Printed or hand-painted photography backdrops : we compare each material & look at the benefits and differences between all of the backdrops we offer

Printed or hand-painted photography backdrops : we compare each material & look at the benefits and differences between all of the backdrops we offer

abril 01, 2021

 

If you're finding the choice of different backdrop materials overwhelming this guide is here to help! 

We now offer FIVE different types of photography backdrops.

  • Paper backdrop sheets - printed designs on sustainable, flexible paper sheets
  • Vinyl backdrop sheets - printed designs on water-proof, flexible vinyl sheets
  • Mounted paper backdrops - printed designs on sustainable paper, mounted and water-proofed on MDF board
  • Hand-painted backdrop boards – custom made, highly textural solid surfaces
  • Hand-painted canvas backdrops – custom made, textural details on flexible canvas

 

Here we will compare materials and talk about the different benefits you can expect from all of these backdrops, but first, here's a quick comparison table, with each type of backdrop graded for how it performs in different areas that we know are important to our customers.

Under each backdrop type you will also find the key benefits noted in italics for quick scanning based on your priorities. 

So ~

  • if you need something tomorrow, our in-stock paper and vinyl backdrops are available for next working day delivery (order before 1pm)
  • if sustainability is a concern for you, you can quickly see that paper sheets and mounted paper boards are your go-to backdrops,
  • if unique textures are important to your work the hand-painted options will stand out for you,
  • if affordability and water-resistance are key the vinyl sheets will be perfect. And so on!

 

Photography Backdrop Quick Comparison Guide

photography backdrop types comparison table

 

We will explore each material in more depth of course, but first of all lets talk about printed backdrops and dispel some myths.

 

Printed backdrops offer both beginners and professionals lots of benefits when sourcing photography surfaces. We know this because we have world class photographers and creative agencies as well as home bakers and bloggers using our backdrops regularly, on repeat!

Printed photography backdrops are – 

  • Cheaper than the real thing
  • More readily available – you don’t have to hunt through salvage yards anymore (although that is fun)
  • Lighter and a lot more portable – a god send if marble is your thang. Packing up at the end of shoots and transporting printed backdrops is a doddle.
  • Less hassle and smaller to store, keeping your studio space free to work
  • Flexible so you can create infinity curves for a very quick and easy set up
  • Easy to keep clean – especially the vinyls if you want to create messy food shots
  • An affordable way to build up a collection of props
  • As part of a mixed collection of surfaces, printed backdrops provide an excellent way of expanding your prop collection in different directions
  • Great if you want to source props for clients and then get rid of them or store away without losing lots of space
  • Perfect if you have a very specific or random brief that doesn’t warrant a big investment in backdrops

We learned at The Photography Show last year (much to our surprise and horror!) that printed backdrops have a bad rep with some people.  Maybe it was the quality or service they received, maybe printing technology has improved – who knows, but we do know that on seeing and feeling ours they were amazed AND converted, leaving our stand with weighty tubes tucked under their arms.

As you can see from our homepage and Instagram – some HUGE names and brands use our backdrops in print, online, on TV and on packaging - and 99% of these are our printed backdrops. While they may have a few limitations, printed backdrops should not be overlooked.

 

A sustainable paper photography backdrop being used as an infinity curve, in the 'Utopia' design

 

So how do our paper and vinyl printed photography backdrops compare to each other?

 

paper vinyl printed photography backdrop types comparison table

 

You will already know that our paper backdrops are nearly half the price of the vinyl versions, so that’s tick one; they are more affordable.

Of course that gets a ‘yey’ for more money staying in your pocket, but it also means that if you want to you can experiment more and change with the seasons or just have a larger collection for the same money.

You might also consider our paper backdrops as disposable at only £18 a sheet.  I know several photographers who buy them in for clients then get rid of them straight after the shoot so they aren’t loosing more and more space to very specific client props.

(And they can of course be recycled with your usual recycling - UK specific info here - with low environmental impact.)

Another way that paper beats vinyl is in the print quality.  By design, paper is the best thing to absorb ink quickly and give a clean, crisp edge to every pixel printed. 

I didn’t realise until we started printing the same designs on vinyl that the print is marginally softer on vinyl material.  Maybe this is why we have so much positive feedback and 5* reviews for our paper backdrops despite the reduced durability.

This is something worth considering if you want to shoot macro or small products like jewellery close up on the backdrops.  Staying on small products – paper backdrops are easier to cut down and use in a smaller set up, maybe even in a lightbox.  

 

moreton bay bugs - slipper lobsters - food photography - charlotte orr

Behind the scenes with Charlotte Orr working with the Bleach paper backdrop

 

Paper backdrops are very popular with Etsy sellers, stationery designers, crafters, jewellery makers, collectors, spare parts sellers and basically anybody who photographs small products or still life and doesn't need a waterproof backdrop!

Another benefit of paper is that there is less glare.  Both materials have very low glare thanks to the matte materials we use but paper naturally has more texture to it and on a minute scale this adds to the absorption of light making it more matte than the vinyl backdrops.

BUT! Our extra-thick vinyl backdrops have a new benefit I wasn’t expecting and that is that they spring open and want to be flat.  

This makes them ready-to-shoot straight out of the tube. (We have tested this up to 3 days in the tube and they come out with almost no curl that relaxes out very quickly.) 

The extra thick vinyl material also makes them easy to hang vertically giving a ‘clean’ hang – less wobbly than paper or thin vinyl which can need pulling tight with extra clips or sticking flat to an upright surface.

And finally of course, the big clincher for vinyl photography backdrops is that they are fully waterproof and a lot more durable than the paper sheets.

If you shoot messy food and drinks this might be the most important thing for you, being able to style and shoot at your own pace, knowing the backdrop won't be affected by drips and spills.

Our paper backdrops have some water-resistance too, but it is down to the ink covering the matte paper below - darker designs with a good coat of ink will stand up to moisture better.

 

Sustainable paper photography backdrop, 'Earl'

 

Here's how our paper backdrops scored for the different features and why -

 

Affordability ***

Of course these are our cheapest backdrop options and most affordable for beginners, small biz owners, crafters and client prop sourcing

Availability/speed ***

All in stock paper backdrops can be delivered the next working day - just make sure you order before 1pm.  We can get them to you as early as 7-9am with Royal Mail, all shipping options can be calculated in your cart page before you checkout.

Portability *** 

Lightweight, flexible, easy to transport rolled in the postage tubes or flat in a carry case

Experimentation ***

Thanks to the low price these backdrops are the best when your style is still evolving, if you like to experiment or you need lots of options

Sustainability ***

Our most sustainable backdrop option using over 65% recycled paper and being widely recycled or reused in the home or studio

Easy to light **

Paper backdrops have a matte finish with very little glare when using soft, diffused light, even when back-lit and at low camera angles

Individuality *

Not a rare gem but styled in your own unique way our paper backdrops offer a solid foundation for your ideas!

Durability *

Printed on 250gsm thick paper (almost card but still flexible to roll and post) these backdrops are surprisingly strong but will show signs of use around the edges over time

Water resistance *

Little water resistance on light designs  - darker designs with a good coat of ink will stand up to moisture better. 

Textural details *

Being a print there is no real, 3D texture on our paper backdrops but they are designed and edited to give the effect of textural detail from 30-100cm away.  Also as mentioned above, paper gives the sharpest print quality making these backdrops the best for small products, jewellery and macro photography

 

Don't forget; * is good, ** is better and *** is the best, in comparison to each other - all of our backdrops shoot beautifully and provide quality solutions depending on your needs which this guide is hopefully helping you identify!

 

Suze @gourmetglow getting very experimental on a water-proof vinyl backdrop in the 'Bar' design

 

And here's how our printed vinyl photography backdrops were rated and why -

 

Water resistance ***

Our vinyl backdrops are fully water-proof - we have even submerged one for days on end and the print stayed in tact! This is a fantastic benefit to messy food photographers

Portability *** 

Lightweight, flexible, easy to transport rolled in the postage tubes or flat in a carry case (but we don't recommend storing rolled up as heat could make them set - please store these backdrops flat)

Affordability ***

A very affordable option in comparison to the materials they depict!

Availability/speed ***

All in stock vinyl backdrops in A1 and A0 can be delivered the next working day - just make sure you order before 1pm.  We can get them to you as early as 7-9am with Royal Mail, all the options can be calculated in your cart page before you checkout.

Experimentation **

Vinyl backdrops are an affordable way to try new ideas, just not as sustainably as our paper backdrops 

Durability **

Our extra-thick vinyl backdrops are twice as strong as others we have seen meaning they are less susceptible to creasing and they hold their shape very well

Sustainability *

Our current material contains over 50% recycled materials and is recyclable (UK) but we will continue to search for a 100% recycled vinyl that meets our print quality and durability requirements; we will let you know when we find it!  

Easy to light *

Our vinyl backdrops use a matte material but the layer of ink itself can create a slight glare, as it would on any completely smooth surface.  Darker designs may be harder to back-light - please check out our lighting tips to overcome any challenges you may encounter with simple and affordable kit such as black card and tracing paper.

Individuality *

Not unique to you but a very versatile and useful prop to help you develop your own photography or brand style!

Textural details *

Being a print there is no real, 3D texture on our printed backdrops but they are designed and edited to give the effect of textural detail from 30-100cm away.  There are lots of useful editing tools to enhance the details such as 'structure', 'dehaze', 'clarity' and 'texture' depending on your software.

 

What about mounted paper backdrops - printed designs professionally-mounted on solid MDF board and water-proofed?

 

sustainable paper MDF solid backdrop board photography food styling marble wood stone grey.jpg

Professionally-mounted and water-proofed backdrop boards in the 'Issy' travertine and 'Amos' concrete designs

 

Both paper and vinyl backdrop sheets can be mounted (stuck) to wooden boards if you prefer to work with solid surfaces. 

We offer paper prints professionally mounted onto boards as a product option on all of our A1 paper backdrop collection. We use paper instead of vinyl as it offers the best print quality, it's more sustainable and it creates a stronger bond with the MDF.

Creating a solid board with our printed backdrop designs offers a very durable, long-lasting solution at almost half the price of hand-painted surfaces. It also means you can have marble, stone, tiles and wood effects made solid like the real thing but at a fraction of the weight!

If you would like to purchase backdrop sheets and mount them yourself we recommend using DisplayMount and then sealing paper sheets with a matte polyurethane varnish to create a water-resistant barrier - instructions and materials to do this can be found here.

 

Quick comparison table for vinyl backdrops versus mounted paper backdrop boards

 

solid mounted printed waterproof paper vinyl printed photography backdrop types comparison table

 

 

faux marble stone slab tile grey white photography backdrop background food styling lightweight waterproof wipe clean portable

A mounted backdrop in the 'Shirley' marble effect - much lighter and easier to use than the real thing!

 

Here's how our mounted paper board backdrops scored for your consideration -

 

Water resistance ***

A matte, water-based varnish seals the print beneath so you are safe to drop and slop whatever you like on these! Personally I love that you get the sharp print quality of the paper coupled with the water-resistance on an easy-to-use solid board (I also like having these lined up along the wall so i can see what I have available to style with!).

Sustainability ***

A sustainable paper backdrop mounted on FSC certified MDF (which is a recycled wood material itself) protected and posted in custom made, plastic free compostable packaging - it doesn't get more eco-friendly than that! I'm actually really proud we're able to offer this solution that rivals the vinyl backdrops on durability but is much more sustainable.

Durability ***

We hope that with your care and the protective packaging provided these boards will provide many years of enjoyment and value.

Easy to light **

Two very thin coats of matte varnish are applied evenly to provide protection without creating sheen - the same as on our handcrafted board backdrops, there is little to no glare depending on the lightness of the design underneath.

Availability/speed **

Our usual turnaround on mounted paper backdrop boards is 5 working days but they can be made in 2 if required.  Get in touch before ordering to check and don't forget to account for delivery times.

Affordability **

I honestly believe these backdrop boards provide excellent value for a modest investment.

Portability **

This is where we start to come down the ranks - of course a solid board is not as easy to move or transport as our flexible printed backdrops but they are still easy to handle, with softly sanded edges and corner protectors provided. An A1 board weighs approximately 4.5kg.

And if we compare a marble effect printed backdrop board to a real slab of marble at the same size they are MUCH easier to move around and work with!

Experimentation *

I would consider these boards an investment - not necessarily a luxury backdrop - but certainly a commitment, perfect when you know what you like and need fast set ups that can stand the rigour of studio life.

Individuality *

Like our other prints these backdrops won't be unique to you but we know that won't stop you putting your own spin on things.

Textural details *

Being a print there is no real, 3D texture on our paper backdrops but they are certainly top of the class at faking it!

 

Don't forget; * is good, ** is better and *** is the best, in comparison to each other - all of our backdrops shoot beautifully and provide quality solutions depending on your needs which this guide is hopefully helping you identify!

 

And how do our printed paper and vinyl printed photography backdrops compare to our hand-painted backdrops?

 

A handcrafted painted backdrop board in the 'Thyme' design

 

The key difference between printed and handcrafted backdrops is the texture - and this is also the main benefit that makes hand-painted surfaces worth the investment.  The texture and the fact that each one - even if the same design - will be completely unique to you.

Having real texture and an irregular surface means that there are no limitations on how you can use and light hand-painted surfaces.  If they have been sealed correctly you can shoot hand-painted surfaces from any angle in strong and soft, direct and indirect light.

But, conversely, if you only ever shoot overhead (or 99% of the time) it can be very hard to tell if a surface is a print or real texture.  To get the true value out of textured surfaces you'll want to shoot at various angles, get close and low and play with backlighting or using several lights to skim across the texture.

This isn't so much a limitation, but it is another reason that more affordable printed backdrops are so widely used.

 

The hand-crafted 'Hook' dark grey and black photography backdrop

 

Comparing hand-painted backdrops to their closest comparison, mounted paper boards

 

solid mounted printed waterproof paper vinyl printed photography backdrop types comparison table

 

I think the main considerations if trying to decide between mounted prints and hand-painted backdrops are -

  • cost; hand-painted backdrops are nearly twice the price of mounted boards
  • texture; do you need real 3D details at the angles you like to use?
  • individuality; how important is it for you to have something completely unique, and how much backdrop do you usually show in your work?

 

A hand-painted photography backdrop board in the 'Paprika' design

 

Lets look at how our hand-painted backdrop boards were rated and why -

Individuality ***

If you want truly unique details and organic textures that nobody else will have, a hand-painted backdrop is the way to go.  Choosing an existing BVS design will still offer a one-off piece of art made just for you, or you can go further and customise it in some way so it no longer resembles our product listing. You could even commission a completely new design from scratch - an exclusive masterpiece, just for you.

Textural details ***

Hand-painted backdrops created on solid boards offer the deepest texture of all of our backdrops meaning you have light and shade within the backdrop itself.  This can bring a whole new level of styling to your work - less props might be needed to create tactile layers and tangible form.

However, large details and texture in a backdrop can also detract from small subjects.  Texture is always beautiful - but it must still be considered in relation to your product or hero.

Water resistance ***

We apply two very thin layers of a matte, water-based varnish to seal the artwork so that food and liquid can be put straight on the surface.  If the care instructions are followed this water resistance should last for many many years.

Sustainability ***

Created on FSC certified MDF with acrylic matte paints and low-impact building materials, protected and posted in custom made, plastic free compostable packaging.  Our preferred paints are Little Greene and F&B but we also use Duluxe, B&Q, Homebase and many more but we don't use any aerosols.

Durability ***

We hope that our handcrafted surfaces will give you many years of enjoyment - we use the highest quality materials and finish everything meticulously to reduce the possibility of them getting damage and to ensure they are easy to handle.  Please keep the corner protectors and packaging provided.

Easy to light **

Two very thin coats of matte varnish are applied evenly to provide protection without creating sheen - the same as on our mounted paper board backdrops.  Ideal for backlighting, using multiple lights and creating lots of light and shade on the surface itself.

Availability/speed **

Our usual turnaround on hand-painted boards is 5 working days but most can be made in 2 if required.  Get in touch before ordering to check and don't forget to account for delivery times.

Affordability *

These are investment pieces for when you're ready to take your work to the next level and invest in yourself!

Portability *

Not ideal backdrops to lug shoot to shoot but easy to handle in the studio, with softly sanded edges and corner protectors provided. An A1 board weighs approximately 4.5kg.

Experimentation *

Bespoke, hand-painted photography backdrops will elevate your work and provide fast solutions in your studio while inviting you to experiment with different angles and lighting more than your props!

 

 

And finally! On to our hand-painted canvas photography backdrops 

 

White and soft neutral greys, 'Still life' canvas photography backdrop 100x160cm

 

It's such a joy painting canvases - the layers are light and quick to dry as the paint needs to be thinner so it doesn't crack when rolled - this means we can paint larger areas more efficiently, offering you better value than on the solid boards.

This also means there is less texture or depth than on the solid boards, but the effects we can create on canvas are beautiful and create the softest matte finish of all of our backdrops.

We don't seal our canvases with the matte varnish so they aren't protected from moisture in the same way, but like most dry paint you would have to really scrub at it to wear it away.  We would rather not seal them and risk cracking, and advise you to clean them with a damp, non-abrasive cloth or sponge only when necessary.

 

Lets look at how the hand-painted canvases compare to handcrafted boards

 

solid mounted printed waterproof paper vinyl printed photography backdrop types comparison table

 

The key differences between hand-painted boards and canvases will be -

  • depth of texture - canvas is softer and not as deep, you won't get many shadows created by the surface itself
  • cost - the starting price for canvases is more expensive at £125 but you get more styling space for the money
  • flexibility - being able to use canvases as both flat surfaces and curves is fantastic; they make editorial, infinity curve set ups a doddle.
  • size! Of course if you need to go bigger for portrait or fashion a canvas backdrop is going to be most portable and easier to use at the larger sizes

 

grey custom bespoke hand painted canvas photography backdrop UK background food styling .jpg

Custom-made steely grey 'still life' canvas backdrop

 

So let's discuss the hand-painted canvas backdrops and where they perform best

Individuality ***

Our canvases are all truly unique, providing different details and organic textures on a large surface area;  even our stocked canvas backdrops have their own character following the same overall design - no two are ever the same.  You can even commission a completely new painted canvas, following a reference or something you've been inspired by.

Easy to light ***

Our canvas backdrops are the flattest of all of our designs being finished in raw matte paint.  The mixed, textured surface of paint and fabric absorbs the light beautifully, creating a very flat backdrop that is easy to work with even when curved.

Textural details ***

Hand-painted canvas backdrops offer a wealth of organic detail thanks to the artistic techniques the material demands.  The way the paint mixes and dries creates lots of varied and original features while keeping the texture low and integral to the weave of the fabric.  This makes canvas backdrops a hit with still life photographers wanting a fine art look, but without too much shadow-creating-depth that pulls attention from small subjects. 

It's also why canvases are so widely used as 'walls' behind portraits and fashion; when you want a vertical background that blows out in soft focus really well it shouldn't be too textural as that will create highlights and shadows.

Durability ***

We hope that our hand-painted canvas backdrops will give you many years of enjoyment - we recommend storing them rolled painted-side-in or hung and flat to avoid creasing.  

Water resistance **

We don't seal our canvas backdrops so they have the same water-resistance as matte paint.  Don't scrub at it and they should recover well from small spills and moisture.

Sustainability **

We use 100% cotton canvas for our backdrops and prime them ourselves so we know exactly what paint is being used from start to finish (and so the texture doesn't get obliterated by the factory blasted primer they use!).

Portability ** 

The 'still life' size are very easy to store and transport rolled in the tubes provided.  Our new tubes for these are 110cm long which will sit across most cars back seats!

The two and three meter wide canvases may need a larger van.

Availability/speed *

Our usual turnaround on hand-painted canvases is 5 working days but some can be made in 2 if required.  Get in touch before ordering to check and don't forget to account for delivery times.

Affordability *

Our canvas backdrops offer a similar cost per square meter to our printed vinyl backdrops but the starting price is higher as they are much bigger. They offer exceptional value for unique artwork. 

Experimentation *

Hand-painted canvas backdrops will elevate your work and provide fast solutions while inviting you to experiment with walls and curves in your styling.

 

A bespoke 2x3m 'studio' canvas in Farrow & Ball, 'Brinjal'

 

Quite often the answer is to spend where you will get most value and save where you can - most of our customers have a mix of materials as well as designs and colours in their backdrop collections.

  

I think that's it! Do you have any other reasons why you prefer one material over the other? Please comment below, I'd love to get your take on this!

Thank you for reading, I hope you've found this useful!

Sophie 

 

Other pages & blogs you might find useful -

How to use an infinity curve for food and product photography

Getting started - how our printed backdrops arrive and can be used and stored

Five fail safe printed backdrop designs perfect for beginners

 

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