While assisting many of our recent customers in selecting backdrops for their events, some have asked for an explanation of the functional and artistic differences between Airbrushed, Hand Painted and Digitally-Printed backdrops, panels, banners, and curtains. We feel the differences are important for our customers to know and, while we generally don’t want to get too technical on our blog, we decided to make an exception.
Traditional Painted Backdrops have used several “base” fabric products over the years:
Canvas (Heavy fabric) – a strong heavy cotton, hemp, or jute fabric. Traditional uses: sails, tents, furnishings, paintings, etc. Canvas, in most cases, must be dipped into a fire-retardant solution and allowed to dry prior to painting for theatrical/performance environments.
Heavyweight Muslin – a plain-woven sheer to coarse cotton fabric. Graphic Arts – a piece of fabric on which a painting is done, typically non-oil based, hand brushed, or air brushed, and most recently, digitally-printed on some specific products.
Lightweight Muslin – a thin, plain-weave cotton cloth. Traditional uses: curtains, sheets, dresses. Muslin, in most cases, can be sprayed with an approved fire-retardant solution post painting, as the fabric is more absorbent.
Poly – a modern, man-made product; it is very light, capable of being digitally-printed on and has the fire retardant manufactured into it.
All of these fabrics have hosted artistic images in support of mainstage theatricals, movie sets, corporate, or special events, etc., in both Airbrushed and Hand Painted formats.
Airbrushed is a paint application typically forced by compressed air through a device with a specialty nozzle and applied to a surface in a reasonably smooth fashion. Most Airbrushed images, up close, appear reasonably flat and texture free. Airbrushed images can be made to look very traditional, somewhat more modern, or can appear very “Street Art” looking.
Hand Painted (or Hand Brushed) is just that. An artist with a brush applies paint to a surface to achieve their desired effect. Hand Painted results in a much more textured outcome, like a classic oil painted image, old world and vintage looking. Some artists combine the two to achieve the best of both worlds; typically, the result is classed as Hand Painted. The majority of artists today use environmentally friendly, VOC free, water-based paints.
Digitally printed backdrops are an outgrowth of modern technology and the requirements by designers and directors to have more precise image control by increasing the color spectrum to that of current computer graphic technology, increase light reflectivity, and the impact of modern lighting systems on the resulting images. Digital provides the designer more control over the final product in the design phases of projects and takes full advantage of current and future digital and multimedia projection or delivery systems. Digital printing can be applied to Heavyweight Muslin creating a backdrop that appears very traditional from a few feet away or on Poly (man-made, super-light product) which, depending on the image color palette selected and the Director’s wishes, can range from very traditional to quite dramatic, black light reactive and “3D like” when supported with a modern theatre/event-style lighting system.