Looking around and comparing canvas printing online is enough to make ones head spin. Everyone, EVERYONE says the same thing, the same buzzwords. "Museum quality canvas", "Quality canvas", "best canvas", "highest quality canvas", and many other variations all claiming to be the best
So then why does one place charge $7.99, and another charge $59.00 or more for a "museum quality" canvas? It's all canvas with an image printed on it, isn't it?
Let's start with the different types of printers, as this would be a good starting point to separate one place from the next, and see which claims are even remotely accurate to be able to claim museum quality.
Latex printers are typically what are being used on the cheap end of canvas printing. The places that are competing solely on price in the mass market will be drawn to latex inks. Commercial shops printing low quality large run graphics will also gravitate to this type of printing. Using a water base, the carriers for the pigment are either latex, or resin-based.
For signage applications you get decent graphics. As far as photographic reproduction, and colour accuracy, this would not be an appealing option when going for quality output. Personally, as a photographer before starting Kuva, I would not touch latex with my own work, and as such it was not a consideration as an option when starting Kuva. You will often see complaints of colour accuracy, colour hues throughout the print, along with other issues as a symptom of the low cost structure.
Often, you will see latex printed canvas comparing their "regular" pricing to the high end of aqueous, and then marking down their pricing from 65-90% daily. We would suggest when seeing this sort of discount structure to check which printing method is being used, most likely you will find latex inks.
Despite the word "UV flatbed", this is not an indication of UV protection, but rather, the ink is cured using UV light. UV flatbed printing is where you will find many graphic applications on rigid substrates, along with direct printing to acrylic, direct printing to metal, and other substrates such as wood.
You will not find many canvas coming off of UV flatbed printers, as it is not great for flexible print media. UV printing is not on the same level of image quality as either solvent or aqueous. If you ever have an acrylic print on the larger size, have a peek at the dot patterns and take a close look at the resolution and you will see what I mean. Direct to metal prints also look somewhat flat as a result, although the quality at the top end of machines is getting better, these cost about half a million dollars to get that improved quality.
Solvent and eco-solvent
Solvent printers make for very durable scratch resistant product that is great for applications such as vehicle wraps, banners, and outdoor applications. The solvent essentially etches the surface of the material to have it bond strongly to the media being printed on.
With the 2 types of solvent, the older solvent machines need to have excellent ventilation, as the fumes can be quite strong, and the ink itself is horrible for the environment, as are the fumes. So logically you would think eco-solvent is the newer environmentally friendly version of this, which is not entirely correct. They do have lower VOC's, are safer indoors, and require less ventilation than older solvent machines. In the umbrella of eco-solvent, there is a huge range in quality, with different machines having a different quantity of ink cartridges.
There is only 1 machine as of today that can come close to the imaging quality of aqueous, and that is an Epson s80600 utilizing the full range of inks. ...yep...1 that I would use, and that would be for canvas only. Still not equal as far as the fine art papers go. The cost is very similar to aqueous, but with a slightly lower media and ink cost. These are geared towards high production runs for large format graphics.
To get canvas quality approaching but not equal to that of aqueous, the media itself needs to be on the higher end which closes the gap in pricing relatively quickly.
FINALLY! Otherwise known as giclée, archival pigment prints, and commonly referred to as inkjet by photographers (although technically all of the above are inkjet). This is the only printing method that can be considered museum quality. These are the printers with inks that are rated to last from 100 - 200 years, and are far superior for imaging quality compared to all options above.
This printing media requires an inkjet receptive media in order for the ink to bond to the print surface, so naturally adds a bit of cost, however, the imaging quality, tones, and colour rendition as a result are at the top, and unmatched. Any printing method other than this one claiming museum quality is not being entirely honest with themselves or others. Even within the aqueous realm, there is still the particular type of canvas material itself to consider. That's a post for another time however. We will say our focus is on the high performance end of aqueous, so select our print media with that in mind.