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The reproduction of fine art - part 1 of 1 2

by Mike McNamee Published 01/01/2003

A growth industry has developed over the past decade for the sale of digital prints either as originals or as reproductions of fine art made on other media. For a GP professional it offers a way of supplementing your income stream and getting better utilisation of your printing gear.

Fine Art-What is it?

Fine Art has a dictionary definition of art that is produced for its beauty rather any utilitarian purpose. It includes painting, photography, sculptor and music.

It is the availability of light-stable, high quality InkJet prints that has opened possibilities in the "Limited Edition" prints field. Traditionally an artist would reproduce an edition of a single piece of work, limited in number and individually signed and numbered with a rider "23/50" or "print 23 of a 50 print edition. The print business took off with lithos. Invented in 1798, lithography was championed by artists Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Rembrandt, Goya, Picasso, Degas, Braque, and Miro. Lithos are pulled from a prepared block of stone upon which an original image has been drawn, often in a wax material. This block was subsequently inked up and then a piece of high quality watercolour paper is pressed onto it and then pulled for drying. The edition is limited by the nature of the process and the block is often repolished after use, making it impossible to increase the edition size. This gives the prints a rarity value, which inflates their selling price, and investment potential.

Technology marched on and the litho process was largely superseded by high quality offset litho printing or silkscreen printing, both of which carry a high set-up cost. Artists were thus faced with the risky business of creating a limited edition, which might not sell enough to realise the initial investment. However, all these techniques paved the way to bringing fine art into the homes of less wealthy art lovers, prints have always been less expensive than originals. Now digital printing is expanding the market yet further. Providing scrupulous attention is paid to the size of the digital print run it is now possible for an artist to publish an edition, but to print it on demand.

Thus if a print fails to sell there is no waste of materials or money.

The Life Problem

Many pages of words have been expended on the subject of print life. Initially inkjets were made as proofing devices with an anticipated working life of a few weeks i.e. until the printing press run was completed. When people saw the quality they began to think about using them as saleable, on the wall images. The euphoria was short lived and a variety of problems rapidly came to light (pardon the pun). The interaction of ozone and light in colour fading was already known and in fact was contained in the relevant British Standard. However a nasty surprise was had by a number of exhibitors and prints were found to be significantly degraded after a few weeks exposure on gallery walls. Everybody has different tales regarding early inkjet fading, my own experience is that some of mine have been hanging behind glass in daylight for two years without any sign of fading. Conversely, some older prints have just arrived back after two years of travelling - they are faded.

Thankfully these problems seem to have been overcome and there are a number of ink-set options and strategies, which give prints a life long enough to have them classed as Fine Art.

Life Testing

There are a number of ways of testing dyes and inks for fading. The oldest method id known as the Blue Wool Scale Test and this has a British standard, BS ISO 105, associated with it. The tests consists of a series of 8, dyed patches of wool, each woven with strands of a progressively more light resistant dye. These are placed, partly shield along size the surface of the print, ink or paint under test. At routine intervals the shielding flap is lifted and an assessment is made as to which patch exhibits fading. This patch gives the specimen its Blue Wool Rating. Typical figures are 4 for contract carpeting, 6 for Fine Art use. Early inkjets exhibited values of 1 and under. The latest Epson Ultrachrome ink set has been rated as 6-7 in independent testing. Other tests rate Ultra Chrome life up to 75 years.

It is generally found that pigment based inks have lives far in excess of dye based inks. The downside is an effect known as metamerism, which is the change in colour observed when an image is moved from one light source to being viewed in another. When this shift is towards green it can produce an unpleasant rendering of skin tones. The Epson Ultrachrome inkset has much improved metamerism in comparison to the predecessor, used in the Epson 7500 and 2000P printers.

The developments described above have paved the way for a market into which high quality inkjet prints may be sold as legitimate pieces of fine art and prints are being advertised between £50 and many thousands of pounds. At a recent Christie's auction a set of digital prints by Graham Nash (of Crosby Stills and Nash if you are old enough!) sold for $19,500. Nash was one of the pioneers of digital fine art reproduction.


The Reproduction Process

The start of the process is to digitise the conventionally created image or if the image is digitally created this step may be skipped, providing it is in a suitable condition in terms of colour accuracy and profile.

There are four routes to digitisation.

1. Create the image on a computer.
2. Scan an original image.
3. Conventionally photograph an original image and then scan the negative or, the transparency. In general scanning of photo prints should be avoided.Transparencies are preferred over negative emulsions.
4. Digitally photograph the original artwork.

The choice of workflow is most usually influenced by the size of the final output. As a rule of thumb the output file resolution should be between 200 and 300 pixels per inch (ppi). The file sizes required at 200ppi are tabulated below. Do not confuse this resolution with that of the printer itself - a 1440dpi printer only needs about 200ppi because it uses up to 12 dots per pixel to create colour from the 6-colour inks.

Image Size AS Nominal ins.8x6 File Size MB5.5
A4 12x8 11.1
A3 17x12 22.2
A2 24x17 44.4
A1AO 33x2447x33 88.8177.4


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