There are many reasons why you’d want a printable version of your art. Maybe the most important one of all is backup. Should anything happen to your original work, it’s good to know you can at least create a high quality reproduction. But you may also want to sell your original and keep a file on hand for selling prints. I’ve recently had some of my works printed again after a long hiatus and was amazed how technology has progressed in this area over the last ten years. I’d like to share my findings and choices with you.
Creating a digital version of your artwork
Unless you paint digitally, you’ll have to either photograph or scan your artwork. Most fine art printers offer this service and have special (and expensive) equipment for that. When your work is very large, or when it requires special lighting (often the case with impasto works or oil paint which has a shine) I do recommend that you have this done by them. The only requirement is that you are able to physically transport your work to their studio.
If you’re comfortable digitalizing your work by yourself, make sure you pay attention to the follow:
- Use a modern (high resolution) camera. Phone cameras are not suitable for this. Use a DSLR camera or a high-end compact system like the Olympus Pen.
- Make sure your camera is set to RAW format and at it’s highest possible resolution.
- Position your artwork with the front facing your windows. Make sure there is no direct sunlight. Sky light on a cloudy is the best diffuse light for this. Don’t position your work sideways. It will cause directional shadows.
- Put your camera on a tri-pod or table. No one is able to hold a camera perfectly still.
- Don’t photograph your artwork behind glass. If it’s framed, take it out.
If you prefer to use a scanner, make sure you wipe down your glass after each scan to prevent particle transfer. Even works that are fixed can sometimes give off particles.
Adjust your digital file to match your original
After you’ve taken your photo’s or scans, you might want to do some gamma/level adjustments. This is why it’s important you set your camera to RAW file format. Before you start editing, make sure that your screen brightness is average and you turn off any blue light filters you might be running.
Crop your file to printing size at at least 200 dpi. I recommend 300 dpi.
Print or giclee?
There is some confusion in the online art community about what qualifies as a giclee and what not. The term giclee is often (mis)used for print that are actually not up to spec. So what are the characteristics of a giclee print?
- A giclee printer has 8 to 12 printer heads for the same number of colors. Your average home printer has 4 of which one is black. Your high end home printer might have 6 or 8 in which case you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will come live with you. 😉
- Giclee printers use archival inks. These inks are guaranteed lightfast up to 60 – 100 years. They’re also awesome as they produce a color vibrance and depth that cannot be matched by any home printer.
- A giclee must be printed on certified paper. This kind of inkjet paper compliments the lightfastness of the ink. It has a special coating that protects the ink from the influence of UV light.
It can be part of the process of creating a giclee print to have your work digitalized by a studio’s special equipment. After all, a crappy scan maybe be printed as a giclee, but it’ll still end up a crappy print.
Giclee printing is more expensive than it’s alternatives. There are styles of art that don’t necessarily benefit from giclee printing. Pen work, drawings and simple illustrative styles might looks almost as good printed at home. If you do decide to print at home or at a photo service, make sure you choose a nice paper stock. Hahnemuhle and other paper brands sell fine art inkjet paper that can mimic the look and feel of art paper. If you prefer photo paper you may want to opt for a matte finish to avoid too much shine.
Print a proof
Nothing is more untrustworthy than your computer screen. What looks great on your screen, looks like a dark blob on your friend’s. All fine art printing studios offer proofs on the paper of your choice. Some are free, some at a small cost. It’s worth it, trust me.
Ready, set, print!
When you’ve approved your proofs (ha!) you’re ready to print. On last thing that you need to keep in mind is a border. A border around a print allows for mounted framing without cropping your artwork. You need to include a border, either in your file, or in your order details. If you’re printing giclees, your printer should be able to provide you with certificates of authenticity. These certificates can be included when you sell your work, providing guaranteed quality.
That’s it! I found the whole process of preparing files and checking proofs to be a little nerve wrecking at first, but after I did it once my confidence grew. I love the fact that we’re now able to choose from such a large selection of beautiful papers. It makes prints look like actual artwork and it’s such a pleasure to unwrap my print order every time. If you have any questions about printing or would like to share your experiences, I’d love to hear them in the comments!