Image capture quality is of the utmost importance in any graphic arts application, but it’s absolutely critical in fine art reproduction. Rendition of color, detail, and resolution makes or breaks the end result. A print service provider (PSP) is presented with options when choosing an imaging technology. Is a digital scan back or a flatbed scanner a more applicable solution?
Traditionally wide format scanners were used in the reprographic or CAD markets for archiving important documents such as blueprints. With today’s advancements in high-quality resolution and print speed PSPs looking to reproduce fine art increasingly turn to wide format scanning. However, many still use scan backs for their portability and uncanny ability to capture fine detail.
All About the Image
A workflow’s success is measured by the sum of its parts. The quality of data captured from an original print is perhaps the most critical stage of the workflow. Output quality is often decided at the time of capture. Without a good image to start with the output is destined to fail. Large format scanning solutions aid PSPs in achieving the highest quality reproduction possible.
Contex A/S offers three primary families of large format scanning solutions. While the SD Series is best suited for general office requirements—like batch scanning and scan-to-file needs—Contex’s HD Series scanners are ideally suited for graphic arts applications.
The HD Series scanners feature automatic thickness adjustment control, accommodating originals on media up to 0.6 inches thick. These solutions capture at speeds of up to 12 inches per second and at resolutions of up to 9,600 dpi, depending on the model. The HD2530; HD3630 and HD3650; HD4230, HD4230i, and HD4250; and HD5450 scan up to 25-, 36-, 42-, and 54-inch prints, respectively.
The U.S. National Park Service (USNPS) discovered first hand just how high-quality a scan is when derived from a Contex HD4230. Working from a deteriorated, circa-1850s survey map of the C&O Canal, the USNPS fed the 100-foot linen original through the scanner. John Hitchcock, special park use coordinator, USNPS, reports that the level of detail in the scan was so sharp that it revealed geographic markings—small rocks referred to as survey mountains that designated land divisions back in the 1850s—not visible to the naked eye on the original document.
Contex’s FLEX50i flatbed scanners—which accommodate media up to 18x24 inches—are another popular choice for print suppliers and creative customers looking to produce high-quality scans from originals created on a wide array of substrates.
This June, Vidar—now a brand of Contex—introduced its HD3650 MFP color reproduction solution. The high-speed scanner is ideal for high-volume workloads and customers requiring the highest quality B&W or color scans.
Paradigm Imaging Group—in addition to offer scanning and printing services—markets and distributes several brands of large format scanners, including Graphtec America, Inc., used in a variety of imaging scenarios—for graphic arts, fine art, photographic, prepress, reprographics, POP, maps and CAD images, and document archiving purposes. Graphtec scanners feature Contact Image Sensor technology, which greatly increases reproduction quality, while reducing scan time.
Paradigm’s own imagePRO scanners feature a wide color gamut and up to 1,200 dpi optical resolution, ideally suited for full-color graphics, photography, and map printing, among other applications.
Features, flexibility, and fidelity are important considerations when choosing an imaging system for demanding applications such as fine art reproduction. The solution must meet unique workflow requirements; facilitating rather than slowing or impeding the production process. But when choosing a scanner, a creative professional or PSP should also consider how the technology impacts the environment and overall bottom line.
Colortrac Ltd. recently introduced two large format scanners to round out its large format SmartLF Gx+ family. The SmartLF Gx+28 and Gx +42 feature 2D LED illumination technology and are Energy Star compliant. Designed for high-detailed imaging of both technical and full-color graphics, the scanners are equipped with SmartLF all-in-one, scan, copy, and email software.
With photographer Milton H. Greene as his father, some would say Joshua Greene was destined for a life in the creative arts. He became acquainted with a darkroom at age 11, and had a long, illustrious career as a photographer until the early ’90s, when he decided to embark on a new professional mission.
“In 1991, I learned about a bunch of guys in Long Beach, CA doing Iris prints. They were using Adobe Systems Incorporated’s Photoshop 1.5 on a little Macintosh computer, and I thought, ‘If they can get that kind of output quality with good film, why can’t I do something similar with faded film?’ That planted a seed for me, and I started a business,” Greene recalls.
In the case of Greene’s father’s work, much of the original photography—film and print—were beginning to deteriorate, and his son recalls that when he passed away in the mid ’80s, he was convinced that much of his work would never be on display again. Greene decided to save his father’s collection by digitizing it.
This was a business model that translated to other photographers’ work as well.
“Often a photographer, collector, family, or estate archived film. But they may not have the money, time, inclination, or interest in transforming to digital. That’s where I come in. I not only digitize the artwork, I find a viable business venue for its reproduction,” Greene explains.
Today, he heads several organizations. One of which, The Archives, based out of Florence, OR, represents his father’s work, as well as other prolific artists and photographers. He also started a retail company, Legends Licensing, LLC that offers limited- and open-edition reproductions.
“We have done some rather large installations—for example, at the Hollywood Casino and the MGM in Las Vegas, NV,” Greene explains. “In each of those cases, I visited the site and considered the venue, and then I came up with a creative way of displaying the images.”
For image capture, Greene relies on an EverSmart Supreme, a scanning technology originally developed by CreoScitex and later brought into Kodak Graphic Communications Group’s fold.
Before investing in the scanner, Greene trolled the marketplace and explored many of the capture options available at the time. “I said, ‘I could spend $80,000 to $100,000 on a drum scanner, but then I won’t be able to scan prints. I have movie film that I have to scan, but I can’t get that on a drum scanner without cutting it. I also have eight- by ten-inch prints I need to scan.’ I settled on the EverSmart Supreme because it had three lenses, was laser sharp, and accommodated both transparencies and prints,” Greene recalls.
For printing, Greene uses two large format devices from Hewlett-Packard (HP), 44-inch HP Designjet Z3100 and Z3200 printers, and is constantly testing new media and substrates.
Many Options, One Application
“When you look at the creative element for such markets as digital photography, fine art, textiles, and map cartography, the common denominators are—high-resolution capture and output,” asserts John Lorusso, president, Parrot Digigraphic, Ltd.
Today, Parrot Digigraphic, based in Billerica, MA, provides not only hardware and software consultation and the installation of turnkey—capture to output—solutions for its clients, it also provides capture and print services, which Lorusso says is a nice complement.
“We have a very diverse client base, not only in fine art and digital photography, but also in cartography and the medical industry. We have many clients in military and educational applications. We cater to graphic designers and crime scene investigators by producing courtroom exhibits. Even aerospace applications, we’ve provided high-resolution scans for the Space Shuttle program,” Lorusso marvels.
In-house, Parrot Digigraphic captures original artwork in several ways. One of which includes using a Cruse Digital Imaging Equipment Synchron large format scanner. It serves as both a working scanner and the only live demo model of its kind in North America. “The model allows us to scan 48x72-inch prints. But we can produce pieces that are much larger than that, because we can very easily stitch multiple scans together,” Lorusso explains.
“The Cruse provides a lot of flexibility to actually pull texture out of multi- or mixed-media original artwork. The scans are so good that when we print, the images actually appear three-dimensional. People are inclined to want to touch the final product, and are often surprised to find that it’s only two-dimensional art,” he continues.
Lorusso says that large format scanners are a significant investment. One consideration to note is that they are not a portable capture solution. He estimates Cruse scanners range between $100,000 and $250,000. But this may be a wise investment if the print supplier is serious about producing art and has the volume to justify it.
“We also use a Better Light, Inc. scan back system, because it gives us a very wide, dynamic range for capture. We can actually use those in a portable environment, if we have to go to museums to capture original artwork,” Lorusso explains. “We own lighting systems that curators and art experts allow us to use, because they don’t self-heat the artwork, which is a major consideration in capture.”
“A typical Better Light system may start at $15,000 and go up to, say, $40,000, depending on the configuration. They are more affordable, but there is a little more set-up time involved. You can get very good results if used it properly,” he adds.
There are a few nuances to serving fine art clientele. PSPs hoping to break into this print segment should be aware of the investments required in not only technology but service offerings as well.
Greene says he finds the artist-supplier relationship easy to manage. “I’m a photographer, and I’m talking to photographers. We speak the same language, and from my experience behind the lens and working in Photoshop and at the printer, they feel confident I see their creative vision, and also can offer a new vision of how I see their work being produced and displayed,” he confides.
Having a background in traditional darkroom photography can’t hurt either. Greene says there is a manipulation that takes place in a darkroom or with a camera and filters, which today happens in Adobe Photoshop. “That said, you need to have an eye, an instinct when it comes to learning how to see an original, how to see a scan—and have good judgment when it comes to deciding what to enhance or what to leave alone,” he explains.
There are seemingly unlimited possibilities in fine art and photographic reproduction these days, according to Thierry Dupasquier, product manager, large format printing, graphics solutions business, HP. “We see great interest from artists, museums, and private-collection owners. They market open editions or limited editions. In all cases, there is a high expectation for the quality of the print and media, as well as longevity.”
The fine art reproduction market is extremely important to HP, Dupasquier affirms. In addition to the company’s Designjet inkjet family of printers the company also introduced its HP Designjet T1120 SD and HD Multifunction Printer Series, which offer scanning capabilities for fine art.
The other nuance of the artist-print supplier relationship comes in the form of managing expectations, according to Parrot’s Lorusso.
“There’s a misnomer that a limited-edition print is going to be an exact replication of a piece of artwork. That is an inappropriate statement, because the medium of the original may be quite different than the medium on which you’ll ultimately print. We do have to manage our clients’ expectations. We talk about ‘simulations’ of an original, rather than ‘exact’ matches,” Lorusso reveals.
So much of the relationship between artist, print supplier, and print buyer is dependent on trust—trust that the reproduction will have the utmost integrity, and trust that the print supplier will care for a client’s artwork as it is meant to be treated, with reverence.
“We have a fully bonded, alarmed facility,” Lorusso notes. “Recently we did a project for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA. We scanned original rubbings made at the Giza Pyramids, some of which date back more than 100 years.”
The Fine Art Melting Pot
While PSPs continue to invest in the digital tools to support a fine art workflow, other less likely folks find themselves in the business today too. Increasingly, museums install imaging technologies and print engines. Artists bring in this equipment. Photographers continue to take an interest in the technologies and the emerging markets that allow them to tap new revenue streams and gain greater exposure of their work. The ability to capture fine art with such ease and high-quality continues to draw in users.