Fine art capture is an intricate process that provides excellent opportunities if properly executed. Museums and archives employ digital capture methods to preserve and restore priceless originals. Additionally, artists digitize work to maintain their portfolios and sell reproductions. Needless to say, without fine art capture and print solutions, the work of artists would go unseen by many.
Two popular processes for fine art capture stand out. One entails the collaboration of a high-end digital camera, color management tools, and a scan back for a flexible and controlled setting. Not invasive to originals, it allows for advanced lighting control. The other method is the use of wide format scanning devices, which are specifically designed to capture the details and textures of fine art. While scan back solutions are still widely popular, wide format solutions are a worthy contender.
Like most sets of competing technologies, there are pros and cons. For example, those with a background in photography are able to leverage their experience with lighting and camera knowledge to generate excellent results from a scan back solution. However, “this approach requires a dedicated space and a controlled environment. The slightest imperfection in the set up could lead to poor results,” says Pari Panchigar, wide format specialist, Paradigm Imaging Group.
Ease of use prevails in regards to wide format scanning. Since this option does not require additional investments for set up and operation, scanners are well suited for any office or studio environment. The devices generally feature built-in camera scanning at close proximity, allowing details and texture to be captured while eliminating the challenge of lighting. “The only considerable drawback to using a wide format scanner is the limitation of the document thickness. If the artwork is stretched over a frame, or created using a variety of mixed media, it will most likely not scan through because of the thickness and texture depth,” admits Panchigar.
Wide format scanner manufacturers continue to improve media handling for fragile and valuable documents. Color accuracy advancements have also come a long way. Steve Blanken, North American sales director, Contex A/S, notices a shift to wide format scanners despite a leadership hold in the industry by camera systems. “Wide format scanners require very little set up and operator color knowledge to deliver high-quality, accurate color output. This allows service bureaus to use lower cost labor to scan the fine art originals,” he adds.
Mike Lind, manager, Cruse Digital Imaging Equipment, suggests that the focus on a camera solution can be a challenge. “It is difficult to tell if something is in focus when you reduce the size to fit on a camera back,” he says. Cruse scanners, for example, feature an Auto Focus System that adjusts size and focus automatically when media thickness is entered.
The market is growing as emerging artists and print shops both adapt to the latest advancements in wide format print. In turn, manufacturers are also upping the ante. “As in most markets, products for fine art image capture continue to improve in quality and efficiency, driving cost down and widening the market space for committed manufacturers,” notes Blanken.
Contex is a provider of wide format scanning solutions that scan originals in widths from 24 to 54 inches, without length restriction. The company notes success in fine art markets when scanning for giclée prints. “You can connect the scanner to a giclée printer and create a fully managed fine art reproduction in real time, on the fly from an analog original,” says Blanken.
Nextimage is the recommended software solution for all Contex scanners. Sometimes, pieces of art may be too large to capture in one take. Stitching software may be required. Nextimage does not directly support stitching, however it does support several file formats that when edited by other software applications can be stitched together.
With declining costs, wide format scanning options become more competitive, as the investment in scan technology is one major factor holding back its growth. “I would expect that due to pricing, there are more camera backs out there,” says Lind. He notes that due to the lack of available charge-coupled devices, some scan back manufacturers have begun discontinuing several of their top models.
Cruse offers three products specifically designed to meet the demanding requirements of fine art capture. The Cruse Synchron Table Fine Art scanners are available in seven sizes to handle originals from 36x48 inches to almost seven feet by ten inches in one scan. Cruse Museum Special scanners ST-MS are designed for museum-quality capture. The scanners are offered in two portable configurations, which allow them to be dismantled and reinstalled with minimal time and effort. Finally, the Cruse Surface Detecting product allows for mapping of 3D texture in paintings.
The company drives its scanners with proprietary software, referred to as Cruse CSx. Lind says that most of their customers utilize Adobe Photoshop to stitch files together. Others work with a plug-in, Pana Stitch.
It is increased demand and continuous innovation that help to make a case for future growth in wide format scanner adoption. “The evolving technology makes this service more accessible, which has led to the development of more affordable wide format scanners and digital back camera systems, opening up the market to a wide spectrum of artists and end users,” says Panchigar.
Paradigm recommends its imagePRO GxT 42 series of 42-inch scanners for precision scanning and color accuracy. They feature an optical resolution of 1,200 dpi and 42-bit RAW RGB color depth with the capacity to scan thick documents, adding the flexibility needed to scan multiple forms of artwork on a variety of media.
Wide format scanning solutions from companies such as Aztek, Inc., Colortrac Ltd., and KIP America are also capable of fine art capture for reproduction.
The Camera Solution
Wide format scanning solutions offer ease of use and a declining cost of entry. However, scan back solutions and related bundles are still a popular option. For example, Better Light, Inc., ErgoSoft AG, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Nikon Corporation developed a joint capture and print solution that allows photographers and artists to work together to capture and recreate paintings and other fine art pieces without the use of large format flatbed scanners.
Museums and large galleries are a key target market for fine art capture, but there are thousands of artists that do not have a cost effective way to scan work and create authentic reproductions. “There is a synergy between artists and photographers in many communities that provide a new source of revenue for photographers,” says Eric DuPaul, business development manager, Designjet, HP.
According to research by HP, many photographers charge less than $100 for an accurate capture. Printing costs vary, but on average most artists pay up to $100 for a 17x22-inch print on canvas. They are generally able to sell these prints for $200 to $600, depending on the market.
The Better Light, ErgoSoft, HP, and Nikon process works in five steps. First, a picture of the artwork is captured. Spectral reflectance is measured using an external spectrophotometer. A picture of a white card is used as a reference. Spectral reflectance measurements on the white card are taken with an external spectrophotometer. Finally, the capture and measurement digital files are entered and HP Artist Software generates a digital image file.
Compared to traditional scanning, DuPaul says this process has proven to be less expensive, faster, and in many cases more accurate than traditional scanning methods. “Many shops are scared by the complexity of this process,” he adds, noting that they claim it is time intensive and costs too much. “While acquiring a camera, lighting equipment, and software is a capital outlay, most shops that market this service appropriately can break even in the first year. Another approach would be to locate a professional photographer to partner with to capture artwork, and the shop can focus on printing,” he explains.
Wide Opportunity for Growth
Capture is an important aspect to any business looking to capitalize on digital technologies. Artists are no exception. “Today, 62 percent of artists are self employed, and continuously look to establish maximum exposure to their audience. We feel there is tremendous opportunity to help artists capture fine art, providing them with the needed leverage to grow and develop their identity,” says Panchigar.
For projects that require the utmost precision, color accuracy, and a gentle touch there aren’t a lot of options. To capture artwork for storage or reproduction, artists turn to specialists that use a recipe of mechanisms that may include high-end cameras, color management tools, camera backs, and wide format scanners. A smart investment and promotion of capture services is sure to attract a new market, while also driving print.