Sunday, April 7, 2013

Panels that will blow your face off

Posted by: Dave

I have had quite a lot of inquiries about how I make my panels, so I thought I would give some insight into the process.

If you're already interested in making panels, the romantic glamour of the stretched canvas has probably worn off and you've recognized the weaknesses of using a flimsy fabric for a support.  If you're not already interested in making panels, you should be, and I'll take this opportunity to explain why.

First of all, it's important to get past the romantic images we have in our heads about being an artist.  This includes drinking absinthe, drawing Moulin Rouge hookers, wearing a beret, dying in a garret from cystic syphillis...and painting on stretched linen.  Did you know that important oil paintings were all done on panels back in the very beginning, and that stretched linen as a support was a bit of newfangled material at one time?  So don't use linen just because it seems authentic.  Go to a museum and compare the paintings that were done on linen with those done on panel.  Panel always wins, hands down.  Linen is a fragile support--it is easily punctured and torn.  Linen is also a very absorbent material too (it's often used in tea towels) and it will expand and contract with available atmospheric moisture.  This expansion and contraction in the support will create tension in the paint layers, leading to cracking and delamination.  Also, if you paint on linen, at some point some asshole will take your canvas off its stretcher bars and roll it up, causing more cracking.

That said, I like painting on linen.  I rely on the weave to add texture and grain to my paintings.  So my dilemma was to create an ideal support that incorporated linen, but stabilized it as a panel.  My three big tasks were to find the ideal linen, the perfect panel, and the right glue.

I used Claessens oil primed linen for a very long time.  I liked the texture of it, but later discovered it was Zinc primed.  Pretty much Zinc is the baby bird of priming: it looks adorable but doesn't stand up to blunt force trauma.  Besides, it cracks when exposed to temperature fluctuations.   I eventually found New Traditions Art Panels and New York Central Art Supply.   They are some of the very few manufacturers that use lead priming.  Lead is far more flexible and durable than both Titanium and Zinc.  The only downside was the time lag between placing an order for a custom panel, and receiving it in the mail up here in Canada.  I simply can't wait four weeks for a panel when my ADD wants it now.  The good news is that they sell rolls of lead primed linen through their L series (L600, L280, and L219) so you can make your own panels to size.  I typically steer towards the L219 as I like a little tooth to my linen.  Bam, first problem solved.

Problem number two: supports.  Wood of course is what most people default to, including myself for awhile.  This is where having a woodshop would have been helpful when I lived in Toronto.  Instead I would go to Home Depot, watch them butcher the wood I asked them to cut, and as a result I would just kind of leave it in the plumbing aisle and run away.  The problem with these big box hardware stores is that they only offer fairly cheap crappy wood.  Fiberboard is terrible and is pretty much like fancy cardboard.  The birch ply they carry is really just meant for sub-floors and has too many inconsistencies throughout the layers.  It helps to find an outlet the sells wood to professional carpenters.  I found the only usable thing was baltic birch ply that is used for cabinets, which can only be found at specialty wood stores and is quite pricey.  It's still not ideal, though.  The edges can splinter and there's always a knot in the wood right where you don't want it.  Plus, it can still warp.

Then...a solution.  What have we learned from every Planet of the Apes movie?  That's right, roadsigns always survive an apocalypse.  And what are road sign made of...Dibond.  Dibond is a type of flat panel that consists of two thin aluminum sheets bonded to a non-aluminum core. It is inert, does not expand and contract like wood, is lightweight, does not absorb moisture, is easy to cut on any tablesaw, and is more or less puncture proof.  It is also coated and can even be painted on directly.  Bam, problem solved.  Dibond can be found at sign makers shops and industrial plastics stores at a price comparable to high quality plywood.


Problem number three: the glue.  I have tried many pH neutral glues, from Miracle Muck to Lineco.  In order to adhere linen to panel, you need a brayer and a crap load of bricks, books, or one dead elephant.  I have had about an 80 percent success rate with these, which meant a lot of ruined panels and swearing.  In addition, I had to wait overnight to find out if they even came out alright.

Solution, Beva 371 2.5mm Film.  The film, which is inert, comes in a roll and is activated with heat (around 160 F,  71 C for my Canadian followers, or room temperature for people who live in the desert).   However, a dry mounting press is required to combine the adhesive, dibond, and linen together.  You can pick up a mounting press for as low as a couple hundred bucks on craigslist.  Any photo store might have an old one kicking around.  It takes only about 5 minutes for the glue to adhere using the press.  They can also be used to make Panini's.

NOTE:  It is possible to make larger panels simply by pressing each half of the panel at a time.


All my nerdy research has lead me to making panels in this way and I am not aware of a faster OR more archival method of panel preparation.  Also, a lot of this information I didn't steal from Julio and Candice when we went down to visit them in California....ok I stole it.

60 comments:

  1. From where did you order your linen canvas? I guess you stretched it yourself?

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    1. I get my rolls of linen from New Traditions Art Panels. They will deliver to Canada, but plan way ahead. There is a link above if you click it to their site.

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  2. Great post David. Would you comment on the cost of making a panel yourself compared to buying a panel of the same size from New Traditions?

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    1. It's literally the exact same product I make at a fraction of the cost. I cut out shipping, labor, etc. Their pre-made panels are very sexy, but very pricey. If you have money to burn, I would just order from them.

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  3. Good info. What do you think of linen on gatorboard?

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    1. I have heard a couple problems with gatorboard. Some have said that the core is not pH neutral, just the surface. It is still a rigid support that is extremely lightweight, but it seems to flimsy to me. Probably best for studies etc, but dibond wins out for durability.

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  4. If I wanted to skip the whole Beva Film and Dry-Mounting press step, could I do the usual glue and weight (and wait) procedure with an archival glue (Miracle Much etc.) on the Dibond?

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    1. I would think so, but I would sand the Dibond a bit to create a better mechanical bond. This step isn't necessary with Beva.

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  5. Thanks for this Dave, very interesting. I am going to look into this and try it out.

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  6. Thanks for the info guys. For 11"x14" and smaller I glue linen to baltic birch and they are wonderful but Dibond seems the perfect replacement for stretched canvas in sizes 16"x20" and larger.

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  7. What dry mount press did you get? I'm totally overwhelmed with all the choices. Also concerned with older models could break down and replacement parts may be difficult to get.

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    1. Brands don't make too much of a difference. There are very few parts, so really they tend to last forever. I would think an old one should be just fine.

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  8. mate, y'know where you said "around 160 F, 71 C for my Canadian followers", well actually just about the whole planet is familiar with Celsius so why not speak the language of the majority and let the yanks catch up whenever they feel like joining the humans

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    1. Dave IS a yank. Your argument is invalid.

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    2. Plus it's mainly Muricans that read the blog. Didn't you notice all my talk about freedom, apple pie, and football?

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  9. Dave, I reckon you'd be knocked out if you knew how many Australian arty types followed your blog (& Kate's of course). Despite popular opinion in some quarters, the world doesn't revolve around Smalltown USA. Just for a laugh check out Aussie entertainer Austen Tayshus, specifically a monologue entitled "Harder Tok Amuricun". Keep smiling!

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    1. Oh Aussie's aren't that tough, remember how bad they did at Gallipoli? Run like a tiger my ass. And yes, I have seen Austen, very funny.

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  10. Dave,
    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I've ordered everything and am making panels now. They totally rock. I did a cost comparison table in XCEL (I'm the anal pilot type) and the amount I'm saving on every panel is astounding. For example, a manufacturer of DiBond linen panels charges $59.90 per panel for a 16X20 with Classens 13 linen. The same panel costs me $ 17.92 to make. I save $42.62. The cost of the iron that I bought on Ebay will be paid for in seven panels. I save $6.40 on a 6x8, $10.66 on an 8x10, and $20.51 on an 11X14. And above it all, as you stated, these panels will blow your face off. The quality simply doesn't get any better, though my wife Karen was a bit repulsed when she saw my face blown off even though she admitted it was an improvement.

    Thanks brother!
    Garry Kravit

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    1. Holy crap, that IS awesome.....so....can I have some money? I mean, you have so much leftover and all....

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  11. What size is your press, and have you ever mixed up your Beva film with cheese when making paninis?

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    1. 30 by 30 inches. The cheese is slightly less archival as an adhesive than the BEVA film. However, I am going to give processed sliced cheese a try...might work

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    2. I do believe American Cheese is considered by the FDA as a "cheese product," and not technically cheese "the food." It may work...

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  12. Thanks, Dave & Kate, this is very helpful.

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  13. in case anyone is worried about New Traditions gator, from their website:

    Gatorfoam Panels

    Gatorfoam panels are the perfect choice for an artist. They are a lightweight, manmade wood-polystyrene product that has an inert acidic content of 6.5~7.0 pH—inert meaning they will not become more acidic over time. They are less acidic than hardboard!

    Great idea to make your own though. Thanks for sharing how you do it!

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  14. Yes, but could they hold up to one of my ninja spinning sidekicks like Di bond? I think not.

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  15. There is a much easier way to glue raw linen to a dibond panel by sanding away the baked coating and preparing the exposed aluminium with potash alum (potassium aluminum sulfate). This makes the surface sensitive enough to take regular rabbit skin glue so that raw linen can be glued and then a traditional gesso can be applied with marble dust and glue. No presses needed.
    Michael Price

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    1. True, but I am using already lead primed linen for my panels from NY Central Art Supply. (Plus the BEVA is very easily reversed if needed.) If I was starting with raw linen, I would give the potash alum a try for sure.

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    2. I think Kate took a workshop with you awhile ago about traditional materials. Unfortunately I couldn't make it.

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    3. The problem with removing the manufacturer's coating on aluminum composite panels is that you will create an exposed surface that will oxidize and can react with the collagen proteins in the hide glue with the potential for degrading their strength.

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    4. No offense, Michael, but your procedure is way more difficult than it needs to be. The factory coating does not need to come off.

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    5. no rabbits need to be harmed in the creation of awesome panels. Stick to the panini machine.

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  16. Hi David, first time visiting your blog. Very interesting and amusing. I've just purchased some white A3 panels of dibond. Can I paint in oil directly on them or do they need to be primed? Could I sand the panels down to the shiny metal layer (if there is one) and paint directly on that? Thanks in advance for any advice you can provide.

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    1. Take a look at my post "More Apocalypse Surviving Panels." I cover two priming methods. You can technically paint right on the dibond factory priming surface, but it ain't that fun. If you want to try it you're going to have to lightly abrade the surface with 600 grit or something like that and clean it with some isopropyl alcohol. Exposing the aluminum isn't a great idea either because aluminum oxidizes once it is exposed, which means that your paint will be adhering to flaky rust, basically. Not terribly sound, structurally.

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  17. Will surely come and visit this blog more often. Thanks for sharing.
    painters adelaide

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  18. Thanks for the great information about panel making. I've been struggling with adhesives (Miracle Muck too often leaves a bubble right in the middle of the panel despite my best efforts).
    Can you recommend a Canadian supplier for Dibond or do you order from the US? If so, where?

    Many thanks!
    Ingrid

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    1. Any local sign shop should carry it. They sometimes refer to it as Alu-panel.

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  19. Thanks so much for all the great info! I was wondering if you mount to the white coated dibond or the brushed metal finish?

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    1. Mount to the white finish. The white stuff is the factory priming, which protects the aluminum from oxidizing. It's on there until the end of time, so no need to remove it first.

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  20. Dave, you are a riot. Most fun I've ever had reading about artist's materials. Thanks for the info!

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  21. hi! thanks for posting and keeping the thread alive.
    question: do you add wood strainers to the back of the dibond so that the panel is thicker - stands off the wall? if so, how would you adhere the wood to the dibond. glue? screws?

    also - could you use a hand iron instead of the press for the beva film?
    thanks!

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  22. Aluminum Composite Panel is available at Alees4bau in Germany, therefore visit this company to avail the service.

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  23. No problem getting past that stretched linen thing, but there is no way I'll give up drinking absinthe now that it's finally being made again.

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  24. Love your blog! Having had a lot of good, and bad, experience with dry mounting presses, I wanted to toss this out there. Be VERY careful (newbies) with your heat setting and time of exposure when mounting canvas or linen with any oil or lead based primer on it. IT CAN MELT! In fact, I've melted a painting when trying to mount it post painted, using Laminal glue. If we think about it, heating up the dried paint, primer or as a painting, has issues. I used to wonder why the panels that I would purchase from any of the normal outlets who heat mount using a heat activated glue, with Claessens linen on them, sometimes were super slick, some had some absorbency. The zinc was definitely a cuplrit. Then I learned the hard way that too much heat, for too long a time in the press, will replicate that exact problem. I say 'less is more' in this case! Thanks again for all of the info you guys pass along.

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  25. Thank you for the information. I'm looking to move to panels, but I work in 30x40 and 36x48, so big. I don't have a dry mounting press, and I don't really want to buy one. This may sound very stupid, but has anyone tried using an iron and then some type of weight with the Beva, or must it be a DMP?

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    1. I'm sure someone out there has perfected the art of ironing linen to a panel, but Dave's tried many times and it never works out.

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  26. Huge thanks to Dave and Kate for this excellent blog. and thanks Dave for sharing your knowledge on using Dibond. I have purchased some Australian equivalent called Alucomp. So far I've sanded the panels and given them a coat of acrylic gesso, however because my wife is not as generous What Kate is I have to find an alternative gluing method. What would you suggest is my best option?

    Best Regards,

    Sam

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  27. One thing I have found when adhering primed linen canvas is that the texture or weave becomes more pronounced.... Is this normal?

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    1. Unfortunately it is. The smoother linens tend to be less pronounced but any inconsistencies show more.

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    2. Thanks for your reply Dave and for confirming my findings. I thought it was my eyes at first!. Having done some extensive (and Expensive) tests I have found the best glue to use (except the Beva stuff) is PH Neutral EVA and not PVA. I don't know why but it sticks better and you get a smoother weave (less pronounced than if you use PVA). Thought I would just share my two bobs worth. Anyway thanks for the great blog and Merry Xmas to you both.

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    3. Unfortunately, I just came across this article but I hope this helps some of you. An art manufacturing company in Calgary, Alberta specializes in panels. They sell oil primed, acrylic primed (potentially lead primed, not sure though) but they also sell these mounted on your choice of gator board, dibond, MDF, etc. Also, the turn around time is amazing and they are much cheaper than the companies currently selling in the US! (Even with current exchange rate). Two stores in Calgary I know of are Swintons Art Supply and Kensington Art Supply, and another store in Edmonton called Delta Arts. Hope this helps!! Exceptional quality too.

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  28. Hi, David. I really appreciate this post, and it inspired me to experiment with adhering linen to dibond recently. I don't have space for a heat press, but I've seen an artist named Melissa Weinman in a YouTube video performing this task with an ordinary household iron, and doing so with an appearance of great ease and perfect results. She was doing it on wood panel, however. In attempting to do the same thing with my dibond, I've found that the aluminum panel warps. I suspect that this is because the heat is too high, but the lower settings on the iron don't seem to activate the BEVA glue properly. I'm stumped. Can you tell me if you've ever tried this with an iron? And have you ever experienced warping of the panel by any process? Do you believe that a heat press is absolutely essential to make the process work without warping? Irons don't have specific heat settings listed in degrees, so I don't know exactly how much heat is being delivered - and, of course, the heat is unevenly distributed throughout the process, which probably makes it quite difficult to activate the glue properly at lower, less destructive heat levels. You've indicated that it takes five minutes to activate the glue at 160 degrees, but that's with constant, uniform heat across the entire panel in your press, of course. Thanks for your time and for this insightful article!

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  29. Hi, David. I really appreciate this post, and it inspired me to experiment with adhering linen to dibond. I don’t currently have room for a heat press, but I’ve seen an artist named Melissa Weinman in a YouTube video performing this task with an ordinary household iron, with an appearance of great ease and perfect results. She was using wood panel, however, rather than aluminum. In attempting to use an iron with dibond, I’ve found that the panel warps quite quickly. That’s probably because the heat is too high, but lower heat settings on the iron don’t seem to activate the glue properly. So I’m at a loss to solve the problem at the moment. Irons don’t have heat settings listed in degrees, so I don’t know exactly how much heat is being delivered at any given setting. Have you ever attempted this with an iron? Have you ever seen your panels warp in response to heat? And do you think that a heat press is essential to perform this correctly with dibond? You’ve indicated that it takes five minutes for the glue to activate at 160 degrees, but of course the panel is receiving a uniform distribution of heat across the entire surface in your press. With my iron, the heat is distributed unevenly, which might explain why the glue does not activate readily at lower, safer heat levels. Thanks very much for your time and for this insightful article.

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    1. Never had any warping though an iron will work. It will take awhile to activate the glue so you would have to make circling motions until it does. Probably a lot easier to do with smaller panels than smaller ones. Heat press is still the way to go.

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    2. Thanks for taking the time to respond, David. I've since had an opportunity to make some small panels with a heat press at my framer's shop, and the results were nothing less than perfect. My iron experiment was so disastrous that I'm reluctant to try it again with Dibond. The idea was to use the iron to make panels that are too large for the heat press - but I think that the difficulty of maintaining a consistent temperature across the entire panel makes that a pretty bad option.

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  30. I have had success with laminall, hardboard, and my iron set on low. I heat it only as long as it takes for it to start to stick, but more thoroughly on the edges. Otherwise, the primed canvas does as previously mentioned in Marc's comment - it will get slick. If I ever mount a painting, it has to be completely (hardened) dry and not varnished yet. Someday I will have room and the money for a press, but not right now. And boy, it saves sooo much money doing it myself. Thank you for this post. I just discovered your blog, and I will be following it now for sure!

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  31. Do you brace a large Dibond panel on the back? it seems to bend a bit, at least the 3mm standard one. Do you suggest finding a 6mm for larger paintings, or you brace them somehow to make the board stronger? Or maybe it's fine once it's framed anyway? Curious if there is any consideration for it for larger pieces (36x48 as an example).

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    1. Hi Olga, we don't usually brace our panels. We use a thicker dibond for larger panels if we don't want any felx. I'm working on a piece that is just over 2x4' on 3mm and there is some flex, but there probably wouldn't be if I had used 4mm. At any rate, you're right, the frame ends up being the brace. I make a point of using a flexible ground, like an acrylic gesso by Golden. The paint layers are flexible too when young. I wouldn't used a fragile ground like chalk gesso on a flexible panel.

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  32. To Kate and Olga - you might be interested to know that a 6mm variety of dibond is available. I have a small sample of it, and it seems much more substantial than the more common 3mm variety. I've never handled a large panel of it yet, though, so I can't comment on the flexibility issue. I would expect it to be considerably less flexible than 3mm. It's available from Piedmont Plastics - I get it locally from their Knoxville, TN, branch, but they apparently have branches elsewhere: http://www.piedmontplastics.com/acm/

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  33. I have yet to use DiBond but have been reading all i can get my hands on before i attempt it. Ive read several articles on using gesso as a primer. This is the first blog I've even seen mentiong canvas. I don't see the point of using DiBond if you end up at where you started...canvas. Again, I'm to gather as much info first as I can. The other piece I need to know is the difficulty in cutting and leaving smooth edging. Any tips appreciated! Carol in SC

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    1. The point is to compensate for the flaws of linen by reinforcing the linen with a panel backing. It's an attempt to get the best of both worlds. Personally, I can't stand working with linen or canvas and much prefer a straight up primed panel. We cut our dibond on a table saw and if necessary, sand the edges a bit after to tidy them up.

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