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Beyond the Niche

The Maturing Giclée Market

by Gretchen A. Peck

Part 1 of a 4-part exclusive online series

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—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."

Jim Manelski, president of BullDog Products—a distributor of giclée supplies and systems integrator—says that he sees growth unfolding among those print business that specialize in fine art work. Demand is up; volumes are up. "BullDog Products’ sister company, Harvest Productions, for example, currently has more than 40 printing presses, just printing fine art," Manelski marvels.

With such a small representation—two percent according to the I.T. Strategies study—in the total wide format market, fine art printing might seem a highly specialized niche. But look closer. That same I.T. Strategies study confirmed that virtually every other category of print company—commercial, display graphics, sign shops, etc.—reported they’re also doing some amount of fine art reproduction work. If that’s the case, niche hardly seems a fitting term for this growing slice of the wide format pie.

And it’s not just among the print suppliers themselves where competition is becoming evident. A new breed of print supplier is being born—a sort of grassroots movement taking place in the art community itself. Artists themselves are quickly catching on to just what these inkjets are capable of—and are buying them, too, not only with the intention of reproducing their own work, but the works of other artists, as well.

Tapping the Fine Art Market
While most sign and other large format print shops 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 put ink on paper well. Building a lucrative fine art reproduction business requires a reliable, clean way to digitally capture original artwork; it requires a tightly controlled, color-managed workflow; and it requires an intimate knowledge of substrates and inks.

But perhaps most importantly, the printer must also demonstrate a special appreciation for the customer. Art, after all, is a very personal product. An artist will expect color to be spot on, that textures and details are preserved in print. And never has it been more important for the printer and customer to communicate and manage their expectations for the final printed result.

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

Fine art reproduction is definitely a growing niche, according to BullDog Products’ Manelski. "But it’s still a very specialized area. I’ve found that only the top five percent of companies, those that are really approaching print in an innovative way—those are the types of companies that could more easily adopt printing art," he suggests.

Don’t miss the next three installments of Digital Queue, in which we’ll take a closer look at fine art reproduction, and explore the technologies and best practices fueling this promising market.

Also, look for a full feature article on giclée in the February 2007 issue of Digital Output.

Jan2007, Digital Output

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