ArtId Art Blog
"A person who works with his hands is a laborer. A person who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman." - Louis Nizer
Fine art Giclee printing has come a very long way in a relatively short time. Only a handful of commercial Giclee printers were in operation seven or eight years ago, today there are hundreds. The Giclee printmaking revolution came about as advances in ink jet printing technology resulted in the Iris printer, a machine capable of unprecedented image quality on a variety of fine art media in large-sheet sizes. No ink jet printer remotely approaching this level of quality and versatility had been available before.
Today the Iris printer is still considered the benchmark against which others are measured. The community of printmakers utilizing this technology for fine art reproduction started out small and remained so for quite some time due to the high cost of entry into the field __" the high quality came at a very high price.
Recently, new print technologies have emerged which have developed to a degree of quality where they are considered by some to be challengers to the Iris__™s long held top spot in the fine art Giclee field. This inexpensive, new technology has brought about many changes, most notably the lower cost of entry into the market giving artists, publishers, and museums many more vendors to choose from.
With so many more players in the field it is increasingly difficult to fully understand what each is capable of providing. The result of all of this technological development and deployment is that everyone buying fine art printmaking services must understand that technology is not a replacement for craftsmanship. Fine art printmaking is still a hands-on, labor intensive process __" not necessarily what the equipment vendors want us to believe __" and the level of craftsmanship brought to the process is what determines the ultimate quality. Over time the methods, materials, and tools we use evolve. Today our tools have become digital but yet they remain just that, tools. It is how they are put to use that makes the difference.
Craftsmanship in Giclee printmaking encompasses several disciplines, each one a key component for a truly outstanding reproduction. Every step of the reproduction process carries with it it__™s own set of limitations and compromises which a craftsman must work within. A complete understanding of the very nature of each process involved will enable your printmaker to use the best practices and minimize the compromises your work is subject to, resulting in the best reproduction possible.
Reproducing art is at some level always a collaborative effort between the artist and printmaker. The craftsman printer will always strive to faithfully reproduce every nuance of the original, but every artist has a unique vision of his or her own work. Without communication this vision won__™t be taken into account. It is very helpful to express your vision and expectations before commencing work and should be welcomed by the printer as guidance, enabling him to get your project off to a solid start in the direction you choose and give the printmaker a chance to make appropriate recommendations of methods and materials which will make accomplishing your goal easier.
All fine art reproductions begin with capturing an image of the original artwork. High quality capture of the original is essential, but often overlooked. This first step sets the bar for later quality, making the skills applied here critical.
Three channels are open for acquiring your image. Direct high-resolution digital photography of the original art, photographing it on film to be scanned, and for digitally created art, a digital file. For original art, direct high-resolution capture produces the best results, with film running in second place. Direct capture eliminates unnecessary generations in the process as well as avoiding the introduction of characteristics such as film grain or color shifts to the work.
To effectively capture your art, the craftsman must understand the principles of studio photography, lighting and modeling of the subject, and the mechanical aspects of proper setup and exposure. The camera employed needs to be capable of capturing a high resolution image at the intended print size. These will generally be 4×5 cameras with digital scanning backs. Recently, low cost ___prosumer___ digital devices have released a flood of mediocre digital images (for our purposes) which customers expect exceptional results from. While an image file can be ___res__™d up___ for printing, details lost to the initial small file size can__™t ever be recreated. Generally, if the camera can__™t capture a file of at least 300dpi at full print size without interpolation it won__™t yield truly good results.
For film, 4×5 transparencies are adequate for fine art reproductions up to about 40___, and 8×10 transparencies will cover the larger sizes. 35mm isn__™t recommended because of its small frame size and the subsequent extreme enlargement required. The larger the film, the more image information and detail it can record.
If you are working with a photographer, evaluate the transparency carefully under balanced lighting with a 10x loupe. This degree of magnification makes it easier to see what the image might look like at print size. The image should fill most of the film and be free of coarse, visible grain, and all four corners should be inspected for sharp focus. A color bar and gray scale are helpful in evaluating color balance and exposure. The swatches in color bar should be clean and accurate with the white patch appearing white, but not blown out. The steps in the grayscale should appear neutral without a color cast and with visible separation between all of the steps.
If you see problems, don__™t feel bad about pointing them out and having the photographer shoot it over until it is right. Of the film we see 10% is ___excellent___, 80% ranges from ___acceptable___ to ___marginally good enough to use___ and 10% is ___unacceptable___. Remember, the final print depends on this little piece of film, which for the printmaker becomes your original.
Proofing is the next step in the journey, where a lot of work goes on behind the scenes. The captured image has been converted to an appropriate format and color space for output, and the task of matching the original has begun. All high quality proofing will be done on the exact same paper with the same inks as the final print, or you won__™t see an accurate representation of the work __" accept nothing less.
At this stage the craftsmanship and talent driving the process is most apparent; this is where opportunity exists to create a truly exceptional print. The first proof you see most likely will not be the first proof run but a later version made after careful comparison and adjustment and should match well to the original art. However, people do see colors differently and you may wish to make some further adjustments. Be specific, mark up the proof clearly showing what you want changed and explain what you want to happen. The final approved proof is what the printer will use as a visual match for the final prints.
If you are not happy with the proof you will have to let your printer know. Approving the proof and making the large prints will not magically fix problems___it will just make them larger.
Making the full sized, final print is the last step. By now all of your concerns should have been addressed and all image related problems solved, the printmaker has an approved proof in his hands and is ready to go. What should you expect at this point? Excellence.
A high caliber printmaker needs to know more than how to operate a printer in order to produce high caliber prints. There is a wide variety of printers available and a corresponding variety of quality. The true craftsman will possess a fundamental knowledge of how your image data is processed, converted, and optimized for the targeted media and ink, and will understand the inner workings of the printer. They should be able to consistently obtain the highest quality the printer can be made to produce, often better than the manufacturer intended.
Printer drivers and ___rip___ software produce pleasing results out of the box. Taking craftsmanship to a higher level requires ability to modify the underlying way the software does it__™s job in order to manipulate it to its greatest advantage. The prints you receive should closely match the color of the final proof you approved and be free of any printing imperfections. There should be no random ink spots, scuffs, banding, kinks or creases. Occasionally a minor imperfection may get past inspection, but a craftsman worthy of his reputation will replace it. This striving for excellence has always been a part of the printmaker__™s craft. The tools may have changed over time but the original intent remains the same.
So, all this being said, how do you find a craftsman worthy of reproducing your work? It really boils down to two things. First, find out what it takes to make a great print and second, ask a prospective printmaker questions about how they do what they do, and why they do it that way; the answers are sure to be telling.