Quality and Craftsmanship: Guild Canvas Review

Betsy Finn

How do you stand apart from your competition? If the answer includes words like quality, craftsmanship, luxury, and durability, then you’ll appreciate the unique stance of Guild Canvas Co. Guild Canvas continues the tradition of making photographic canvases as pioneered in the 1960s by the family of the late Ken Whitmire, M.Photog.Cr., F-ASP. Guild has an impressive following of photographers. If you join the company’s Facebook group, you’ll see some big names who offer Guild canvases to their clients.

Looking solely at numbers, a comparable canvas with painted gel strokes from one of the well-known professional labs costs 20% to 40% less than those produced by Guild. After researching, asking questions, and evaluating samples, I have a better idea of why Guild canvases are a bigger investment: quality, craftsmanship, and personalized service.

Betsy Finn
Layers of UV lacquer are applied after the image is fixed on the canvas.

Using the same portrait for 8x10-inches canvases, I compared the quality from Guild to another large pro lab. Both had unfinished edges, so I could see how the image, protective coatings, and brush strokes were applied to the canvases. The lab canvas arrived in days, while the Guild canvas took several weeks to arrive. Rather than being delivered in cardboard boxes with shrink-wrapped plastic, the Guild canvas arrived in a custom wood-framed shipping crate. The canvas stretcher of the Guild canvas is thicker, and is stapled more thoroughly. The unfinished canvas portion of the lab canvas feels tacky or sticky and stiff, while the Guild canvas feels natural, soft, and pliable. The stretched part of the Guild canvas is thicker and tighter, with less give than the lab canvas, which, upon inspection, had some bonding gaps at the edge. Finally, the back of the Guild canvas includes an authenticity certificate.

Betsy Finn
These images compare the quality of a lab canvas (the thinner canvas on top) with one made by Guild Canvas. Guild also adds a certificate of authenticity with the craftsman and artist's signatures.

Individual craftmanship begins when you order a canvas from Guild. The stretcher bars are built for the size canvas you need. The staff prepares the handmade (textured natural-fiber linen) canvas, removing impurities and scraping down the texture where the faces in a portrait image will be. After the photo is printed on Kodak Endura paper, the backing is stripped and heat-activated glue bonds the emulsion to the canvas. Finally, the canvas is stretched tightly on the stretcher, and layers of UV protective lacquer are applied by hand, including brush strokes in either a standard pattern or following the unique details for the image. In custom brushwork, Guild’s goal is subtle added texture, though some photographers apply their own additional clear or colored surface work.

The resulting canvas is as tight as a drum, can withstand a tennis ball bounce, and is as close to indestructible as a canvas can be. Guild Canvas owners Tavis and Amy Guild provide a bit more detail as to why bonded canvas is better. For instance, some of the color richness is typically lost in the crevices of the canvas when you print directly onto it (by inkjet or giclee methods). And when you don’t have to run the canvas through a printer, you can use thicker canvas with natural texture (with the surface smoothed down where faces will end up).

Betsy Finn
The artist applies strokes that fit with the image, and the canvas is smoothed where faces will appear.

Personalized service is a biggie for me, as I want to have a good working relationship with my vendors. I got the standard new-client welcome to Guild, which included a goodie package (socks, candy, and a brochure on how canvases are made). Beyond that, Guild has a customer resource folder with tips for getting started with pricing (worksheets, etc.) and explanations of how to discuss the quality of this luxury product with portrait clients.

As an additional service, once a year, Guild takes orders to create marketing videos with a canvas order. This value-added service is top-notch. While a canvas order is in the process of being created, Guild staff records video footage of the various steps. Ultimately, you receive a high-quality video that can be used for marketing that showcases exactly how your canvases are made, and that features a canvas displaying one of your images.


Betsy Finn

According to Guild, most photographers opt for framed canvases rather than canvas wraps. Their most popular frames are ornate white, dark brown, and champagne, and all the frame options are luxurious and gorgeous. The kicker for me was watching a social media post in which the Guild staff worked on a canvas.

What are my favorite features of Guild Canvases? First up is durability. The surface is protected by multiple layers of UV lacquer, and the canvas is durable enough to bounce a tennis ball on. If you were to splatter something on the canvas (ketchup, mustard, even crayon), it cleans off easily with water or glass cleaning solution.

While the big pro labs win on speed and price, Guild Canvas wins on quality and personalized service. When you become a Guild client you are treated like a friend. The sample canvases I evaluated are something I would be comfortable offering my clients, although I would love more raised texture in the brush strokes—that’s just a personal preference. Guild canvases are available in many sizes. The largest canvas they’ve framed is a 35x147-inch panoramic portrait. Their most popular sizes are 24 or 30 inches on the long side, and the smallest size available is 8x10 inches.

Most photographers order canvases of photographic portraits, while about 25% of orders are canvases of digitally painted portraits. You can submit your own painted rendition, or upgrade for a painterly rendition. For obvious reasons, Guild Canvas pricing is hidden from consumers, but canvases start at $89, and marketing videos are $280. You can register at guildcanvas.com to view pricing, learn about the ordering process, view frame options, and more.

Betsy Finn is a portrait artist in Dexter, Michigan.

Tags: painting