Updated: Mar 9
There are so many canvases for artists to choose from for their work, and newer art collectors sometimes don't know all the terminology about paintings or the different types of canvases and frames on the market. Whether you are an artist or a collector, you will want to decide if you want to invest more in a gallery wrap or a frame. If you are planning to buy premade canvases for your art, I'll be giving you some tips on going with gallery wrap canvas options vs framing your art. If you're a collector and you want to know more about the language and descriptions associated with the work you are considering, you might find this helpful in making decisions about the art you purchase. It will also help you to understand price differences on artwork, because materials costs differ dramatically .
What is a Gallery Wrapped Canvas?
Standard prestretched canvases from stores are factory made. They are about 1/2 inch deep and can have staples on the sides or the back side of the canvas inner frame, depending on the quality of the brand. The inner frame of a blank gallery wrap canvas is at least 3/4 " and up to 3" deep, with the canvas carefully wrapped around the sides - with corners mitered - and staples are either on the back or invisible. The Edge Canvases by Creative Mark have no visible staples at all, as the edges of the canvas are embedded with a "tuck and roll" construction. This keeps the canvases neat and orderly looking from the front , sides, and back. Beyond basic instruction, what makes a true gallery wrap is when the artist paints the work with the art literally wrapping around all four edges. This gives the piece a seamless and somewhat 3D look, depending on how deep the canvas is. A good gallery wrap canvas can cost you twice as much and more as a standard canvas, depending on size and quality. Look for solid deep inner framing, stabilization to prevent warping, well folded corners, and beefy weight canvas. For artists, most wil come pre-primed but you can get bare canvases and apply the gesso yourself. Prices vary by supplier. Artists can have business accounts and get discounts off retail price with some companies.
Cost Factors and Value
I always tell both artists and buyers to choose the best they can afford for their budget.
Artists: If you're going to buy a canvas for an important piece of art, buy the best. Gallery wrap canvases are more expensive than standard canvases, but they are also much more sturdy, the canvas is generally higher quality and very well stretched straight from the factory, and your artwork will look much more polished and professional. If you prefer the look of a frame, or you work on paper and must frame it, look for quality framing options. If you are putting art on paper into a show, the gallery will have requirements for you to meet. Basic show frames are acceptable. Gallery wrapped artwork is very popular in shows.
Collectors: If you have a piece of work to frame, shop around for something that really suits the artwork and your designated space. Nothing ruins the look of a nice piece of art like a cheap looking frame, especially if it doesn't vibe with the artwork. Likewise, excellent framing will elevate the look of your work and professionally framed art can make an ordinary piece of work look magnificent. Also, remember that works on paper of significant value should be framed behind a type of glass that offers UV protection to prevent fading. It's generally best to not hang works on paper in very sunny locations. Pastel paintings need to be protected behind this kind of glass in a frame. Works on canvas done in mediums such as oil or acrylics would only involve framing, not glass. Metal frames provide a sleek, lightweight, and cost effective look. Wood frames come in many styles and colors allowing you to customize your artwork to create the look you want in your space. Stay away from plastic. There are also floating frames that surround the artwork but leave the edges of the artwork showing. This is a very contemporary look. The most contemporary look is a gallery wrapped canvas painting with a wide edge, which can be anywhere from 1-3" deep.
You can see examples of gallery wrapped canvas paintings below . Notice how the depth allows the painting to wrap the edge with surpise details along the sides. A true gallery wrap painting shows the image continuing around the edge, rather than a solid colored painted edge.
"Community Harvest" by Mary E D Ryan
Why Choose a Gallery Wrapped Canvas?
Artists: It's all about the materials, the quality and longevity as a surface for your art, and the way it presents your art to the world. Gallery wraps do a better job of that than a standard canvas. A good framing job will also help you put your best foot forward if that fits your art style. I'm personally a contemporary artist working with acrylics on canvas, so I prefer gallery wraps for my work so I can present it unframed, because framing tends to detract from my art style.
Collectors: If you are buying a gallery wrapped canvas painting, you don't have the expense of framing it, and you will have a much more contemporary look. A gallery wrapped base is a much higher quality surface for the art, so you will pay more for it, but it's worth the cost. If your home is more conservative or old world, go for the framing that best suits your space.
ART Collector Tips
Fair Warning!!! Many companies advertise on different platforms that they are selling you a gallery wrapped canvas "piece of art" and they are using the same tags as original hand painted art, except it's often NOT original art. There are good and honest companies out there, but others will mislead you. Have you ever tried to search for an original painting on Pinterest? It's surprisingly hard. You have to search for a while and wade through all the prints to find the artists selling original work. BUYER BEWARE! Do not be mislead into buying what is a mass produced factory made art PRINT on canvas that's then wrapped onto a frame unless you actually want a gallery wrapped PRINT. Sometimes they are hand embellished, but it's still a PRINT. Hopefully it's hand embellished by the artist, not the printer. The price should reflect that it's a print, not an original. Pay attention to the descriptions to be sure you are getting what you are paying for. On my most recent hunt for original art on Pinterest, despite being a very experienced artist, I was having trouble getting to the heart of some of the posted products to determine exactly what they were selling.
To be clear, I'm not saying prints are bad! I sell prints myself. I'm only saying that you should be thoroughly reading product descriptions to not get ripped off . You should be receiving original art if the price is higher. If the price is high, but it says it's a print in the detailed description, I would reconsider and carefully review the details of your purchase. What is behind the price tag?Hand embellished prints and limited edition prints will be higher than regular prints, but not drastically higher, and never anywhere near the price of the original. Gallery wrapped prints on canvas will cost more than prints on paper. Size makes a big difference in price. Paper print prices will go up the moment you add matting and framing, but most are very affordable. You can go to the original and long standing art print company, Fine Art America, to see what I mean about typical and proper pricing structures on reproductions with framing options.
As an artist, I have been really surprised and saddened by the number of factory made products that have recently flooded Pinterest and Etsy. Those used to be wonderful places to see and buy original art. You can also find both originals and prints as well as printed products on a variety of Print on Demand sites with online marketplaces. While these POD companies can be good for artists, there are also substantial drawbacks. For artists, it's incredibly important to make those decisions after doing a lot of research on what is best for your art business. When you shop an artist site directly, you can be sure to receive complete information on what is available, exactly what the product is, and a fair market price for it. Artists often have work that is out in shows and galleries, so not everything on a website will be availabe to buy online immediately. Artist inventory is always moving.
Why is a Gallery Wrapped Canvas More Expensive?
There is more wood involved in the production of Gallery wrapped canvases, and the price of wood has gone way up. They are also typically better built with higher quality canvas and primer. Good gallery wraps are archival quality - this means it will not leech acid into your paint, which changes the colors over time. Higher quality means the canvas will also have a better "tooth" to grip the paint. Artists can add gesso to their heart's delight and get right into painting as soon as it dries, with no worries about framing. Consider though that there will be no enhancement due to framing (which can be quite dramatic). All the drama has to come from your painting. It has to have power all on it's own. Adding some texture helps with adding power. More on that subject coming in a future blog.
A standard canvas uses the cheapest wood, is not reinforced, has lower grade canvas, and only the thinnest sprayed on coat of primer. A lot of extra prep has to be done by the artist to make a cheap canvas more stable, and that only goes so far. The larger the size the more risk of warping. Framing often enhances a standard canvas because it gives it some bulk and umph. Yes, that's a word! Artists, weigh the value of your time and the cost of more materials against the price of the higher quality canvases.
That being said, I sometimes still do the extra prep work and I still use some standard canvases. It's always on the really small works I do,in the gifting category, or on the more experimental pieces where I might not even like it and end up painting over it later. I never buy canvases with side staples. If I make my own canvases I am careful in the stretching process with folding the corners and even staple placement on the back of the stretcher frame. If you are particular enough, you can make a cheaper standard canvas look very good. Some of those tips are here and here. Look at this example of using a standard canvas of 1/2 " depth. Notice how the design wraps the edges side to side, above and below:
When to buy Standard and Basic Pre-Stretched Canvases and Why
Let's face it, not everyone has the budget to buy the higher end supplies right away, or maybe you want some cheap canvses to experiment with and explore a technique or idea. Go for it. I've always got some around for just that reason. It's also perfect for art teachers when providing affordable supplies for students. A lot of collectors start out with small inexpensive pieces on standard grade canvases.
When Framing a Piece of Art is the Best Choice
Some pieces are better off framed. I've done some very large pieces that are much more stable in custom frames than they would have been without the added stability and protection frames offer (especially the corners) of artworks on either canvas or the new popular wood substrates sold these days.
Artist Mary E D Ryan with "Divine Portal"
Determining your Canvas choices Based on Art Style or Decor
Even art with an edge can be emphasized by framing that enhances the work and boldens the statement, such as this example by my artist friend Vince Turner. Vince is a phenomenal sketch artist who does realistic colored pencil work and lots of commissions. You can find him at Vince Artz on Facebook and @vinceartz_ on Instagram. He's also a very talented photographer.
In the Gallery Setting
Galleries are specific about how they will allow you to present your work. Buyers want to see the work in it's best light, and not falling off the wall. Everything must be shown at it's best. Visitors will see gallery wrap paintings and many different types of framing at gallery shows. Expensive framing is not required, but it helps make the work look good. Buyers can always get a piece custom reframed to suit their taste.
The one pro+con about framing is that a highly customized framing might suit the decor but not the taste of the masses. Here's an example of a refurbished antique print in a custom hand made frame for a child's room. It might never fit anywhere else but where it was designed to go. Note: The original artist is unknown because the print was damaged, but the initials are "CP". The print was restored with acrylics. If you know who the original artist is, please do tell!
In conclusion, buy up, not down. Or should I say, do your best to not be cheap. As in everything, you get what you pay for, and the best things come to those who pay more. On the subject of pricing: artists charge for their supplies and materials, including canvases and or framing, hardware, labor, overhead, and specialized skillset. Please note that the word "overhead" covers multiple costs to produce art and bring it to the market. The more evolved the artist is, the higher the price, because you are also paying for the experience of years of trial and error, acquired knowledge, and success. Expect to also be paying for the gallery commission. If buying online directly from an artist, expect to pay for order processing, packaging, handling, and shipping as well as the appropirate sales tax.