By Amber E. Watson
When a print provider is tasked with reproducing a piece of artwork or a photograph, it relies on high-end capture solutions, including flatbed scanners, camera systems, and sometimes proprietary configurations to recreate all the nuances of the original.
With technology always changing, print providers must regularly adjust their capture method and printing process. For many shops, including the three highlighted here, such changes are made gradually, and include utilizing different scanning devices, updating media, and upgrading printers. When planning for the future, it is clear that more changes are on the horizon in an effort to produce the best quality product in the most effective and efficient way.
A Historical Journey
In business for over 50 years, East Dundee, IL-based Black Box Collotype (BBC) experienced several transformations. From 1947 to 1978, BBC serviced the point of purchase and commercial printing industries using only collotype. “It was a photographic studio and originally offered large 40×60-inch B&W bromide prints,” shares Michael Intrator, president, BBC. “We did the front-end work—the separations, plate making, and then production on our very own printing equipment.”
BBC became a top choice for art market clients with unique requirements. “We created more dependable technology for these jobs with the continued development of Advance Continuous Tone (ACT). From1978 to 2008, BBC printed exclusively in ACT, which was before the advent of stochastic screening,” explains Intrator.
BBC’s capture work runs the gamut from reflective, in the form of original art, to facsimile, large pictorial books like Audubon’s Great Birds of North America, and a charcoal portrait of Lincoln by N.C. Wyeth, which was illustrated on newsprint. “The Lincoln portrait could not be removed from the frame and it arrived at BBC with the curator of the Illinois State Historical Society. We then printed it as a limited edition signed by the four living governors of IL,” shares Intrator.
In the past, capture was all analog. BBC later used a 4×5-inch view camera with a super 8K digital tri-linear array scanning back. “It is much easier today with flatbed scanning light sources, such as the Scanera TopFace PRO wide format three-dimensional scanner, the system made in Japan by Newly Corporation and sold by A-Lex International Marketing,” states Intrator.
BBC outsources print to Buhl Press in Berkeley, IL. Buhl Press relies on four Océ Arizona 550 GTs from Canon Solutions America (CSA), which use UV-cured ink with variable piezo drop on demand printheads. “For printing backlit displays with photographic resolution on flexible substrates in sheet or roll form, the Arizonas work very well to create a saleable product,” says Intrator. “These printers have been calibrated and will match color-wise the process part of any lithographic project we have in the schedule, with the exception of certain special effects.”
Finishing is achieved with a large format Zünd America Inc. CAD/CAM machine for cutting prototypes and small on demand productions, two wide format laminators for heat-activated or cold pressure-sensitive laminations, as well as the application of transfer tape adhesives for mounting. There is also a liquid UV coater and two guillotine 65-inch cutters in the shop.
BBC works with plastic, paper, metal, and glass and has developed acid-free, archival specialty papers for the art market. The journey of BBC highlights the many ways the capture process has changed and evolved over the years.
An In-House Process
Keeping the process in house affords print providers optimal control over capture, color, and print.
20 employees work at DigitalFusion’s 6,000 square foot facility, which offers scanning, capture, retouching, compositing, fine art printing, production rentals, DFStudio Cloud asset management software, CGI, creative Web site design and implementation, archive solutions, and corporate art sales and rentals.
Since opening in 1999, the Culver, CA-based business mostly caters to photography professionals, entertainment corporations, fine artists, individuals, and museums.
“Since our beginning, DigitalFusion has been committed to fine art reproduction,” says Hugh Milstein, co-founder/president, DigitalFusion. “In our early days, high-end copy cameras digitized the film, but that soon evolved into high-end scanners and scanning backs, in addition to capture rigs with amazingly high quality.”
The shop generates most of its new client base via referral. “Our service range is such that we have a wide technical ability, which translates into covering small pieces up to large art objects. Additionally, we have amazing film scanning quality and capabilities, attracting film archives from collectors and museums alike,” adds Milstein.
DigitalFusion utilizes a blend of digital backs, scanners, and geometric modeling to ensure the best possible image information from the start. “Since we own our own rental house, we source directly from our stock of digital capture systems, computers, and lenses,” explains Milstein. “We strive to constantly improve the capture process, and now offer the service level required for artists to participate and benefit from HDR techniques that produce final results that mirror the original. This level of customer service is often more important than the technology.”
In-house systems run the same monitors, software, and calibrations, making the job much easier. Additionally, the shop relies on digital color charts—soft proofing with in-house specialists and press proofing for final accuracy.
As for the actual printing, DigitalFusion chose to rely on Epson wide format printers when it opened over 15 years ago. Today, it uses an Epson Stylus Pro 9900 44-inch printer for fine art applications and an Epson Stylus Pro 9800 for CMYK proofing. “Epson printing technology allows for the speed, quality, and smooth production usage that our printing department relies on,” says Milstein. “It is quite remarkable that over the years, we have seen the complete transformation of the fine art printing industry, and a shift to these printers. It also helps that Epson keeps its eye on the ball with regard to ink and paper enhancements that allow services like ours to meet the demands of our customers.”
It wasn’t too long ago that print service providers (PSPs) could only offer options like glossy or matte media—now there are many choices. DigitalFusion enjoys showing its customers a range of media.
Some of the specific paper types that are high in demand include Epson’s Enhanced Matte Paper, Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster, Premium Glossy Photo Paper, Cold Press Bright, Exhibition Watercolor Paper Textured, Hot Press Natural, Exhibition Canvas Matte, Exhibition Canvas Satin, Velvet Fine Art Paper, DisplayTrans Backlight Film Plus, and Enhanced Adhesive Synthetic Paper.
When it comes to finishing, DigitalFusion partners with various sister companies for mounting and framing its customers’ works of art. “We even have an online gallery store and shopping cart system that allows customers to sell their work directly through the Web site; from there, it is printed, packed, and shipped directly from our factory,” concludes Milstein.
Moving Towards Efficiency
Similar to BBC, Miller Blueprint (MB) witnessed many changes and improvements in the printing industry since opening in 1920, including how prints are captured and reprinted. The Austin, TX-based shop, which offers traditional reprographics; graphics, including scanning and printing; small and large format; finishing; software; and digital services, mainly serves AEC, artists, marketing, retail, commercial real estate, consumers, schools, and local, state, and federal government.
“We’ve always captured images—both small and large—and provided them to customers as digital files or printed images,” says Luci Miller, president, MB. The shop continued to offer photographic mylars until last year when the film necessary for producing the photographic mylar was no longer available for purchase. The individuals who worked in this department were the natural choice for the transition to capture graphic images via color scanning and then printing them on small and large format color printers.
“These employees had already developed a keen eye for image and color accuracy and quality,” adds Miller. This is a key advantage for MB customers who require color scanning and printing of their art, photographs, and collectibles like movie, music, and venue posters.
The process of capturing images has improved each time with the introduction of new scanners. MB began scanning with Vidar and Tangent color scanners, but these names have since disappeared. The shop now scans with Contex and Kurabo color scanners, both distributed by Paradigm Imaging Group, Inc. “The Contex is used for sheet-fed images and the Kurabo is ideal for images already on a frame or too thick to run through the Contex,” shares Miller.
Most graphic images captured by the Contex and Kurabo scanners are printed on canvas, watercolor, photo satin, or 36 or 45 lb. premium coated materials. “We look not only for good quality media, but for quality that must be maintained over time from one lot to the next,” states Miller. “Once selecting a good, consistent media, we want to lock in profiles to ensure accurate color prints.”
The capture process is complicated. “First, calibration of the color chain occurs—that means everything from the monitors to the scanners, printers, and media. The Contex and Kurabo scanners are so good at capturing an accurate and quality image that post-process color correction has been reduced significantly, however, when color correcting techniques are required, Adobe Systems Incorporated Photoshop is used,” she explains.
MB prints primarily on Canon U.S.A., Inc. imagePROGRAF printers, both eight and 12 colors. The decision to go with Canon was made based upon the quality of the print, RGB capability in the 12-color printer, lower overall cost of ownership, and the fact that MB is a Canon reseller, therefore, able to service the devices. The shop now has a Mutoh America, Inc. solvent-based printer in its graphics department and envisions future opportunities for direct to print, latex, and wide page printing technologies.
Many PSPs can relate to MB’s main challenge—efficient workflow—from the initial customer engagement to presenting the final finished product and invoice. This is why MB is in the beginning stages of researching workflow software, including image management and Web to print.
“The good news is that there are a number of highly reputable firms offering solutions geared to improving efficiency and reducing costs and increasing profits. The bad news is that it takes time to clearly establish internal and external customer requirements to meet with a vendor, view a demonstration, contact current users so that you can make the right software choice, and then implement it,” admits Miller.
Just as it has in the past, MB always looks for ways to improve.
The End Result
Every shop has a slightly different approach, but the same end goal—to produce a product that rivals the original. Fine art customers are in tune with the artwork they create, so it’s critical to gain trust by closely including them in the process. With the proper equipment, experience, and knowledge, the end result is satisfying for everyone.
Sep2014, Digital Output