ARTIST & PRINTMAKER
Limited Edition Prints
WHAT IS A FINE ART GICLEE PRINT?
Giclee and archival quality prints explained
EPSON GICLEE PRINTERS
I have been using the Epson R2400 for 7 years and have found it a very reliable and robust printer. For artists and photographers wishing to reproduce their work up to A3+ size the Epson Stylus Photo series are an economical and not too bulky solution. Alas the Epson R2400 is no longer made - (I was lucky to find a used one in good condition on Ebay last year) but I would recommend the latest in this line of giclee printers - the Epson Stylus Photo R3000 for anyone starting out with reproduction prints.
Learning how to price art prints is a significant challenge for visual artists. Since no accepted standards exist for pricing giclées, the industry term for digital fine art print reproductions, artists are left to costly trial and error methods. How to Price Digital Fine Art Prints, a new e-book by art print industry veteran, Barney Davey, fills the gap.
ISN’T GICLEE JUST THE SAME AS INKJET PRINTING?
The association of giclee printing with its conceptual cousin - inkjet printing - has led some people to question the validity of this printing medium as a true fine art system.
Fine art printmaking has traditionally been based on the concept of creating a master plate - known as the matrix - from the original and using this to reproduce a predetermined number of 'editions' of the original artwork. Historically, the matrix was then destroyed by the artist, producing a set of truly limited edition prints. The more traditional printing techniques such as etching, lithography and linocut have evolved into art forms themselves and required a huge degree of expertise to reproduce the original to the artist’s precise demands.
Nowadays, the production of a printing matrix is no longer necessary as the high quality scanning techniques employed by printing companies results in a perfect facsimile of the original painting or photograph. Giclee printing offers incredibly high degrees of fidelity and richness of colour when compared to other 'traditional' printing methods and because no screen or other mechanical device is used, there is no visible dot pattern. The expertise that is employed involves the careful monitoring of the colour system through the use of colour profiling techniques and the understanding of the colourspace that the machine operates within.
The print-on-demand nature of the printing process enables photographers and artists to maintain full control over the artistic integrity of their work which, coupled with the proven archival permanence of giclee prints (when coupled with specifically designed output media and inks) ensures that the artist's work will be enjoyed for decades. Naturally, the understanding between the artist and their customers that the edition is truly limited must be maintained. The matrix is no longer destroyed, but the original scanned file must be deleted or removed from circulation upon reaching the defined number of released editions, but this has always been the case and the advent of giclee printing has no impact on this mutual understanding.
Giclee printing is indeed a fine art printing technique and one that is truly liberating for photographers and artists wishing to share their work with the widest possible audience whilst achieving a quality that was hitherto unobtainable without huge expense.
Please note Giclee prints are almost always reproduction prints and do not fall under the category of printmaking! For an explanation of the difference please see What is a limited edition print?
DISADVANTAGES OF GICLEE PRINTING
Giclee prints suffer from the same affliction that besets much creative work in the digital age - in that it is too easy! Creating an original print, be it an etching,engraving, lithograph, screenprint or photographic print used to entail hours in the studio or darkroom with metal plates,chemicals and equipment, years of experience and infinite patience. Reproducing a print from an original painting or graphic was a technical minefield of variables with lighting exposures, colour separations and halftone screening to contend with. Original prints were created directly on the plate, stone or screen in studios astrewn with medieval implements and smelly, dangerous solvents. Photographers relied on cameras that had to be adjusted one photograph at a time for shutter speed, aperture and film speed with a bewildering array of dials that clicked reassuringly as each frame was winched across the back.
Today anyone with a mobile phone, laptop, and inkjet printer can produce prints quicker and more efficiently than a Rembrandt, David Bailey or Guttenberg. The most basic computer notepad can produce documents that can be justified, sized, kerned and spaced at the flick of a button. Fonts can be stretched and distorted cut,pasted and integrated with graphics in a way that only 50 years ago was virtually impossible.
All this has meant a devaluing of the art of printmaking, the skill of printing and the technical expertise that underpinned the foundations of any creative image. Prior to the digital age a print was valued for the image and the visual skill of its creator , but also for the sum of skills that had brought that image into existence on the paper. The stripping away of most of these skill intensive processes has led many to believe that anyone can become an artist. The accessibility of giclee printing and the proliferation of giclee prints has led to a certain amount of confusion amongst the public and suspicion from traditional artists, galleries and the art establishment. What determines the quality (and ultimately the value) of an image is as dependent on its context and history as it is on the finished image itself. For many professional artists and galleries giclee prints represent a welcome source of income and an affordable way of reaching a wider public. Unfortunately there is also nothing to stop any image of any quality being reproduced ad infinitum, on any surface and in any size. A photograph of your cute puppy from your mobile phone can be uploaded to a pc, re-coloured and blown up in Photoshop, posted on the internet and printed out on paper, canvas and a T-shirt in hours. The same image can be given a suitably arty title and be hung in a gallery alongside work by professional artists. Many galleries will not deal in giclee prints for this reason and many professional artists are openly antagonistic. A long and amusing rant by etcher David Beattie on his site: Original etchings is a good example of this. Personally my gripe is “fine art prints on canvas” - how to pass your photo off as an oil painting?
PAPERS FOR GICLEE PRINTING
The advantage of Giclee printers is that they are capable of reproducing artwork and photographs on a wide range of surfaces including vinyl, canvas, and last but not least of course various weights and textures of paper and card. The Epson Stylus Photo R series allow the swapping of the black ink cartridge between Photo Black (for glossy papers) and Matte black. Personally I have never used it with the Photo black cartridge and I understand swapping cartridges doe involve some wastage of ink.
I use two A3 and A3+ types of paper: Hahnemuehle "German Etching" Paper; which is a heavyweight, 310GSM watercolour type paper with a distinct texture and a slightly off white colour and the much cheaper Epson Archival Matte 192GSM bright white photographic paper.
INTO THE 21ST CENTURY
Giclee prints are a revolutionary new way of reproducing accurately paintings, drawings or artwork.and have became very popular with artist wishing to sell their art to a wider audience.
The Definition : Giclee (zhee-klay) - The French word "Giclee" is a feminine noun that means a spray or a spurt of liquid. The word may have been derived from the French verb "gicler" meaning "to squirt". In giclee printing, no screen or other mechanical devices are used and therefore there is no visible dot screen pattern. The image has all the tonalities and hues of the original painting.
giclée (zhee-clay) n. 1. a type of digital fine-art print. 2. Most often associated with reproductions; a giclée is a multiple print or exact copy of an original work of art that was created by conventional means (painting, drawing, etc.) and then reproduced digitally, typically via inkjet printing. First use in this context by Jack Duganne in 1991, Los Angeles, California
The Term : The term "Giclee print" connotes an elevation in printmaking technology. Images are generated from high resolution digital scans and printed with archival quality inks onto various substrates including canvas, fine art, and photo-base paper. The Giclee printing process provides better colour accuracy than other means of reproduction. Archival quality ensures that the prints are light-fast and non water soluble.
The Process : Giclee prints are created typically using professional 8-Colour to 12-Colour ink-jet printers. Among the manufacturers of these printers are vanguards such as Epson, MacDermid Colorspan, & Hewlett-Packard. These modern technology printers are capable of producing incredibly detailed prints for both the fine art and photographic markets. Giclee prints are sometimes mistakenly referred to as Iris prints, which are 4-Colour ink-jet prints from a printer pioneered in the late 1970s by Iris Graphics.
The Advantages : Giclee prints are advantageous to artists who do not find it feasible to mass produce their work, but want to reproduce their art as needed, or on-demand. Once an image is digitally archived, additional reproductions can be made with minimal effort and reasonable cost. The prohibitive up-front cost of mass production for an edition is eliminated. Archived files will not deteriorate in quality as negatives and film inherently do. Another tremendous advantage of Giclee printing is that digital images can be reproduced to almost any size and onto various media, giving the artist the ability to customize prints for a specific client.
Disadvantages::The accessibility of giclee printing and the proliferation of giclee prints has led to a certain amount of confusion amongst the public and suspicion from traditional artists, galleries and the art establishment.
The Quality : The quality of the Giclee print rivals traditional silver-halide and gelatin printing processes and is commonly found in museums, art galleries, and photographic galleries.
Litho reproduction: half tone dot pattern is visible. Loss of detail
Giclee reproduction: pattern of canvas board is texture of original painting and not printer
Examples of paintings by Colin Bailey reproduced as Limited edition Giclee prints
GICLEE - A BEGINNERS GUIDE
The five basic kinds of digital giclee prints are:
1 Computer-generated images (original giclee prints);
2 Digitally printed photographs;
3 Reproduction giclee prints of images scanned into computers;
4 digital photographs or scanned images that are then manipulated, enhanced, reworked, or altered by computer (using programs like Photoshop, for example) BEFORE they're printed;
5 Giclee or digital images of any kind that are enhanced, reworked, or altered AFTER they're printed. Digital art of all types is rapidly increasing in popularity, regardless of whether the finished products are reproductions, originals, or some combination of the two. Whatever you want to make is fine, as with all art, there are no rules other not to misrepresent what you're making or selling.
Most giclee prints are reproductions of works of art in other mediums-- copies of paintings, watercolours, drawings, etc. If you decide to produce digital copies of your art, remember that no matter what you call them, they are NOT original works of art. They are COPIES of original works of art and should always be represented as such. Even signing or limiting them does not change this fact.
However producing giclee limited edition reproduction prints is a great way for artists to make their art more widely available at lower prices, and increasing their collector bases by offering affordable alternatives to more expensively priced originals. You can also sell your images as unsigned unlimited editions at even lower prices if you want to make them even more affordable, or you can sign and limit them in various ways in order to market them at different price points. Signing, numbering, adding small drawings in the margins, or whatever else you want to do to personalize or individualize your digital images all make them more attractive to buyers,
If you're printing limited editions, set edition sizes in advance. Once they're set, make them public and never change them. You don't have to print the entire run at once; one of the great advantages of giclee printing is that you only have to print as many prints as people order, thereby saving ink, paper, and storage costs. But keep in mind that people who buy limited edition prints often buy based, at least in part, on the size of the edition. For example, if you limit an edition to ten prints, you sell them out, and then decide to print twenty more because they sold so well, you can be pretty sure that the people who bought the first ten will never buy art from you again .
With signed limited editions, document every print you sell. This is a great way to make buyers feel confident about what they're buying. Include a detailed original invoice or certificate of authenticity with each image-- not a photocopy-- with the print's title, paper type, printer type, ink type, date printed, edition size, and other particulars. Then sign and date it. Not only do buyers appreciate the documentation, but good documentation also tends to increase a work of art's value.
Never try to obscure the fact that your art has digital components (as some artists do). For example, if you print a digital print and then paint over it in any way, call it "acrylic over giclee image," "enhanced giclee print," "hand-embellished inkjet print," "giclee print with hand highlighting," "hand painted digital print," or "inkjet and acrylic." Don't simply call it "mixed media." Not only does that confuse buyers; it's also disingenuous because it traditionally refers to a work of art that is 100% original and created entirely by hand. Digital art is created with computers, printers, scanners, and/or cameras; no handwork is involved in certain stages of that process. You don't want someone to buy your "mixed media" art believing that you made it entirely by hand, only to find out later that you didn't.
THE BASIC KIT
You’ve probably thought of getting your favourite paintings,drawings or photographs printed but have been deterred by the technicalities and the cost! Up until about ten years ago this would have meant 4 colour lithographic printing, setting up plates, halftone screening and commitment to large print runs - fine if you want an edition of 250 but a tad expensive if you just wanted 10!
You’ve probably looked into Giclee printing but are not quite sure what it entails, or indeed if it is quite what it claims to be.
To set this up yourself you would need:
1 A fairly fast PC with extra memory and decent graphics card and a copy of photoshop or something similar
2 An A3 quality scanner (don’t confuse this with the £30 A4 scanners you can get! Good quality A3 scanners are around £600!). I use an Epson GT15000 although it has probably been updated - I’ll keep you posted!
The scanner will always produce far better quality images (a 300dpi A3 scan would be equivalent to the image produced by a 17 mega pixel camera, would have perfect lighting and no depth of field or distortion problems)
3 An A3 Giclee printer. Again a world apart from your bog standard A4 inkjet printer. The technology is basically the same but Giclee printers use pigments which are light-fast and waterproof (I left my first prints in the bath for a day to check this!). They also use 8 colour cartridges instead of 4 and can print onto “proper” art paper and card.
An SLR digital camera (preferably 15 mega pixels or more The Nikon D3200 or Canon 600D are good basic DSLRs and are both under £500 ) . A decent f1.4 50mm standard lens is recommended Nikon 50mm / Canon 50mm (zooms are much better than they used to be but just don’t deliver the sharpness or low light performance of a good standard or “prime” lens)
If you follow the links above you will see that the camera bodies are relatively cheap to the lenses. This is a bit of a sea change to the pre- digital era when the bodies stayed relatively unchanged and the big technical leaps were in the lenses - Now technological advances mean sensors and camera bodies are changing rapidly whilst the lenses are moving slower. you can still fit a Nikon or Canon 1970’s lens to a modern Digital Camera!
Apart from having a camera and lens that can capture your art work you will of course have a damn fine camera for taking photographs!
Make sure your image files are large enough to produce superior quality prints, and use printers capable of printing in high resolution (high dpi). You don't want dot matrix patterns to be visible on your prints (unless showing dot patterns is an intended characteristic of your art). Colour fields should be crisp and clean with no overlap or fuzzy edges.
Know the characteristics of your inks. Under what conditions will they fade? Are they water-resistant? Should they be protected with finishes? Should they be displayed only in low light? If you want your art to last, it's important to use the best inks, papers, and protective coatings available.
Use pigmented inks only. Dye-based inks fade substantially over time. By the way, the last time I checked, Iris printers still can't use pigmented inks, so avoid Iris prints.
Make sure you know what equipment is being used to print your images, as well as what inks, papers, and dpi (resolution). See samples of exactly what you're contracting for before you sign any dotted lines, and be sure the quality of those samples meets with your approval.
Think about offering a little extra for early buyers of your latest editions-- maybe a little larger size, special paper, a personal statement, or other add-ons. Showing consideration to your first few buyers encourages them to buy first again, and might encourage other buyers to get in line quicker the next time.
The nature of digital art is such that even though you print the same file over and over again, you can make each image unique with relatively minor changes. So experiment with different options-- you may end up pioneering techniques that digital artists will follow for years to come.