By Olivia Cahoon
Digital printing technology gives artists and photographers the advantage of reproduction on demand without the effort of manually reproducing. Businesses, museums, and even interior decorators seek reprints of modern and well-known photography for display and decor. Today’s digital printers can take artwork to supersized proportions.
Above: 90 percent of Coupralux’s business consists of fine art printing. The company, based in Dallas, TX, uses a Nyala 2 from swissQprint to achieve high-quality reproductions and original artwork for customers.
Established in 1994, Coupralux Digital, Inc. was founded as the first independent digital services shop serving Dallas and Fort Worth, TX. The company operated from a 2,000 square foot work area. Mike Bowers and his brother recruited additional staff that possessed a technical knowledge of photography and a background in fine arts.
“Back in 1994, we were digital scanning and printing pioneers,” says Mike Bowers, owner/operator, Coupralux. The company’s customers consisted of commercial photographers and small- to mid-sized advertising businesses that had begun to use Adobe Photoshop to produce their work.
According to Bowers, customers needed film scanned and high-quality color proofs. Since the beginning, Coupralux’s business philosophy is to only offer the absolute highest quality digital services regarding resolution and color. This required the early adoption of ICC color management, which allowed the company to use its own color profiles for all ink and media combinations. As a result, it achieves consistent high-gamut output.
For the first ten years Coupralux used Kodak Pro Photo CD and Heidelberg Tango drum scanners and printed on a collection of Iris Graphics 3047 printers. According to Bowers, the company’s focus on quality attracted many clients in the art industry who now make up the majority of Coupralux’s customer base.
Coupralux Digital now operates from a 10,000 square foot facility in Dallas, TX and offers services to LA, OK, and TX with a staff of seven.
Production starts in the digital capture studio with a Better Light, Inc. digital scan back accompanied by an array of different lighting effects and capture software. Prepress is completed on Mac computers with color-profiled monitors using Adobe Creative Suite software.
Coupralux uses Epson aqueous and solvent printers in addition to a swissQprint Nyala 2 UV printer. “These and a variety of finishing processes allow us to offer large format art scanning as well as large format art production,” says Bowers.
Fine Art Printing
Coupralux’s early focus on digital output quality attracted the attention of the fine art industry who traditionally relied on offset printing processes. According to Bowers, once art industry players became comfortable with the company’s digital output quality, the diminished financial risk offered by small quantity digital runs versus high-volume offset became the primary deciding factor for many clients.
With fine art digital printing, Bowers believes client communication is one of the largest challenges the company experiences. He believes it’s integral to understand each artist’s vision or purpose for each project. “Having a team of people passionate about art themselves is key to translating our clients’ wishes into successful art projects,” he adds.
The company produces a full range of printed fine art pieces from watercolors to photography. “Some prints are just the beginning of the artist’s vision and are embellished afterwards while others are exact reproductions,” says Bowers. The company also handles unique pieces digitally created as an original work of fine art.
Roughly 90 percent of Coupralux’s work is digitally printed fine art with the other ten percent occasional architectural interior signage jobs. Self-publishing artists seek the company’s services for high-quality and low-volume art reproductions. Bowers says both corporate interior and hospitality industries also approach the company for high-end, short-run processes for wall décor.
For Coupralux, clients often choose the digital output process that best complements their work. Bowers says watercolor reproduction almost always translates perfectly into aqueous prints on watercolor papers. Original oil and acrylic paintings are often reproduced as a solvent canvas but can also be done on aqueous and UV presses.
In December 2016, Coupralux installed the swissQprint Nyala 2 UV printer. “We searched for a long time to find a flatbed printer that would print to the level required for fine art, and we were always wanting something a little better,” admits Bowers.
The Nyala 2 prints up to 2,217 square feet per hour maximum productivity on a 126×79-inch bed. It offers various add-on extensions including nine color channels that can be equipped with CMYK, light colors, white, effect varnish, and spot colors.
“The Nyala 2 was the first printer that hit every note we wanted in a UV printer,” says Bowers. The device is the size the company needs to produce custom oversized art pieces and offers the precision to consistently output high-quality prints.
When Coupralux first implemented the Nyala 2, its employees were familiar with how flatbed printers generally worked. However, Bowers says the training received from swissQprint had the company printing the second day after installation. “The Nyala 2 is a technically complex machine with numerous features, so the learning curve for us has been exploring its limits to see how far we can push its already excellent quality output,” he offers.
After one year of ownership, the Nyala 2 has completed 30 percent of Coupralux’s art production. Bower says he expects its usage to increase. “It greatly expanded the variety of art products we can offer our clients thanks to the variety of materials UV allows for,” he explains.
A variety of media is favored, specifically brands that have name recognition in the art community. This includes 3A Composites USA Dibond, Fredrix Print Canvas materials, Hahnemühle papers, and OPTIX acrylic sheeting from Plaskolite.
Adobe Photoshop is primarily used for the critical color adjustments required in fine art printing. Coupralux drives its printers with Caldera and ErgoSoft RIPs and maintains a portfolio of color management software and hardware.
Regarding digitally printed fine art pieces, Bowers notices artists and clients requesting increasingly large art pieces to fill interior spaces. Additionally, he says many artists use the company’s process as their original medium. “It is extremely rewarding to see an original piece of artwork for the first time coming off our printers,” he shares.
Urban Fabric Photography
In 2016, fine art photographer Justin Terveen approached Coupralux for printed interior art. Terveen is a TX-based photographer specializing in urban aesthetics and non-traditional photography. His company, Urban Fabric Photography, offers art pieces capturing architecture, cityscapes, photojournalism, and urban exploration.
Terveen requested 20 individual fine art images printed for a display at the Dallas Convention Center offices. Using the Nyala 2, Coupralux produced the images on white 3A Dibond panels with a semi-gloss varnish overlay. The images were back printed on Plaskolite OPTIX one-fourth-inch acrylic sheets with a protective polystyrene backing.
According to Bowers, the varnish overlay was printed as a finishing pass on the Nyala 2, saving the company a manual labor step. “The semi-gloss varnish increases both the dynamic range and color gamut of prints, while also providing a physical protection layer,” he explains. Additionally, the Nyala 2’s small ink droplet size along with light inks allowed the company to produce images with no digital artifacts, which is critical to fine art clients.
The job was produced a week after swissQprint installed the Nyala 2. It was also the first job where the company printed using a varnish overlay. The images were back mounted with an aluminum support frame and security hanging hardware. “Typically, we provide or coordinate delivery and installation of oversized art pieces, which many of our smaller clients are unaccustomed or unequipped to handle,” says Bowers.
From job submittal to installation the project took two weeks to complete. Coupralux is now the official print shop for Urban Fabric Photography. “I’ve been coming here for a year or so now and couldn’t be more pleased with the service of work. In the last year, our large format game has been stepped up immensely,” shares Terveen.
Artists and photographers seek businesses that utilize state-of-the-art print technology to duplicate and expand their artwork while maintaining quality. Using the Nyala 2, Coupralux caters to the needs of the fine art industry and benefits from relationships with artists who feed fine art reproduction demands.
Feb2018, Digital Output