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Digital from the Gallery

Bringing Art to the Masses

By Kim Crowley

Fine art brings drama and excitement to the graphic arts, which is commonly known for banners, signs, and retail-focused projects. Print service providers (PSPs) with the proper scanner and printer can service artists, photographers, and museums.

 

Scanned and digitally printed art reproductions—or giclée, allow artists to increase profitability, selling beyond their original painting on canvas. Reproductions offer consumers the opportunity to own a more wallet-friendly piece of artwork with the benefit of on demand ordering and printing.

 

Artist’s Independence

Ken Combs is a third generation artist, who began painting at a young age in CA, following the lead of his grandmother and aunt. The beauty of beaches, buildings, and people inspire him.

 

He embraces digital technology, transforming his independent art business with a scanner and inkjet printer. “I love the digital movement. It makes everything so easy for me. I do everything by myself in my own studio,” shares Combs. The digital scan-to-print process changed his business model.

 

“Before, I could only sell originals, then that image for me would be gone. Now I make reproductions and continue to profit off of the image,” he says. A ScanPlus V ATF-1824A scanner manufactured by Contex A/S—and sold by GTCO CalComp, Inc. under an OEM/private label agreement—captures artwork and a Hewlett-Packard (HP) Designjet Z3200 wide format printer creates the prints.

 

The average resale price on Combs’ original oil paintings is $2,000 to $3,000, but to make more money he tends to embellish on the original. Art pieces are scaled down to fit on the scanner. After an image is painted, it is scanned, digitized, and printed on HP canvas or fine art litho paper.

 

Combs attends events like The La Jolla Art Festival where he sells studio creations. These reproductions are typically 12x14 inches and sell for about $45 a piece on paper. On canvas with embellishment, he earns up to $1,000 for a reproduction.

 

This technology allows artists to profit in a brand new way. Other artists at The La Jolla Art Festival voiced struggles regarding surviving in the current economy. “The ones who just brought original paintings—customers couldn’t afford them,” he admits.

 

Combs understands the quality concerns of artists. In addition to his own work, he now utilizes scanning and printing equipment to create reproductions for a few local clients. “Not only am I increasing my personal inventory of art, but I am able to run it as a side business reproducing for other artists,” he says.

 

Process and Tools

Beyond a sales perspective, fine art scanning offers an eternal catalog of an artist’s life work. With the scan-to-print process, one-of-a-kind artwork, photos, or maps are preserved by retouching or enhancing.

 

The prolific work of artist R. W. Hedge includes nature and wildlife paintings across America. His pieces are sought after by collectors. The incredibly detailed oil painting on canvas, In the Beginning, is 72x48 inches. This was his final piece before an untimely death in April at the age of 55. American Litho Color, Inc. (ALC) of Dallas, TX, scanned, reprinted, and published Hedge’s artwork throughout his career.

 

In the Beginning is available as a fine art limited edition canvas giclée, printed on Fredrix 777VWR Vivid canvas from Fredrix Print Canvas, with a gloss liquid coating. ALC used its Cruse Digital Imaging Equipment overhead scanner to capture the painting. The challenge was to evenly light such a large piece and eliminate the reflections from the original’s gloss varnish.

 

The fine art reproduction process requires finely tuned equipment, color management, proper lighting, and a dust-free environment, among other tools and skills.

 

Buyers should be cautious to choose the right PSP. “I know many companies sell giclée these days, but not all are equal. Too many companies think they can buy a roll of canvas, print on it, and then call it a giclée,” explains Marshall Rawlings, VP, ALC.

 

ALC is a business that originally began in 1971 as a color separation trade shop with a reputation for very accurate color. Now located in a 10,000 square foot building, the company still does prepress work, but their main focus is giclée printing.

 

It uses only archival-quality canvas and art papers, and each stock is custom color profiled. All of the inks are 100 percent archival, and each canvas giclée is sealed or coated with an archival UV protective finish. “Our printing materials are the finest available, but the image being printed must be of the utmost quality,” states Rawlings.

 

Old is New

Traditional photographic techniques are not dwarfed by digital technology, as some might think. With the aid of digital capture and printing, new life is breathed into classic handwork.

 

Gabe Greenberg is a master fine art digital print provider, operating his printing and imaging studio, Greenberg Editions, in New York, NY. A digital scan back, a drum scanner, and a Creo flatbed capture a variety of work from photographers and artists. He creates fine art prints with Canon U.S.A, Inc., Epson, and HP wide format printers.

 

The shift to digital is reflected, according to Greenberg, in projects submitted as digital files rather than film or negatives. The studio used to typically work with Polaroid large format images that needed to be captured using a digital camera back. Now, many projects come in as RAW files or whatever comes out of the photographer’s camera.

 

Together with his partner Arkady Lvov, Greenberg use a HP Designjet Z3200 photo printer to create large format digital negatives to produce platinum prints.

 

Platinum printing requires a negative scaled to the size of the required final print. What makes it so exceptional is its long, warm tonal range and beautiful, creamy luminescence.

 

“It’s a fantastic, old school printing process. A traditional dark room printing method that uses platinum in a hand-coated way,” says Greenberg. “Because the prints are made of platinum, it’s perhaps the most archival printing process there is,” he adds.

 

Greenberg and Lvov work with Angel Albarran, a color scientist and engineer at HP, who developed a new large format photo negative application. With the application, they create a negative ready for traditional analog hand printing without the need for digital tone adjustments, unless desired.

 

The application is designed for the HP Designjet Z3200 photo printer series, consists of a package of paper presets, and is downloadable for free from HP. The result is a negative used to produce fine art prints in both monochrome and color processes, such as cyanotype, photogravure, dye transfer, gum bi-chromate, and carbro.

 

A selling point of the platinum prints is their individuality. “No two prints are identical,” says Greenberg. The HP photo negative process marries the ease of digital technology with the handcrafted beauty of platinum printing.

 

Greenberg and Lvov use the photo negative application and platinum prints for client Elliott Erwitt. Represented by Magnum Photos, Erwitt began his career in 1949, and his B&W imagery captures beauty, culture, humor, celebrity, and whimsy. “The photographs have a luminosity that is not achievable by any other process—old or new,” comments Erwitt. His projects include negatives printed on Premier Imaging Products graphic arts film. Final prints, which are 30x40 inches, are created on InteliCoat Technologies’ Arches Platine, a 100 percent cotton paper.


Capture Essentials

A high-quality large format scanner is essential to the success of a fine art reproduction. The scanner choice should be just as carefully scrutinized and invested in as the wide format inkjet printer. Greenberg states that capture is a crucial piece of the reprint process. The ability to scan in the highest resolution possible is essential to the final print. “The old expression is, ‘garbage in; garbage out.’ You have to capture at least 16 bits per channel and keep as much information from that original file as possible,” he says.

 

“The secret to a quality giclée is the scan and color work. You can use all of the best materials and printers, but if you cannot properly capture and color correct a painting, you still don’t have anything,” says Rawlings.

 

About 80 percent of the work ALC completes requires scanning. For some projects where only a transparency of the original artwork exists, the company uses one of its three drum scanners to create a digital file.

 

With original artwork a drum scanner usually cannot be used. There is a fear of damaging the art and rigid materials cannot be wrapped around a drum.

Scan backs and digital photography are used to capture and create a digital file, but they may not bring the highest desired resolution for reprinting.

 

In addition to drum scanners and various desktop devices, ALC relies on a Cruse overhead scanner to capture the bulk of their work. They scan each original at 100 percent at a minimum of 300 dpi—usually 600 dpi or more.

 

The Cruse scanner accepts originals up to 90x60 inches, with file sizes up to one gigabyte. “This allows us to regularly output images many times larger than the original,” notes Rawlings. If artwork is larger than 90x60, ALC scans it in sections and blends the digital files together on a computer.

 

After the creation of the original artwork, “The scan is the most important step,” he concludes. “The art has to be lit correctly for each piece. You must be able to digitize at the proper resolution for the range of sizes the final prints will be sold at. And, the scanner must be able to accurately reproduce colors of the art.”

 

Scan-to-Print Workflow

Combs originally purchased his scanner after feeling underwhelmed with outsourced work. He says that the scan-to-print workflow is easy, the only occasional issues result from dust.

 

“The only challenge I encounter is if the glass is completely clean, but I find a speck of dust on it. When you scan it, that little speck of dust will show up. I just go back, clean it, and rescan it,” he says. To prevent issues, Combs also covers his scanner and printer with a sheet of plastic when not in use.

 

Combs uses a Macintosh computer, so he has to run the scanner through his PC and then transfer the images over to the Mac, where he uses Adobe Systems Incorporated’s Photoshop to re-crop the image and occasionally tweaks the colors a bit.

 

Emulating the artist’s original color choices can be challenging. Rawlings adds that ALC’s custom scanner ICC profile ensures fairly exact color unless they are dealing with a color restoration issue. He also notes that maps can require some color correction, based on how they were originally produced—offset printed, digitally plotted, or hand drawn.

 

The age of the original artwork is another factor. “Art is a science all of it’s own. You are dealing with different paints and mixes of paints, washes, and under paint. There is no magic bullet or ICC profile to cover art. Every painting presents a new set of challenges,” says Rawlings.

 

After scanning, ALC color corrects and proofs until they match the original to the satisfaction of the team and customer. Upon approval, they output to a mix of Epson Stylus Pro 7800, 9600, 9800, and 10000 printers with UltraChrome K3 ink and HP Designjet 5000 and 5500 printers using UV inks.

 

Rawlings notes that with the careful ICC profiling of each printer and specific media, there is a mild difference in color between each, but not much difference in image quality or sharpness.

 

Scan to Print

Using a scanner, wide format inkjet printer, and archival consumables, fine art reproductions offer new business for PSPs. They help preserve, retouch, and enhance artwork, photos, maps, and more.

 

Not a new niche by any means, wide format capture continues to serve the fine art market as a vehicle to aid artists looking for an affordable way to reproduce and sell their prints. Collectible artwork is now available to the masses. Giclée prints sold at craft fairs or in galleries are comparable to original artwork in both appearance and longevity. Now anyone can own a masterpiece without breaking the bank.

 

Sep2010, Digital Output

 

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