site's owner John Doe, whom I spoke with at PMA, told me he's worked in canvas, inks and acrylics for over 20 years with his previous company Bulldog Products.
According to Doe, YPOC uses proprietary canvases and inks that add extra color, luminance and texture to the finished product. Doe developed those proprietary materials and techniques at another company of his called Harvest Productions.
Other benefits to YPOC's canvas prints include a tidy stretching method that uses minimal stapling. YPOC had thought about adding a black cloth backing to its pro canvases but after feedback from photographers who liked the exposed finish as it was, the company decided not to change the product. (A good idea since it makes the canvases very easy to hang.)
Photographers also have the option of badging their finished canvas prints on the back with their name, company name or Web site. The pro section of YPOC's site is separate from the consumer section but the company has not yet created a way for pros to add the service to their own sites. That's coming by the end of this summer, Doe told me. As he explained it, YPOC will be able to build its service directly into a photographer's site so clients won't know that the canvas prints are provided by a third party.
Packaging is also top-notch. My canvas test prints—including a 30 x 40-inch monster—arrived only a few days after I ordered them in well-wrapped, trim boxes that were free of any rips or tears. (That's partially thanks to Fed Ex; YPOC's fastidious packaging didn't leave it much room for error.)
The prints are produced in YPOC's custom-built, 50,000-square-foot factory in Southern California. The company has 63 employees and according to Doe, canvas prints are churned out seven days a week with turnaround time averaging three days. Sizes run the gamut and include 2:3 and 3:4 aspect ratio offerings, along with Square and Panoramic dimensions. The largest canvas size is a whopping 40 x 60 inches.
Doe's printing team can handle any ICC color profile that's thrown at them and pros are offered attentive customer service—aka "handholding"—if necessary.
Pro "wholesale" pricing—which has no minimum order requirement—is also extremely competitive. My 30 x 40-inch canvas print cost $119.95 while YPOC's consumer MSRP for the same size was set at $215. Meanwhile, a 16 x 24-inch print I ordered cost $54.95 wholesale with the consumer MSRP at $100. Those sound like pretty good margins to me.
Of course, to qualify for that wholesale pricing you have to be a real professional photographer. (You didn't think they'd give the general public such a great deal, did you?)
To get a pro account with the discounted pricing there's a rather routine application form that takes no more than a day to process. (When I applied for pro status with YPOC, my account took only a few hours to get approved.)
After applying, YPOC checks your photography business Web site and company description to ensure you're actually making a living as a pro and intend to resell your photos on canvas. YPOC doesn't review your work to make a judgment, just to understand your style to help with print quality. If YPOC can't determine whether a photographer qualifies through the info provided, they'll send an e-mail requesting more detail. Applicants who are rejected can apply again at a later date or contact YPOC directly and plead their case.
Like I said, not a big deal really and once I was approved, launching my pro account was relatively simple. I wasn't a huge fan of YPOC's basic Web interface which seemed designed more for consumers than pros. In fact it didn't look much different from the consumer side of the site, with images of chubby babies and family snapshots prevailing.
It's clean and straightforward, which isn't a bad thing especially if you're in a hurry. The process is broken down into five parts: Select Size; Upload; Edit; Checkout; and Payment. I immediately got hung up at the upload section, which is an area I think YPOC could improve upon.
No image size or file requirements are listed here—just a browse button—and after waiting 15 minutes or so for my 86.5 mb .psd file to go through, the site reset itself and I had to start over. The second time didn't work either so I got in touch with my PR contact for YPOC who directed me to the Frequently Asked Questions page which said the system only supports JPEG files under 15 mb. YPOC also recommends that you save the files at 150 DPI. YPOC says it's found that sharp prints can be created easily from 150 DPI JPG images because the company uses "the latest in RIP (raster image processing) technology for sizing and output."
While that may be true, it shouldn't be hard to add that info to the Upload page to cut down on confusion. (Just a suggestion.)
Once I sized my images correctly and saved them as JPEGs, I had no problems uploading them to the site. After they uploaded, the Edit page showed me a thumbnail of my photos with a bounding box displaying the parts of the image where the canvas would wrap. Here you can choose between having a standard edge, which wraps your photo; or a black edge, which cuts it off. You can also convert your shot to black and white or sepia but I doubt pros will bother to do that at this stage.
Next, it's time to check out, at which point you're offered the option to allow YPOC to do "Minor Color Adjustments" on your shots before printing. This is a free service and since YPOC doesn't let you submit instructions to its pre-press department and doesn't give you a proof, it's a way of saying: "I leave it to you."
Some pros who are particular about controlling every aspect of the print process (read: anal) might not like relinquishing the reins but I let them loose and was happy with the results.
WORKS OF ART
I had YPOC create three canvas prints of my images for the test: a bright and colorful shot of an acrobatic clown floating in mid-air which was printed at 16 x 24 inches; a black-and-white close-up of a classic Triumph motorcycle also printed at 16 x 24 inches; and a moody, low-light color shot of a horse coming through the mist which was made into the jumbo 30 x 40-inch canvas print.
I was pleased with all the results and it showed me how much range YPOC had in its print capability and what a flexible medium canvas was for photography. The image of the clown was photojournalistic in style and while the print looked sharp with dynamic, eye-popping color it was probably the least successful visually of the three since the photo was so literal. (This was not a fault of YPOC but rather of the choice of subject matter.)
The black-and-white close-up of the Triumph's engine was more successful—it was abstract enough to be geometrically intriguing but detailed so you wanted to inspect it closer—and YPOC did a great job reproducing the contrasty dark and light tones.
The moody shot of the horse, which looked like a painting even before it was printed on canvas, was the best of the lot and I was pleasantly surprised at how well YPOC did in reproducing the blotchy, purple lighting in the mist surrounding the charging horse. A real winner.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you've been intrigued by the idea of printing your photos on canvas but don't want to go through the hassle of learning to do it yourself, there are a lot of options out there right now from local labs to international Web services. Although YourPhotoOnCanvas.com is still in the process of beefing up its pro services, including creating a way to let you seamlessly offer canvas print fulfillment to clients right on your Web site, the company's print quality, turnaround time and low pricing are among the best we've seen. And since there's no overhead or inventory to deal with on your end, getting on board and trying out this online canvas print service requires little investment. If your clients like the results—and based on my testing I think they will—you'll likely be coming back for more real soon.
Pros: Excellent print quality on attractive, stretched canvas; fast turnaround time; delivery comes in trim, well-packaged boxes; low wholesale pricing.
Cons: Web interface is very basic and seems designed for consumers; image file size and format requirements should be mentioned on the upload page; way to build print service into photographers' Web sites not available yet.
Price: $29.95-$349.95 (depending on size of print)
©Ali EnginFaces Portrait Photography Competition
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