Guide to Fine Art Printing [2019]


1. Fine Art Printing Services

Getting started with printmaking can be challenging because there are many variables in equipment, ink, and printing materials. Typically an artist wonders which printer to use, print size limitations and what type of paper, canvas, or other media to use to print their art, a process that is is also known as giclee prints.

However, when it comes to high quality art reproductions, the primary question is often not asked. Which is how would I or a local printer first scan my artwork for printing? Will that master digital image be of enough quality to generate a high-quality art reproduction print? Will they use a professional large flatbed scanner?

2. Art Reproductions

 Printing artwork first requires a very high-quality image that will truly represent the art and its value. The original image is the key to the whole process, which is why it is known as the master image.  The printer, paper, frame, and all other considerations will not matter if you have a poor quality digitally scanned image of your art.

At first, professional photography was the primary option. However, that is no longer the only option. Photography can be expensive, and it is very dependent on many variables such as lighting, lenses, camera back, and the experience of the photographer. Then there are technical issues like image distortions that can occur from the lens or incorrect image proportions which can affect printing dimensions.

Then there is image resolution (the amount of visual content captured in an image), which can be compromised by photography since the camera has to be far away from the artwork to photograph the piece in one shot and the larger the art piece, the further away the camera needs to be.  A professional photographer also has to adjust lighting manually, choose and test various lenses and take various photos, and still, even under the best scenario, the image quality will not be as sharp and proportionally accurate as is the original piece, and this will be obvious when you see the final print.

Proportions (height and width of the digital image relative to the artwork) are critical because ideally, you want the digital image to have the same proportions as the original art piece, which is not usually the case with photography. Proper proportions avoid distortions and accurately represent the original art piece and also facilitate the process of enlarging the image when a larger size print is required.

3. Which is Better JPEG ot TIFF?

Digitizing art is an art in itself. High-end professional scanners have, in many cases, replaced the way artist digitize their art because great technological advancements have been made to generate high-quality digital images with no compression algorithms.

A typical photo taken with your phone is often compressed to reduce the size, which in turn can reduce image resolution. So no matter how great a photo you take with your phone, in most cases it will be compressed to a JPG image, lowering the quality of the image.

JPG files are great for social media, websites, and photo sharing. However, that same image is not optimal for art printing. JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, which is the group the defined the standards for JPEG image compression, but art printing was not the purpose of those standards.

Ideally, for printing, you want an uncompressed TIFF image which maintains image clarity and integrity, and the scanning needs to be done by an experienced professional shop that has the proper equipment.

TIFF is the gold image standard and capturing a high-quality TIFF image can be done by a professional photographer or using a high-end professional flatbed scanner. Due to advancements in technology, there are now large flatbed scanners that can accommodate art pieces that are up to 4’x 6’ and even larger.

4. Large Flatbed Scanner

These professional scanners have cool white lighting that evenly distributes light over the surface being scanned in small increments as the scanner scrolls down through the artwork. So think about that, lighting is focused on exactly the area being scanned, at the specific instant the lens passes across the artwork, the lighting is cool so that it will not affect the original artwork, and the lighting is evenly distributed over that art piece segment.

A great added benefit of using a large fortmat flatbed scanner is that the size of the artwork does not change the process. A photographer would have to adjust the distance of the camera, depending on the size of the artwork. However, with a professional large size scanner, the lens remains very close up to the artwork regardless of size.

This is possible because the camera is right under the glass, a tiny distance from the art piece being scanned, unlike a photo camera that is far away from the art which is to be digitized. The scanner camera uses a lens specifically designed for the scanner; not an interchangeable lens that can be swapped for other common lenses. The lens is also specifically designed for close up imaging and to be used in conjunction with the scanners software to capture bits of the image at a time as the lens runs across the artwork. This approach makes a major difference in the overall quality and resolution of the image to be printed.

5. What DPI should I use for digital art?

Resolution refers to the number of pixels that are displayed in a square inch within an image, and this is measured in PPI (pixels per inch) not to be confused with DPI (dots per inch) which is a measure of pixels on a print.

The lower the pixel or dot count, the lower the quality of the image or print. The higher the pixel or dot count, the better the quality of the image or print. The higher the number of pixels in the digital image, the better the image is for editing in Photoshop and other similar software products. In essence, these programs allow you to modify the pixels (data) within the image, so the more pixels (data), the better you can edit that image.

There was a time when 200dpi/PPI was acceptable and then 300DPI/PPI, but now 600 DPI/PPI is possible, which generates higher quality, crisp images.

Non-professional scanners may be in the 200-300 range and are typically found in homes and unfortunately in some businesses. These scanners also do not often have the proper lid to ensure that the art is not damaged. Also, they are often small, only allowing for the scanning of small pieces. A high-end professional scanner not only can scan at 600PPI but they can also scan small and large pieces up to 48”x70” and even larger using professional lenses for improved quality.

Also, a high-end commercial scanner run by a professional technician who understands the scanning process, scanner software, and color calibration, as well as image quality and image formats, will ensure you get sharp images with fine details that accurately and professionally represent your art and enhance its value.

6. Digital Art Printing Services

Materials for printing come in many varieties, and the two most common are fine art printing paper and canvas. There are many high-quality brands of paper, and each brand usually has a variety of options. Two common brands are Breathing Color and Epson.

Breathing Color has a fine art paper for use with aqueous inks (water-based), as well as fine art paper for use with solvent, latex, and UV inks.

Epson also has a large variety of high-end quality paper for fine art in matte, gloss and with a large variety of textures for use with a wide range of inks as well.

Also, Breathing Color has a wide variety of canvas materials as well as does Epson.

Before printing a professional scanning technician will first scan a color target along with your art to ensure that the scanner is properly calibrated to capture the colors accurately.  There are various types of color targets, one of which is the RGB (red, green, blue) target, which is used to ensure that the scanner is properly interpreting colors. The color target is best tested at a 24bit depth.

Bit Depth indicates how many bits (the smallest unit of data in a computer) were used to define each pixel and the greater the bit depth, the more tones that can be represented by the scanner. Often a color image is best captured at 24 bit, meaning that each of the 3 RGB colors is scanned at 8 bits and each bit represents millions of color tones to mimic the way the human eye perceives colors.

Proofs are then generated for the artists to approve. Proofs are a key step in the process but one that is often skipped. However, proofs are very important in the process and must be approved before making your final print. The print is the artist’s vision, so here is where the artists must control the process. Proofs are a way to test the local printer’s capabilities, and for a minimal fee, that printer should generate a small proof for the artist for approval before generating the final print.

The printing process needs to be a back-and-forth process in cooperation with your printer. Do not expect to have your final print made while you wait because ideally the printer should first calibrate the scanner, run multiple scans to identify the proper settings for your specific art and in a busy high-quality printing service this can take from a few hours to few days. Then the image needs first to be approved by the artist. Re-scans may be necessary at this point depending on the artist’s vision, and once the final image is approved, then it is time for the first proof.

The proof can be much smaller than the final print as it is used as an example of how the final print will look and feel since it will also be printed on the same media.

Not all printers and inks are the same, and the final output can vary even if the original image is superb. So if the artist is not satisfied, additional proofs may be required based on the artist’s vision and expectations.

7. Summary

In Conclusion, the printing process requires the following crucial steps which can take a few days to generate a proper high quality art reproduction.

  1. A professional scanner should be used, and the scanner needs first to be tested for color accuracy using a color and resolution target alongside with a scan of your art piece. Request to see samples of work scanned for other artists.
  2. Scanner settings need to be adjusted to properly capture your art and ensure that the final image accurately represents your art and its colors.
  3. The professionally scanned jpeg and tiff digital images need to be approved by the artist to ensure they properly represent the art piece and all the detailed work that went into creating the painting.
  4. Before making the final full-size print, a smaller proof must then be generated for review and approval by the artist, and the proof needs to be on the same material that will be used for the final print.

If you wish to do more research, details on paper options can be found for both Breathing Color as well as Epson and a large professional flatbed scanner can be found at Chica Prints which has trained technicians and years of experience scanning art.

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