Because of feedback and questions from my previous article (here), I have decided to go ahead and write articles about each type of background to better explain their advantages and disadvantages, starting with Muslin.
Muslin was first introduced to the world in the Middle East, and brought to Europe in the 17th century. As a loose woven cotton weave it allows air to flow through it freely, making it perfect for arid and dry climates. It was primarily used as clothing and bandaging, but eventually this fabric found its was into the theater as a material used for backdrops. This eventually lead to its usage in virtually all photography studios as a primary fabric in backgrounds, replacing canvas fabric.
Muslin holds some of the greatest advantages when dealing with photography studio backgrounds, making it an invaluable fabric for photographers. Because this fabric is a loose cotton weave it is very durable fabric, able to take a good amount of wear, tear, and abuse while still remaining usable by the photographer. The thick cotton of the fabric prevents excessive light from passing through it, meaning that unlike other cotton fabrics it will not show objects that are behind the fabric when applying a flash to it.
One of the greatest advantages muslin holds over almost all other background materials is it’s ability to hold dyes, inks, and paints. Muslin actually holds all of these elements almost as well as canvas, which is one of the primary reasons it replaced canvas as background material. Most muslin backgrounds are painted or dyed to emulated “old master” styles. These styles are the common ones you see in most portrait photographs, in which there is a light color in the middle with a darker color around the edges.
Using and storing muslin is relatively easy compared to many other materials. Muslin is usually hung up on a background stand either by metal hooks, or more commonly by clamps. This allows the fabric to flow freely in the space it is needed, creating typical portrait backgrounds. Storing or transporting muslin is easier than any other material. To store or transport it, you simply wad the entire cloth together and shove it in a bag. You should not fold muslin, the wrinkles in the fabric actually make for better background material.
Muslin itself is relatively inexpensive ranging from about $100-$300 for pre-made backgrounds between 9ftx12ft and 12ftx20ft.
Muslin is made of cotton, meaning that it is a very absorbent material. If you spill something on the muslin you will most likely never remove the stain from the fabric. Likewise if you was muslin, not only will it usually shrink in size slightly, but also it will bleed onto and receive bleeds from other fabric colors.
Because the fabric is designed to provide an all over background it can be a little difficult to manage, also it will virtually always have wrinkles in the fabric, making it a very poor choice for a completely solid background. Finding muslin backgrounds that are a single solid color outside of white, black, and chroma, is also very hard, since most muslin is designed to be unique background.