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Learn How to Spray Canvas Prints Like a Pro

coating, coats, compressor, distance, high volume low pressure, HVLP, lighting, pattern, pressure, Printmaking, psi, spray booth, spray gun, technique, texture, turbine

Are you spraying your canvas prints? Do you want to learn how to develop the best workflow and technique for coating perfect prints every time? This article will help you get there.

If you’ve ever wondered whether you can afford an in-home HVLP spray booth, we have good news: you can! We put together a purchasing guide and how-to video that’ll walk you through setting up your own DIY HVLP booth for under $125. If you’re interested.

1. Lighting

Photo by: Bill Atkinson

Lighting is one of the most important factors in getting the best results when spraying canvas prints. Surprisingly, it’s also one of the most commonly overlooked aspects of the coating workflow. With ample overhead lighting, you are able to clearly see your results as you are spraying the canvas. Bubbles and pinholes can be prevented if you see them before they dry! Plenty of lighting will also insure that you have an even coat with no dry spots, or over saturated areas. The best lighting is any type of overhead light that is directly above the prints when you are coating them.

A good practice is to place your prints at an angle when you are spraying them. Somewhere in the vicinity of 45 degrees works well for 2 reasons:

  • The prints are allowed to dry evenly and without any drips of coating forming.
  • The angle of the print allows the light to shine differently, which helps you clearly see where the coating lies.

2. Distance and Pressure

Depending on the type of HVLP gun you have, the distance you hold the gun from the print and the pressure you use will vary. If you are using our Timeless Print Varnish, start about 8″-12″ inches away from the canvas print. This gives the spray a wide angle to work with while keeping the flow even. If you are spraying too close to the canvas you may apply too much varnish. Also, if you are holding the gun too far from the canvas, you may end up not applying enough varnish to sufficiently protect the canvas print. If you are using a gun that is connected to an air compressor, 40psi is a great universal starting point for pressure. However, due to variances in each gun this setting may be different. What’s most important is that there is a steady, even flow of coating when you are spraying. You want the gun close enough to the canvas to cover it evenly and thoroughly, but you also want it far enough away so excess coating is not applied.

Glamour 2 requires dilution to work properly. A great starting point is to create a 50/50 mix of Glamour 2 and distilled water. This will flow evenly through your gun and lay smoothly on the print. Beyond the dilution, the technique for applying Glamour 2 is virtually the same as applying Timeless. If you want the prints to dry at a faster rate, reduce your water to about 30% of the total mix.

3. Spray Technique

The techniques described in the video above is the easiest way to get a great coat in a short amount of time. The best way to insure you cover the entire print is to spray left to right AND top to bottom. This applies the varnish at every angle onto the canvas, allowing it to be absorbed evenly and without dry spots. This will also help prevent cracking on the corners of the canvas when it is stretched. When you are spraying left to right, adjust your spray pattern so it is flowing out of the gun in a vertical line. This will give you the most coverage with each passes, allowing for less passes. When you are spraying top to bottom, simply adjust the spray pattern so it is flowing out of the gun in a horizontal line. Try to avoid “round” spray patterns as this tends to apply too much varnish, and this may cause bubbles, pinholes, or unwanted texture to the print. Be sure to point the gun directly at the print the entire time you are spraying. With larger prints, try to avoid standing in one spot when spraying because the outer edges of the print may have lighter coverage than the middle of the print.

4. How many coats should I apply? How thick should each coat be?

With Timeless, common practice is to apply two light to medium coats, allowing at least 20 minutes of drying time in between coats. This technique applies a thin layer of varnish each time, so the results will always be a smooth finish. Although one heavy coat can work, heavy coats must be applied more carefully because too much varnish can cause bubbles or texture on the prints. Another benefit of thin/light coats is that you can apply as many coats as you like. With Timeless Gloss, additional coats will increase the gloss sheen on the print when dry.

In terms of thickness, each coat should completely cover the canvas without over-saturating it. In other words, one smooth pass in each direction while moving at a steady pace will do the trick. In the video above, we cover roughly 12 inches of canvas per second, always pointing the gun directly at the canvas. Moving the gun to slowly across the canvas will create a heavier coat as more varnish is applied per square foot. Moving the gun over the canvas faster will create a lighter coat, but be sure that you are still completely covering the print and not missing any spots. Always overlap each coat, and coat past the end of the print so that there is coating on the excess canvas that will be stretched and stapled on the back of the frame.

5. Keep your gun clean

The importance of keeping your gun clean cannot be understated. My recommendation is to clean your gun after each use. Not necessarily after each print, but after each use. For example, if you have 10 prints to coat, load your gun to hold enough coating for ten prints and coat all of them one after another. When you have completed that run, clean your gun. Timeless and Glamour 2 are both water based varnishes, so using hot water is all you need. When cleaning the spray gun after each use, this prevents build up of dry particles in the gun that could potentially end up on the print.

Photo by: Bill Atkinson

Here are a couple of recommendations if you are looking for an easy to use HVLP gun that works well with Timeless and Glamour 2. Both of these guns include a turbine and do not require a compressor:


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