I am often asked about custom backdrops for theatres and concerts.  Especially from those who are at the very onset of the design process.  Frequently the question will arise……. Should we print it or paint it?

I DON’T believe that there is a stock or kit answer to this rather complex question.  As there IS a time and a place for both methods.

Here are some tips and tricks to help you decide which way to go………. I have decided to cover all things from an artistic perspective – not from a cost perspective.  As you would imagine, it’s hard to put a ballpark cost to a hand painted piece.  So I am looking at this purely from the design side.

When to print:

  • If you are absolutely set on a photo-realistic finish.
  • If you have high resolution files already available to you
  • If your art is already created as a vector file (fully scaleable)
  • If you need a drop that is extremely bright in colors but also extremely lightweight in physical weight
  • If you want your backdrop to remain supple by printing on a knit or other similar substrates
  • You don’t have much time! – Super fast printing to marketplace is a benefit of the print processes
  • You have other printed drops and you need your pieces to match
  • You are looking for a totally digital experience – you can email the file and receive the drop – no onsite or visual visits needed as “what you provide is what is printed”

Digitally printed backdrop for Jason Aldean tour

When to paint:

  • If you have an inspiration photo – but it is low resolution and you can’t access a high resolution version of it.
  • If you don’t have a budget to have digital art created for printing – then painting is an excellent option
  • You have other hand painted drops and you need your pieces to match
  • When the design lends itself to paint and brushstrokes
  • For soft textural backgrounds and organic designs
  • When you want to have some artistic license during the creation and painting process
  • If you want the ability of touching up or altering the image, or finish, over time
  • If you are looking for a traditional crafted painted drop simply to support the value and skills of the scenic painters in the local marketplace!

Rod Ste_3

Hand-painted backdrop for Rod Stewart

DID YOU KNOW……… you can create a COMBO MIXED MEDIA BACKDROP – with both printing AND painting?

When to make a mixed media backdrop:

  • When you are looking for visual variance in textures of the textiles within the drop………. A dull rich black, a glossy silver, a textural burnt umber.  All three can be created by combining, print, paint and raw textiles by way of layering!
  • When you want a photo realistic image AND a UV or Gold Leaf treatment……… print first then add a decorative paint top coat as applicable.
  • When you are looking for areas to be cut out for a “cut drop” and the detailing is very specific.  Printing is great for a cityscape – then hot knife out some windows for a WOW moment on stage when backlighting is added.

Digitally-printed backdrop with top coat of UV paint

So, as you can see, there really ARE times to choose a printing and times to choose painting – and times to choose both in a single backdrop.  Whichever works best for your situation, a scenic backdrop can make a huge impact on your set or show design.