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Embracing Giclée

By Thomas Franklin

Printers and artists who embrace the exacting requirements of giclée printing will find their labors rewarded. The market for fine art reproduction, alternatively called giclée printing, is expected to grow significantly through 2010. According to Tim Greene, director of research, InfoTrends Inc., in 2006 the market for fine art prints hit $550 million in the U.S. By 2010, the figure will balloon to $965 million, Greene adds. Longer life inks, higher quality aqueous printers, and a growing awareness of the service will spur future growth, Greene observes.

"It’s really an example of technology driving a market," he says. While greater interest in the output will likely attract more competition and attendant price pressures, Greene says, it is not a square-foot driven arena and so margins would likely remain healthy.

Those who earn a living from fine art reproduction are uniformly enthusiastic about the business, though it is not without its challenges. Creating a true-to-life reproduction of a prized piece of art is itself as much of an art as science, printers say. That explains why many in the business are themselves artists.

Present At the Creation
Jack Duganne knows a thing or two about giclée. He coined the term. Duganne was a print master at Nash Editions, the pioneering fine art business founded by Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fame. The firm had long called their digital reproductions Iris prints—after the printer they were produced on—when Nash Editions was commissioned to reproduce work for Californian artist Diane Bartz. "She needed a name to call the prints and didn’t like Iris prints," Duganne recalls.

Duganne had been a serigrapher and taught traditional printmaking. Having lived in Paris for two years, he knew that many printing terms had French origins, so he began to ruminate on the future of fine art digital printmaking. He searched for an element in the digital printing process that was unlikely to change over time and realized the nozzle on a print head would likely be a permanent feature of the process. The French word for nozzle is gicleur but you couldn’t call it a nozzle print, Duganne explains. So giclée for "that which sprays" was born. There is a common misperception that giclée means "to spray," Duganne says.

Duganne left Nash Editions in 1996 and went on to found Duganne Ateliers in Santa Monica, CA with "an Iris and a card table." Today, his business has grown to the extent that Duganne is extraordinarily selective with his customers. "I really wish business wasn’t so good, we’re turning people away" he said. The firm employs a range of equipment including printers from Epson, HP, and MacDermid Colorspan and applies UV curing coats to waterproof paper or canvas prints in a variety of finishes.

He sources, and continues to test, a wide variety of media. "There’s so much new media, some really exquisite products," he says. Media companies have become much more sophisticated in their marketing. His commonly-used papers include Hahnemühle and Epson’s Somerset Velvet.

Work is scanned and Duganne prints a series of proofs to ensure the artist is satisfied. The final color proof—termed a B.A.T. for bon á tirer, another French term meaning good to print—is initialed and dated by the artist and placed into dark storage.

"The barriers [to fine art reproduction] have been lowered," Duganne states. Although competition at the high-end of the market remains intense, Duganne notes there is ample opportunity for artists and production studios. Of course, you still need a good head for business, he adds.

The Eyes Have It
"I was born for this," says veteran photographer and San Francisco Bay-area resident Lenny Eiger. Eiger blends the sensibilities of both artist and print maker. Eiger’s print making began in the darkroom "working through a multitude of printing processes from silver to platinum" and culminated in Eiger Studios. Along the way he founded Platinum Editions in NY, which output the work of many storied photographers, including Richard Avedon.

Unlike many fine art printers, Eiger bridges the analog and digital world. His studio employs the 12-color Roland d’Vinci system, the gamut and color accuracy of which Eiger is an ardent proponent of. "I can’t say enough about Roland quality, it’s fantastic," he says. Thanks to the ability to move the printing base point, proof printing and nozzle checks are much easier, he adds.

He also owns the area’s only 8,000 dpi Aztek Premier drum scanner. Fine art is captured with a 4x5 camera and though Eiger will print digital files, he remains partial to the image quality of medium and large format film. "There is no way around the reality of the math," he says. "No degree of interpolation can replace information that just isn’t there."

Eiger also has a dedicated B&W printer with Piezotone inks originally developed by Jon Cone. "We use Cone-based, custom mixed inks for B&W and Roland inks for the color. We print on Hahnemühle PhotoRag, Hahnemühle William Turner, Crane Silver Rag, Crane Portfolio Rag, and on occasion, Frederix Canvas."

"Darkroom prints simply can’t come close to what can be done with 100 percent rag fine art paper, the right inks, and sensitive eyes," he says.

The studio produces nothing but "museum quality" output, Eiger emphasizes, with files often in excess of 2GB. He admits to "agonizing over the colors" in a client’s work to achieve the perfect match.

There are, Eiger continues, a number of challenges in fine art reproduction. "Time and materials are costly. Reproducing artwork is difficult and time consuming at the level that we insist upon." Yet such attention to detail is integral for artists.

"Trying to communicate the subtlety of cadmium yellow light versus cadmium yellow medium, or the difference in ultramarine versus Prussian blues may be crucial to the artist’s intent and so it becomes important that we hit the color dead on," Eiger explains.

Beak First
Some artists take tentative steps into new technology, while others dive in head first. NM-based artist J.D. Jarvis is emphatically the later. A painter and sculptor who describes his work as abstract surrealism, Jarvis transitioned to 1s and 0s in 1994 and never looked back. He purchased an HP DesignJet in 1997 to print his and his wife’s digital art and, like many artists, soon discovered the potential for producing prints for other artists as well.

Thus Dunking Bird Productions was born—the name owes to the perpetual motion Dunking Bird novelty toy. Business grew through word-of-mouth, the Web, and through articles that Jarvis authored on the subject of digital reproductions. Today, Jarvis employs the HP DesignJet Z3100, a printer he credits for a "quantum leap forward" in color matching.

The low-humidity environment of NM played havoc with canned profiles and Jarvis resigned himself to constant tweaking, but the Z3100’s built-in spectrophotometer makes printer calibration much simpler.

For his digital reproductions, he uses fine art papers from both HP and Hahnemühle. "I have some clients that print to canvas, but I prefer fine art papers. They connect you to traditional print making," he says.

Jarvis has a small format Epson scanner and outsources wide format scanning.

"It’s certainly been a good business for me," Jarvis reflects. "There are more artists willing to have giclées made, they have confidence in the materials and the stability of the reproduction." As an artist himself, Jarvis says the benefits of giclcee versus offset are manifold—shorter runs, high quality, and an on-demand business model. "You just can’t beat it," he states. One of the real selling points has been the longevity of the print, Jarvis continues. "We had to wade through some really bad materials" to get to archival standards.

Digital Dynamo
Rod Knowlton is one of the newer entrants into the fine art market. His company, Fine Art Dynamics, opened for business in June 2004. "During the last three years we have concentrated our marketing efforts primarily in WY," Knowlton says. "Just recently we noticed our client base expanding into the surrounding states of MT, ID, CO, and the Dakotas," he adds. Knowlton attributes the growth to the acceptance of the artist community and the viral impact of word-of-mouth. "It’s the best form of advertising we can have."

"The primary reason the artists come to us for their reproduction needs is simply affordability. We don’t have minimum print runs." After the work is digitized, the file is stowed away in a fire proof vault to be accessed whenever a client needs another duplicate.

Fine Art Dynamics uses the Epson Stylus Pro 4800 and 9800 with the K3 UltraChrome inkset for its "excellent archival qualities," Knowlton says. Papers from Crane, Epson, and Hahnemühle are the most popular, though the firm will bring on specialty media to honor client requests, he adds.

A lot of the talent behind fine art reproduction lies in the day-in, day-out process of trial and error, Knowlton says. It’s exciting, he adds, but "requires an extensive investment in not only equipment and software but also a relentless pursuit of perfection." Attention to detail and "endless patience" are also prerequisites, he notes.

It is, however, worth the challenge. "Fine art reproduction is a rewarding and profitable part of our business model. It currently represents 40 percent of our workflow and profit. We see that percentage increasing dramatically over the next five years and eventually becoming the only studio work we do."

Getting There
For all its manifest promise, the fine art market is not for the faint of heart. "One of the biggest challenges is not merely calibrating your printer, but setting your customer’s expectations," says Tom Hauenstein, LexJet’s digital imaging consultant and the instructor for the Great Output Seminar tour, which focuses on fine art and photographic printing.

"Some artists create with the almost unlimited colors of oil paint and wonder why they can’t all be reproduced on a seven-color printer," Hauenstein explains. That’s why it’s essential to show clients color-accurate soft proofs and hard proofs during the creative process to avoid surprises at the end. Color accuracy is vital, Hauenstein adds, to cut down on the expense of printing multiple hard proofs.

One longer term issue in the fine art market is whether printers should embed output profiles in the file. "There’s no definitive answer," he admits. On the plus side, Hauenstein says, such a method would ensure the first print of a limited edition would look identical to the 100th.

On the downside, if the 100th print occurs several years down the road, technological changes, like increased color gamut, may have significantly improved the ability of accurate color reproduction, resulting in even better output.

Sep2007, Digital Output

 

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