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Backdrops – Paint vs. Print?

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The history and usage of backdrops goes back as far as the history of theatrical and staged performances. In some way, scenery has always been a supporting role to the actors or provides cohesiveness to an event. Although theatrics have changed considerably over the years there is still a need for backdrops and other scenery. In the realm of backdrops or backings as they’re called by industry pros, there are two primary ways that they can be created- Hand Painted and Printed.

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Hand Painted Backdrops

The first is by hand painting the backdrops preferably on a counterweight frame or using a large floor space. Keep in mind, most stage prosceniums can be upwards of 20-30 feet tall and 50 or more feet wide. Below are some unique benefits you can take advantage of when renting or purchasing a hand painted backdrop:

● Lighting effects –can be back painted or painted with Ultraviolet paints making images appear or disappear.
● Contrasts of light and dark colors are more saturated on a painted backdrops
● Ease of creation and flexibility; no need for high res files, colors and layout can be changed on the fly.
● Long term wear and tear – repairs can be easily made and minimized with proper touch ups.
● No size limitations – large scale items are more affordable when hand painted.

Digitally Printed Backdrops

Digitally printed backdrops have become more popular over the years by offering a quick turn around and especially provide a photorealistic quality which can be useful in small scale backdrops. Commonly printed backdrops include:

● Step and repeat, banners, billboards
● Multi use – indoor/outdoor applications
● Photorealistic

In addition to hand painted and digitally printed backdrops there are a few other new, high-tech ways to create the backdrop effect, including high tech LED video walls and 3D laser projection that includes audio. The 3D laser projection can be used for either backdrops or as the actual show itself.

Some of the considerations for hand painted backdrops is the look and feel that they offer. For productions or plays that are more traditional a hand painted backdrop complements and adds to the productions overall feel and presentation. If a production or play is taking on a more modern effect; a digitally printed backdrop or LED wall maybe a better fit.

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Budget is also always a consideration. Many productions are put on by schools and organizations with limited budgets. In cases of these smaller budgets, the production managers may opt for renting a backdrop as a cost effective method, generic backdrops of background scenery like forests, cityscapes, etc. that are versatile and flexible. With pre-designed backdrops, the impact and feel can be changed with proper lighting placement, lighting color and additional stage props.

Next time you are at a play or production you may find yourself looking a little more closely at the backdrop, now that you know a little about what is involved.

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