Buying Art Online: Image Size vs. Sheet Size

Oh, that old-age question, what is the difference between image size and sheet size? Some online art companies sell their prints by sheet size and some use image size. Let’s dig into each.

First of all, it is important to note that these terms are mostly used in reference to prints on paper rather than canvas prints.  That is because canvas prints are typically stretched and mounted into frames, rather than being printed with a border to put behind a mat and glass. Paper prints, however, need to be matted and framed with the appropriate glass (UV is my recommendation) and therefore are typically printed with a white border.

Standard Art & Frame Size Diagram
Standard US Art & Frame Sizes

Now, let’s break down the reason why art is sold at image size or sheet size. It all has to do with the standard sizes of art and frames that are use in the United States (other countries use the metric version, such as the ISO A Series). If you go to any U.S. craft store, you will find pre-cut frames and mats being sold in standard sizes, such as 5 x 7″, 8 x 10″, 16 x 20″, etc. However, not all art is created to fit into these dimensions. That’s where some companies switch over to sheet size to sell their prints.

Let’s say I have an image that is not exactly standard. For instance, in the example below the first painting by Gunnar Widforss, entitled “View into the Grand Canyon,” is tall and thin, vs. the image next to it, “Canyon Point”, also by Widforss, which can be printed to most standard sizes. If I set the image height to 10″, this is what happens to each:

This difference in aspect ratio (the proportional relationship of width and height) causes issues because it means that online print companies that want to sell by image size would need to have TONS of different size variations across an art collection, which completely complicates things. To alleviate this problem, they use standard sheet sizes for selling prints. This means they will charge you for a sheet size of say, 8 x 10″, and however that image falls on the paper is what you get. You could purchase an 8 x 10″ paper print (using sheet size) and, if they are providing you with a white border for matting and framing purposes, you may end up with an image that is only 7 x 9″ or smaller. Bummer dude.

Despite intricacies and complications, some companies, such as ours (shameless plug!), use image size to sell prints. In contrast to sheet size, image size provides you with a much bigger print that is in correct proportion to what the artist originally intended. This means that if you order an art image that sizes to 8 x 13″, you will be shipped a print that has a sheet size of about 9 x 14″ (approximate 1/2″ border added for matting and framing), with an image that is actually printed to the size you ordered. Much better bang for your buck, don’t ya think?

Of course this also means that if you are purchasing a print that is not a standard size, you will need custom framing. Although this may cost a bit more initially, the result is far better than plopping a standard size sheet into a cheap standard frame. See my comparison below, featuring a painting from our Martin Johnson Heade collection:

Long story short, image and sheet sized prints both have their pros and cons, but in the end, you decide the final outcome of your art. If you fall in love with an image that isn’t a standard size and an irregular white border around your print doesn’t bother you then so be it! And, of course, if you are keeping budget in mind (who isn’t, amiright?), then the inexpensive standard sheet size and frame may be the way to go. But if you’re more particular about your art, then purchasing an art print online by it’s image size and investing in some professional custom framing might be more your style.

Which do you prefer? Let us know by commenting below!

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