Fine art printing – a new opportunity

It wasn’t long ago that artists wanting to produce open or limited edition prints of their artwork needed to have them reproduced via the traditional printing press. The biggest disadvantage was that the artist needed to purchase a run of at least 5,000 prints in order to make it worthwhile even to turn the press on. Therefore, the entire fine art reproduction market was dominated by a small group of publishers who financed, printed and distributed the artwork.

The first significant development in fine art printing occurred with the application of high-end Iris inkjet printers, which were used to produce prints. Scitex had created the Iris inkjet printer that could create amazingly detailed and faithful reproductions and was aimed at the prepress industry, which produced proofs for the printing press. But the $100,000 price tag of an Iris printer was not financially feasible for many artists and publishers. As well, even though the Iris printers created beautiful prints, the dye based ink set lacked the archival properties to keep the prints from fading over time.

Yet, this didn’t discourage early digital printmakers like Maryann Doe of Harvest Productions and Jack Duganne, a printmaker at Nash Editions. Finally in 1991, they got it right and Jack coined the phrase “Giclée Printing.” Giclée is the French verb meaning “to spray” (as from a nozzle) and this perfectly describes the manner in which the inks are dispersed onto the substrate in the digital printing process. The main intention of the word giclée was to distinguish “fine art prints” from those created for non-art or commercial purposes. Today the term “Giclée” is commonly used by artists to describe a fine art print produced by the inkjet printing method, using archival inks.

This Giclée fine art printing technology, has taken the art world by storm and is presenting printers and photo labs with a great new opportunity to diversify their revenue stream. Artists seeking reproductions of their artwork are now looking for print-on-demand print solutions, as the sale of their artwork dictates.

The next significant development in fine art printing occurred with the introduction of the first usable generation of pigmented inks from Epson. Epson “Archival Inks” were a major breakthrough that forever changed the entire printmaking landscape, and yet they, too, had their short fall due to a lower colour gamut, metamerism and sensitivity to ozone deterioration. Yet, for a tenth of the cost of an Iris printer, Giclée print providers could now afford to buy an inkjet printer for fine art and photographic applications.

Over the last few years, we’ve had the introduction of a whole new generation of archival inks from manufactures like Canon, Epson and HP, that boast longevity up to 200 years and more. I think this could be considered another significant development in fine art printing.

Here’s how the process works

The first step is to “digitize” the artwork by using a high-end camera or scanner. When using a camera, a proper lighting setup will be critical to achieving good results. I have found that when reproducing an oil or acrylic painting that had a lot of texture to the paint, you will be wise to spend a little extra time to get the lighting just right as to enhance the 3D effect. If you do not have access to a high-resolution scanner or camera, consider out-sourcing this service to a photo studio.

Next, load the digitized picture into a graphics program such as Photoshop to size, crop, modify background, do colour adjustments and clean the image.

Now you are ready to print the picture. You should first print two small 5″ × 7″ test prints to ensure that you have correct colour settings. This also gives the customer two options to choose from. Check the printer settings to ensure the output quality is what you are looking for. For example, Canon printers have profiles built into their driver, so that when you match the paper with the profile in the driver, you get excellent results right off the bat, without having to create custom profiles. Although anyone doing any kind of serious work will wish to create a custom profile for the paper or canvas they wish to use.

After the customer has approved the test print, you may print on canvas or watercolor paper as many prints as are requested. Keep the digital file well stored so when the customer requires more prints you’ll be ready.

Giclée Finishing

Giclée prints can be prematurely damaged if exposed to moisture or UV rays, so you would be wise to let the print cure for at least 24 hours before treating the surface. The inks are water based and will smear if liquids are accidentally splashed on the surface. By applying a liquid laminate over the artwork, it will not only protect the print, it will also give the print a real nice “work of art” finish.

Research before investing

All three of the big manufacturers have made significant strides in fine art and photographic printing over the last few years. Canon with its brand new ipf6300 and ipf8300 12-colour printers has stepped up the game once again. The Canon Photoshop plug-in makes it easy for anyone to create beautiful looking prints right off the bat in 16 bit colour. The 12-colour pigment-based ink encompasses the entire CMYK and RGB colour spectrum. The latest Epson printers feature a 10-colour pigment-based ink system and have an optional spectrophotometer, which can be added on. Whereas HP features a 11-colour pigmented-based ink plus gloss optimizer and spectrophotometer on-board.

You can spend up to $26,995 for the 64″ Epson Stylus Pro GS6000 or $4,695 for the brand new 24″ Canon iPF6300 Giclée digital printer. Look for reliability, speed and colour gamut when choosing an inkjet printer. You are welcome to email me if you have any further questions.


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