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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Canvas Printing And Gallery Wraps II

In my last post, I started to describe my experienece learning to print on canvas.  To summarize, I was really quite pleased with the appearance of my first print on Breathing Color's Lyve canvas, and had reached the point where I was going to discuss applying the varnish. Fear of having to deal with varnishing was one of the biggest reasons that I put off trying to print on canvas for so long; I suspect there are many would-be canvas printers that are likewise concerned.  The long and the short of it is this. Yes, varnishing is a bit of a pain in the butt for folks who are printing in their spare time.....but in the end the time spent is well worth it.

First of all, why varnish?  Varnishing provides a layer of protection to the bare print since it will not be behind glass.  It seals in the ink and prevents it from rubbing off and from cracking when the canvas is folded to make the gallery wrap.  It also protects the print from UV induced fading.  Finally, an added benefit is that it tends, to some degree, to deepen the balcks, saturate the colors, and give the canvas more 'depth'.

On to the specifics.  There are basically three ways to apply varnish: from a spray can, via a roller, and using an HVLP spray system.  I won't touch on using a spray can since Breathing Color recommends their Timeless (or Glamour II) varnish for use with Lyve canvas, and this can only be applied via roller or HVLP.

I was initially planning to use the roller method (Breathing color supplies a teaching video on how to apply their varnish using a foam roller) despite the fact that my research suggested that the method seemed to have a significant learning curve to get really nice and consistent results. My reason for planning on using the roller was that it seemed like there would be an even steeper learning curve to using an HVLP gun application....and, besides, the HVLP system recommended by Breathing Color costs close to $600.  Nonetheless, I decided to go with HVLP.

What made me change my mind?  Two things.  The first was that after doing some internet based forum research (ain't the internet amazing), I found that people had succesfully used Timeless applied with a Wagner $68 HVLP gun without any problem whatsoever.  In addition, even though there was a learning curve, it was actually pretty easy to do and gave, for the most part, better and more consistent results than using a roller.  So off I went to Home Depot to get my $68 Wagner HVLP varnish applicator.

To be honest, at first I really didn't know what I was doing and it probably would have been wise to fill the sprayer with water and use a piece of newspaper as a target to get the feel of how to apply the spray.  Instead, I went right to it with a canvas print and it was a disaster.  But, having made a ton of mistakes with this first canvas, I also thought through how to avoid problems during the next attempt.  Reading through this thread about how to correctly apply the varnish with a Wagner HVLP sprayer was also extremely helpful.   Breathing Color also has a video about the spray application, though the thread I noted above was actually even more helpful.

The second and subsequent canvases went really well and I got a beautiful, smooth, professional looking finish.  Allow me to give a few tips that are very basic, but which I found quite useful:

1)  Adjust the little plastic screw on the trigger so that when you fully depress the trigger you get just beyond where the liquid starts to spray out (the liquid doesn't start to spray even when you can hear the air turbine until you depress the trigger to a certain level).  This will ensure that you get a fine, light mist.  This is particularly important for the initial coat or two.

2)  Tape or clip your canvas to a supportive board (at all 4 corners) when spraying, as the 'wind' generated by the gun will blow the canvas around a bit when coming in from the sides.  You don't want it flopping around.  I mount the canvas to a piece of pegboard and then put the pegboard on an easel.

3)  Start spraying well to one side or above the canvas (depending on what direction you are applying the coat) and, after you have a good flow going, make your pass across the canvas and don't stop until you have gone past the other side.  I just start my next pass without stopping at all. 

4)  Some folks recommended using a horizontal or vertical spray pattern.  I found that I got the best results just using a round pattern.

5)  Spray straight at the canvas....in other words don't use your elbow as a fixed anchor and go side to side from there.  Instead, actually move your whole arm across the front of the canvas so that the spray is always approaching the canvas from a perpendicular viewpoint (helps obtain an even coat).

6)  First spray horizontally and then vertically to ensure complete even coverage. I wait 2 or 3 minutes between the directions and then repeat about 15 minutes later and then again 15 minutes after that.

6)  A finer, lighter coat is better.  To get a fine coat, I had to stand further back from the canvas than suggested in the teaching video above (which was not done using a Wagner).

7)  A finer, lighter coat is better.

8)  Did I mention that a finer, lighter coat is better?

9)  Clean the spray gun after using the varnish so that residual varnish doesn't dry and clog the gun.  The unused portion of the varnish can be poured back into the original container.  Breathing Color has assured me that the shelf life after opening is a year.

Varnishing sounds complicated and tricky.  It's not.  just give yourself one or two test canvases to practice on first.

This post was a bit longer than I had anticipated, so I think I will save the gallery wrap procedure for next time.