Let’s talk about printing fine art photography…
There is a lot to know, a lot to understand, especially if you are going to be collecting fine art photography prints.
When thinking about purchasing Fine Art Photography Prints you will often see the term, Giclée. Giclée is a term for fine art prints made on an ink-jet printer, and is typically in reference to a high-quality print. The term was coined by American printmaker Jack Duganne in 1991 to describe the way the ink is applied to the paper during the printing process. The word is French, meaning literally, “to squirt.”
Although more expensive than the more commonly used four-color offset process, giclée produces a much higher quality print and a quicker turn around time. Plus, as an added benefit to both buyer and photographer, there is more control over the outcome through color correction and the type of paper used.
Giclée photographic prints can be divided into three categories:
- Photographs which are printed directly from the original digital (usually called original digital photographs).
- Photographs which are manipulated or enhanced in Photoshop, Lightroom or another editing software before being printed. Depending on the amount of work done, these may either be called reproductions or original works of art.
- Photographs which are manipulated or enhanced after having being printed. Once again, these may either be called reproductions or original works of art.
Whichever category the print falls in does not limit whether it is sold as a limited or open Edition, or even an artist proof. All three processes may be called a “giclée print.”
What is more important than how the giclée print is processed is the paper it is printed on. The paper goes a long way in determining what the print looks like and how it holds up. With most of my prints I suggest a paper and finish style that I think works well. Other options may work just as well, and this is something to consider when we talk purchasing a image. It is also important to remember that while high-quality prints on canvas, metal, acrylic, or other media may look a bit different, as well as evoke a different sort of emotion.
When it comes to fine art photography paper, the finish falls loosely into one of three types: matte, semi-glossy, or glossy. Within these categories there are variations. When printing your fine art photography print on fine art paper I choose the best possible paper and finish. The choice of finish and paper is noted with the image offering. The finish can be varied if there is a need, such as hanging location of print, or how much handling the print will receive. Of course, I recommend that every print is handled as little as possible. All three papers are available in archival quality. All of my fine art photography paper prints are print on high-quality archival paper. Prints made on non-archival paper will last no more than ten years.
Matte paper comes in a variety of textures ranging from ultra-smooth to textured. These papers do not show reflection and work well behind glass and in bright light. Fingerprints and dust are less of a concern than on glossy. However, matte prints damage more readily than glossy or semi-glossy, and should always be handled with cotton gloves. For most of my images, matte is the my finish of choice.
Glossy paper has a reflective coating which gives the print a bright shiny appearance. This coating serves as a protective layer between ink and oils from direct contact with hands. On the downside, glossy paper is prone to show fingerprints and dust, and become highly reflective under glass or in ultra-bright light.
Semi-glossy paper is an attempt to bridge between matte and glossy. Semi-gloss papers showcase rich colors, resist fingerprints and produce less glare than glossy paper. They do, however, have less shine. Although more durable than matte papers they do produce the deep blacks that only prints on matte paper can achieve.
It should also be noted that in addition to traditional photo papers a number of other papers have been created that easily work with as giclée prints. One that I use quite often is TorchonTM watercolor paper.
Knowing the ink used to print a fine art photography print is important. It is a given that even with “color-fast materials” colors fade. Heat, light, humidity, air born contaminants (such as ozone), as well as the type of week all effect the rate of fade. We’ve come a long way since the first inkjet printers, nevertheless all inkjet inks are not created equal.
There two kinds of inks, dye-based and pigment-based.
Dye-based inks are made of coloration dissolved in a liquid, usually water or glycol. Being a liquid the ink flows freely and the prints dry quickly. Dye-based inks have a wide color gamut and work well with almost all photo papers. However, dye-based inks are rarely waterproof and they fade much faster than other photo inks. Even with the best storage, dye-based inks will rarely last more than 25 years, often not more than 5 without losing color vibrancy. When you purchase a print from your neighborhood drugstore, or perhaps even your friendly photo lab. more often than not, you are purchasing a print made with dye-based inks. All digital prints before 2000 were dye-based prints.
Pigment-based inks have an insoluble color pigment suspended, not dissolved, in liquid. Powered pigments are extremely stable and resist fading much longer. A good quality archival ink will last 150 years or longer. Initially, photo papers did not absorb pigment-based inks as well as they did dye-based inks. This is now past. Almost all high-end archival quality photo papers work well with pigment-based inks.
Within the last couple of years, ink manufacturers have used nanotechnology to develop pigment-based inks that both deliver a wide range of colors accurately and correct color casts. These new inks also allow a much wider variance in grayscale for black and white printing. Better yet, these advanced inks are blended with resin to make the ink more durable, resisting scratches, running, and flaking.
Archival quality images should always be printed with these high-quality pigment-based inks on archival quality paper. It should be noted, that some other media, is often printed with a pigment-based ink uses other binding agents than resin.
Even with the evolution of HD monitors and television screens, images on the screen do not have the same resolution as a printed image does. There is also the added fact that most monitors and screens are not accurately color calibrated. A high-quality fine art photography print will have correct resolution and color profile to make it look as the photographer intended. Please bear in mind that while computer monitors television screens may come close to the original, they will not have the vibrancy as the final print. A fine art photographer worth their salt will be sure that their images are printed at the correct resolution and to the printer color profile.
In addition to fine art photography prints on photo paper, there are a number of other surfaces which can be used for printing. These range from canvas to metal, wood to glass, and a lot more. While most fine art photographers limit their prints to photo paper or canvas, just because another print medium is used does not necessarily mean that it is not fine art.