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Beyond the Giclée Print

Sizing Up the Fine Art Reproduction Market

By Gretchen A. Peck

There’s a lot of money to be made by printers tapping the fine art reproduction market. But to be successful, you’ve got to do it right, blending best-of-breed technologies with a new kind of sell.

The term giclée is bounced around a lot in the print industry. There’s actually some debate on what the term means. Many agree that it’s a French derivative, meaning to squirt or spray. Others contend that it refers more to the idea of one-off digital printing. "Giclée was a fancy name that the folks behind the IRIS created when it began to market its drum machines to the fine art market," quips Craig T. Reid of DuPont Color Communication. "Really, what we’re talking about here is fine art reproduction."

Until recently, the fine art segment of the print world has been relatively quiet; but it’s starting to make some noise. It was in the Spring of 2005 when I.T. Strategies conducted a survey of wide format print suppliers. The result was a report published in May 2006 titled Wide Format Print-for-Pay Shops: Continued Evolution. Out of the 777 respondents that participated, a mere two percent self-classified their businesses as fine art printers.

"Fine art is an interesting specialty," suggests Patti Williams, consulting partner, I.T. Strategies. "There are shops that specialize in just fine art. That’s very unusual for the wide format graphics print community. Most print shops offer a lot of different types of print—a little of this, a little of that."

However, in the same study, virtually every other category of print company—commercial, display graphics, sign shops, etc.—report they’re turning out some amount of fine art reproduction, too.

Jim Manelski says that the fine art repro industry is thriving, quite simply, because demand is up. He’s the president of BullDog Products, a distributor of giclée supplies. "BullDog’s sister company, Harvest Productions, for example, currently has more than 40 printing presses just printing fine art," he marvels.

Sizing Up Fine Art
Reid recalls recent history when there were grandiose expectations for mass-market fine art reproduction. "At one time there was talk about kiosks that could sit in a studio, art store, or frame shop. And the customer could select the artwork and print it on the spot," he says. But there were inherent problems. How could the artist or customer know if it’s been color-managed correctly? How could they know that the reproduction had integrity?

"And not only that," Reid recalls. "There was no silver bullet for managing the content’s ownership, the rights and royalties."

Today, the fine art market predominantly involves a one-to-one relationship between an artist and a print supplier.

The Right Technologies
While IRIS may have been the first print solution adopted by the fine art community, it now has a lot of competition, as manufacturers like Canon, Epson, Hewlett-Packard, Mimaki, and Roland DGA now market their printers to this sect.

"From a color gamut standpoint, Canon just leap-frogged the competition when it introduced the latest imagePROGRAF," Reid opines. The Canon imagePROGRAF iPF9000 is a 12-color pigment solution that Reid says can achieve "virtually all the colors in the Pantone library within a Delta-E of two."

Dave Revesz, prepress manager of Ontario, Canada-based Forest City Graphics, says that most of the giclées his company produces are done on an IRIS 3047, but recently, their HP Designjet 5500 has come into play. It provides a larger size capability and offers output almost 80 percent faster than the IRIS.

And, as it turns out, aqueous printers may not be the only technology printers can rely on for fine art reproduction.

"We’ve made it possible for printers to use solvent machines for fine art applications," Bulldog Products’ Manelski explains. "Solvent printing has historically been thought of as the outdoor, durable printing choice. But historically, water-based gives you images with more pop. So we spent three years developing a canvas that would give the look, pop, saturation, and color gamut that a water-based ink would give—yet it’s done with solvents." That has really helped the industry grow, because the solvent workflow tends to be much more efficient.

"The end result is that you’re able to do much greater throughput, a much greater level of productivity at a lower cost, and you don’t have to apply a protective coating after printing," Manelski adds.

Besides investing in best-of-breed digital print technologies, a company that’s interested in tapping the fine art market will need to make additional investments, as well. A digital image capture device is a must.

While digital cameras are in wide-spread use among fine art shops, digital scanners are becoming more popular as the technology develops. Quality has gotten better, speeds faster, and resolution higher. After all, no matter how high the resolution may be on the digital print engine, it’s during digitization where all the detail, depth, color, and texture is captured.

Artists appreciate a one-stop shop where they can take their original painting, and have it scanned, printed, and finished by a single supplier. Having image capture capabilities in-house also provides the printer with greater control over the workflow.

Speed, resolution, width, color technology, and media compatibility are all considerations for choosing a digital scanning solution. As a fine art reproduction supplier, you’ll find that artists’ original media will vary greatly. An automated solution that self-adjusts and accommodates a wide range of media thickness will allow you to serve a more diverse demographic of art customers.

And the best part about investing in a digital scanning solution is an extension of services—the print company can utilize the machine to perform scan-to-file services for artists as well as other types of customers, such as architectural and engineering firms.

There is a wide range of digital scanning solutions being used for fine art applications. For example, Colortrac SmartLF Gx 42 large format scanners offer up to 9,600 dpi—enhanced resolution—and up to three-inch-per-minute operating speeds.

Contex color and color/monochrome scanners are available in 54-, 42-, 36-, and 25-inch with up to 600 dpi.

Cruse Digital Equipment’s Synchron Table fine art scanners have a design based on a fixed light source and scan head, with a moving vacuum table.

Graphtec America’s CS500 and CS600 color scanners feature 42-inch-wide configuration and up to three-inches-per-second color scanning speed.

Océ CS4100 Series color scanners feature automated thickness control; handle substrates up to 0.6 inches thick; and operate at speeds of up to 12-inches-per-second.

Vidar color and color/monochrome scanners are available in 54-, 42-, 36-, and 25-inch scanners with resolution of up to 600 dpi.

WIDECOM’s SLS Series comprise scanner models in 36-, 41-, 54-, and 72-inch-wide configurations; handles media up to 0.6 inches thick; and images at a 400x400 dpi true optical resolution.

Customizing Service
While most print shops doing large format work may already have the equipment and workflow needed to tap into the emerging fine art market, infiltrating and serving the art community may require much more than the ability to lay ink down on a substrate. An artist will expect color to be spot on, that textures and details are preserved in print.

"Working with artists is more of a consultative sell," Williams affirms.

TJ Rose has a unique perspective into the fine art reproduction market. She’s enjoyed a career as a painter for more than 20 years. She also owns a gallery, and most recently, added giclée print supplier to her resume. She uses a six-color Roland Hi-Fi JET Pro II FJ-540 not only to reproduce her own artwork originals, but also those of fellow artists. Her print business has grown rapidly, demanding her full-time attention for more than a year now.

As an artist herself, Rose inherently understands what the fine art customer requires. "I think it’s very hard to get people who are trained technicians to look at the work like an artist. I’m not saying that there isn’t an element of creativity that goes into a printer’s work...But an artist wants to know that the printer sees what he or she is seeing, that they’ll make every attempt to pick up all the details and nuances an artist put into the work. It’s tragic to lose those qualities," she stresses.

Another concern among artists? "Sometimes artists will go to a printer, have their work shot or scanned, one or more prints created, and they find that the printer will not release the digital file to them. But the artist technically owns that content and has paid for the scanning or photography session," she notes.

Rose says she’s heard tales of printers holding digital files hostage, essentially making it cost prohibitive for the client to take their work to another printer. "It’s just bad business, and I won’t do that," Rose adds, "because I know that there may be all sorts of reasons why the artist may need to move on to another printer—perhaps they’ve moved!"

Beyond the Printer
According to Reid, DuPont carefully examined the fine art reproduction market, but decided against developing its own giclée print solution. But that doesn’t mean that DuPont isn’t interested in this segment of the print market.

"We participate in it with a number of what I’d call background technologies. For example, many of the printers use inks developed by DuPont, and we specifically sought out feedback about the properties those inks need in order to be acceptable for art reproduction," Reid explains.

And inks are a critical component of the fine art equation. A print company entering this market must have an intimate knowledge of the types of inks that will work best with certain printers and substrates. "You may need to use any one of five ink sets depending on the substrate," Reid suggests.

Ironically, the printers DuPont designed for other types of print are actually starting to be used more frequently for fine art applications. The UV Cromaprint, for example, is being used to reproduce original art on unusual substrates, like synthetics, glass, wood, and ceramic tiles. And DuPont’s Artistri system, according to Reid, is very often used to print artwork on fabrics used in décor and furnishings.

"There’s new opportunity in art for printers running flatbed machines, putting art on rigid substrates," Williams concurs. "And I think serving artists is a really nice opportunity for more than just inkjet. If you had electrophotography capabilities, as well, you could offer things like greeting cards, postcards, and marketing materials to promote your customer’s shows."

Forging a path into the fine art market may be a risky route for some print suppliers. It’s not a no-brainer complement to other large format services.

"There have been many print shops that started up and said, ‘Oh, I can do art, too!’ But they found out they couldn’t. Fine art is special, and not all print shops do it," Williams forewarns. "But I do think the fine art market is growing quickly."

"But if you’re a printer that has access to the demand—the art client base," Reid confides, "you can certainly, and quickly, see a return on your investment. A major art job could potentially pay for the equipment in a matter of a month. The profit margins can be enormous!"

Mar2007, Digital Output

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