Business is good for Jim Manelski, president of Chino, CA-based BullDog Products. He says that demand for fine art reproduction printing is up, that the once-small segment of the industry is growing quickly. And that’s a good thing for BullDog Products, a distributor of giclée printing supplies such as inks, media, and specialty coatings.
"BullDog’s sister company, Harvest Productions, for example, currently has more than 40 printing presses just printing fine art," Manelski marvels.
Manelski says he sees a few trends unfolding in the fine art print space. Gone are many of early grassroots artist-turned-printer suppliers. "A couple of years ago, there was a trend where a lot of artists—when Epson introduced a $5,000, 44-inch printer—thought that, hey, it was affordable, so they’d become their own printer. But they soon found out that there’s much more to it than sending a file to a printer. This is not plug-and-play work. So, they’ve retreated from that aspiration."
It seems the print shops producing the highest volume of reproductions are those that are really specializing in the market. "You almost have to have a dedicated expertise in fine art to succeed," Manelski suggests.
As for his own company, Manelski recalls, "BullDog Products started out as a research and development arm for Harvest; we were charged with resolving some of the issues they were facing at the time. Our first challenge—back then, in the mid 90s—was to solve problems with ink fading and canvas cracking. And in 1996, BullDog became a full-time distributor of products for the giclée market.
"We started working with the various manufacturers, to help guide them as they improved their products. And we explained to them then that [fine art] was an emerging market, and we warned them that the needs of printers doing this kind of work were going to be a lot different than what they had been accustomed to," he adds.
Manelski continues to consult with the leadership at Harvest Productions and others to determine the best possible equipment, media, inks, and coatings for its fine art business.
"I am the supplier of most of the fine art media, inks, and coatings that Harvest uses," he remarks. Founded in 1989, Harvest Productions has become the largest giclée print supplier in the world. And Manelski is right; Harvest keeps a lot of presses running, including a stable of IRIS 3047s, Roland Hi-Fi JET FJ 540s and 740s, and Mimaki JV3s.
While the IRIS systems have been a long-time standard for fine art reproduction, Manelski says that the latest in micro-piezo inkjets are starting to replace many of them. "We really like the Rolands," Manelski suggests. "In my opinion, they have one of the most promising wide format printer out there suitable for fine art printing."
Manelski is most proud of his company’s latest achievement—making it possible to marry solvent printing with fine art work.
"Solvent printing has historically been thought of as the outdoor, durable printing choice. But historically, water-based gives you images with more pop. So we spent three years developing a canvas that would give the look, pop, saturation, and color gamut that a water-based ink would give—yet, it’s done with solvents. What that has done is really helped the industry grow, because the solvent workflow tends to be much more efficient."
Now, companies like Harvest Productions have the capability to print with solvent inks on other types of print engines. Manelski says Harvest is using solvents on VUTEk printers by EFI, Inc. and Mimaki JV3s.
The reproduction of art is no longer bound to traditional roll-fed substrates. Manelski says he’s keeping a close eye on flatbed inkjet printers. "I believe we’re going to see more and more art being reproduced on rigid substrates. I think that’s going to be big in the future.
Don’t miss the next issue of Digital Queue, featuring the artists’ perspective on fine art printing.