Archive for the ‘printing’ Category

Troubleshooting Fine Art Printing

Friday, January 20th, 2017

Laurene emailed me from Canada to ask about printing and the problems she’s encountered:

This year I’d like to try offering a few limited edition prints on my website and I’m quickly learning that printing is an art form in itself!

Printing is not so much an art as a frustration! It involves… compromise 🙂 When I first went into print I couldn’t understand why printers kept saying “Well, this is as close as we can get to the original.” My mind kept saying “Why are they happy with ‘close’? Shouldn’t they be looking for ways to improve the printing process?” This was in the days when offset-litho was the only printing system available.

Later I understood the inherent limitations of printing. Offset-litho uses a pattern of dots, so four adjacent round dots will always possess a white patch in the centre where they meet. That limits blacks to an 80% coverage, resulting in a dark grey and a decrease in contrast. Printing, therefore, is a compromise between what you want it to look like, and what the technology can accomplish.

Now I print in-house using a giclĂ©e (pigment-based inkjet) printer that doesn’t have that limitation, and I have full control over the resulting image. Of course, no printed image can be better than the initial scan, but I’ll return to that.

Red-tailed Hawk by Laurene Spino

Red-tailed Hawk by Laurene Spino

The prints will be giclĂ©e. They’re using a process they call Durachrome that heat-sets the ink after printing with UV light.

With that in mind, I’ll concentrate on digital printing but cover offset-litho too because it might be helpful to other artists.

I have a good local printer who can scan my drawings on a large scanner that can accommodate my drawings so they don’t have to be patched together in Photoshop. It’s a flatbed scanner not a drum scanner but it does a very good job.

With the exception of the Cruse flat-bed scanner I still believe that a laser drum scanner will produce the best results (see “The Best Scanners for Artwork”). It’s always my #1 choice, but if you’re happy with your Printer’s result, that’s OK.

I’ve tried 3 different papers so far. I like the results on Arches watercolour paper, hot press, and on Canson Infinity printmaking rag paper (museum quality). The problem is that both of these papers are not quite as white as Mellotex (even though they’re sold are “pure white”) and the print has a sepia tone to it. Is this a problem you’ve had before Mike?

I’ve experienced that problem but I’ll cover the paper choice first: I think there are two schools of thought – those that believe the name will help sell the print, and those (me!) who think the result is more important than the paper’s trade name.

Arches and Canson are excellent and well-respected papers, but are they as smooth as Mellotex? If they aren’t, you’ll encourage ink bleed or introduce an unintended distracting texture (both generating a softening effect), and your print will not reflect the quality of your original.

When I first began drawing dogs for print I drew on plate-finish Ivorex, which was also available commercially as a printer’s paper – job done! Ivorex morphed into Mellotex, and Mellotex was exclusively available as an archival quality printing paper. Now that Mellotex is deceased, we have Conqueror Diamond White – also an acid-free, archival, plate-finish paper for the printing industry… so it would be an ideal choice for offset-litho printing.

However, for giclĂ©e printing you need to use an appropriately coated paper. To avoid the ink bleed I mentioned – where the ink soaks into the paper and spreads so it blurs edges – giclĂ©e papers have an impermeable coating usually termed the “ink receiving layer”. Finding a bright white paper, in my experience, is not easy. In fact I’ve yet to find my ideal paper.

I’ve tried HahnemĂĽhle Photo Rag with reasonable results, but it’s not as smooth as it appears to be and it’s not as bright white as Mellotex or Conqueror Diamond White, but it’s probably worth trying. You’ll find the
Data Sheet here.

You might also try HahnemĂĽhle FineArt Baryta 325gsm, which wasn’t available when I was using Photo Rag. It claims to be bright white and to generate high contrast. Or there’s a Photo Rag Baryta if you prefer cotton over wood-fibre papers.

Again, not one I’ve used: HahnemĂĽhle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth 305gsm (very smooth matt finish). It’s mould-made, 100% cotton, pH neutral, has an extra smooth surface, and has a brighter white point than Photo Rag. Here’s the Data Sheet.

It appears to be very close to what you need, but being mould-made it’s not going to be as smooth as the plate-finish Mellotex or Conqueror. However, it might give a visually perfect result – not exactly the same as your original but presenting its best qualities. Personally, I aim at producing a pleasing and saleable print rather than trying to faithfully reproduce every aspect of the original drawing. You have to bear in mind that only you, and not your potential purchasers, have seen the original drawing.

There’s also an alternative approach I recently stumbled upon – applying an inkjet receiving coating to non-inkjet paper – and, as you’re in Canada, it’s Ontario based!

inkAID™
Manufactured by Ontario Speciality Coatings, inkAID liquid inkjet receptive coatings are hand-applied to any type of paper, as well as metals, fabrics, wood-veneers, canvas and more. The coatings are pH neutral, acid free and are specially-designed to work with dye and pigment inks. Shelf life is a year from the date of purchase.

Because the bleed of inkjet printing on uncoated paper reduces contrast and sharpness, the results are usually unacceptable. Coating paper with an inkjet receiving layer solves the problem. That means you could use Conqueror Diamond White as a giclée printing paper by adding a coating. Source: The-Artisan-approach-to-Inkjet-Printing and inkAid1.com

Would you know if there’s a special print instruction that I could give the printer so that the prints look more graphite? If I print the scan on my home printer on bright white paper, there is no sepia tint at all, but if I push the saturation in Paintshop Pro I can see the natural warmth of graphite, meaning that it’s not a cool grey.

I suspect I know what’s happening… it’s a result of using 4-colour CMYK printing. When I changed my Printer, the new company experimented with 4-colour printing, believing they would reproduce finer detail. As a result, I have one print with an overall pale blue colour-cast and another with a sepia cast. Nothing we tried could solve that problem.

Later, using a commercial digital printing business, I had the same problem with giclĂ©e prints – until Epson introduced the K3 ink system. Instead of mixing colours to obtain greys, this system uses a black and two grey cartridges. Switch the colours off and colour-casts are banished! My Epson R2300 uses this system (choose the “advanced B&W photo” option).

Previously, with offset-litho printing we used Duotone printing. That uses two or the four 4-colour plates: we used black ink for one and a warm grey for the other. The result was excellent, within the bounds of offset limitations. We also tried mixing a “grey” that was a brownish purple. That worked even better! It’s my understanding that graphite draws with a black mark but the clay mixed with it introduces a brown tint, which is what the brown/purple mimicked.

When I’m printing giclĂ©e prints in-house I always reduce my images to greyscale. That, and opting to print using only blacks and greys, guarantees there cannot be a colour-cast present.

This is just an idea and untested, but… if you are using giclĂ©e printing and want to introduce a controllable degree of sepia tint, in Photoshop I suggest you try:

  • desaturating the image (not greyscale, you need to maintain it as an RGB file)
  • copy it to a new higher layer
  • sepia tint the copy
  • set the copy’s opacity to 10%

Now experiment with the opacity until you achieve a grey print with a touch of warmth from the sepia overlay. That should give you the ultimate in control over the appearance.

I’d like the prints to look as close as possible to my original drawings but I’m stumped at the moment. The printer who produced the Ducks Unlimited prints last year did a great job but his press is meant for large volume runs. A run of 10 would be cost prohibitive.

Were the Ducks Unlimited prints offset-litho? I’m assuming they were. The greatest proportion of the charge for an offset press is for the machine set-up time; in comparison, the cost of materials and running time are almost negligible. So short print runs are always very expensive per print.

A short run of 10 prints really needs to be giclĂ©e printed in-house to be financially viable. I have an Epson R2300 that cost in the region of ÂŁ500 (about $800 CAD). That was over ten years ago but it paid for itself with the first 20 prints produced. Prices haven’t altered much – the Epson SureColor SC-P400 is a similar A3+ 8-colour printer that currently costs around ÂŁ470 ($750 CAD).

Epson A3+ printer

Epson SureColor SC-P400

Offset-litho is cheaper per print but the entire edition has to be produced in a single run, to avoid repeated additional expensive set-up times.

GiclĂ©e printing costs more per print than offset-litho but (using in-house printing) prints can be produced when required; there’s no dead stock or dead money involved. However, there is the initial cost of paper stock, so if your printer can viably produce a run of just 10 prints, it sounds like a good deal. When your prints sell – they will! – then consider changing to in-house printing for the maximum control and financial return.

Finally…

…congratulations on Drawspace being chosen as one of the top 50 online learning sites! I know your Intermediate and especially the Advanced courses changed my approach to art. I overcame my hesitancy with regard to composition and I gained confidence in my artwork which encouraged me to show my work more. I’m enjoying myself and I’m trying new things as a result.

I’m so pleased you found the courses helpful. I’m still teaching at Drawspace and still enjoying it immensely! New sessions are starting soon:

Drawspace lessons with Mike Sibley

Drawspace lessons with Mike Sibley

The Best Scanners for Artwork

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Artur emailed me to ask about scanning. He’s disappointed with the results from his local copy shop, and also concerned that he might have to draw multiple versions of the same image to please all his family members.

I started drawing a portrait of my father-in-law. He’s got three daughters and a son. I’m scared if all of them ask me to draw the same portrait… Drawing one thing for many times isn’t what I’m dreaming of … 🙂

No, you don’t need to draw it multiple times! In fact, I’d argue that each would devalue the others. So I suggest you get a really good scan of the single drawing, which I’d reserve for your Father-in-Law, and then supply prints to any other family members who wants a copy. When you’re here next month at the Drawing Dogs workshop I’ll show you a print of my granddaughter – her parents have the original and I have one of two printed copies.

The main point above is the “really good scan”. That costs money but I don’t think the cost is exorbitant, and it’s definitely justified. I’ve tried photographing my work and scanning with my studio scanner. If you are an expert photographer (I’m not) the results can be excellent. I have friend near Redcar who runs a giclĂ©e printing business and he successfully sources some of the artwork from photos he takes – but he does know what he’s doing. I have a good Microtek flat-bed scanner that produces decent results but almost all flat-bed scanners will have problems capturing the very lightest values.

The solution…

The solution I found is to use a laser drum scanner. I’m not suggesting you buy one! I think they cost between ÂŁ15,000 to ÂŁ70,000 each. There’s one on eBay for only ÂŁ500 if you hurry! 🙂

A typical Laser drum Scanner

A typical Laser Drum Scanner

Here’s something I found that might explain the differences between flat-bed and drum scanners:
www.KenRockwell.com/tech/scantek (scroll about 3/4 down the page).

As Ken Rockwell explains: “All the scanners you or I are likely to buy are based on CCDs, the same little chips that you have in your camcorder or digital camera… Drum scanners are good not because of the drum, but because the image is picked up by a much more sensitive PMT [that] is a zillion times more sensitive to light than a moving CCD with teeny weeny pixels.”

There’s only one requirement – the artwork must be capable of bring taped around the drum, so illustration board won’t be suitable. But one thing is certain… Drum scanners give fantastic results! In fact they’re so good at capturing everything, here’s a warning…

Tell the operator you want the paper to be scanned as pure white. If you don’t, and your paper is off-white, the scanner will read the paper as a colour. Of course, you can fix that later in Photoshop, but it’s better to have a perfect scan. I had three scans go direct from the scanning house to the printer – unchecked. The resulting prints look as though a cloud passed in front of the sun. It didn’t affect sales – because only I know what the original looks like – but it’s not a mistake I’d care to repeat.

I use Reprotech in York and have my drawings scanned to CD, at 300ppi or greater. The CD gives me the freedom to choose the right commercial printer, if I want prints made of it, or I can reduce its size for greetings cards, notelets or website use. But each use is derived from the perfect scan stored on the CD.

Laser Scanned images

Laser Scanned images

Finally…

I have three scans to collect from York this week at a cost of ÂŁ20 (about $30 USD) for each of the A3 (11″ x 16″) images burnt to CD. Given the superb quality – that’s cheap!

So, first find your scanner. That should be relatively easy. Every commercial printer will use a pre-press house that has a Drum Scanner. Some printers might have their own but that’s not likely unless they are a large company. Ask your local printer where they get their scanning done, then contact the pre-press house they use. If all else fails, you can contact REPROTECH STUDIOS Ltd on 01904 644 006 – website: www.ReprotechStudios.co.uk. I’ve been using their services for the past few years and have received excellent service and results.

[Scanner illustration from: www.waltzer.com]

Getting started with Printing

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

Jonas contacted me through my website’s “Ask a question” feature with this query:

I recently received my new drawing pencils and Mellotex and absolutely love it all. As soon as I finish reading your book I’m
going to begin my first new drawing that I want to sell as prints. So far, everything I’ve done has been commission work so the printing process is new to me. Do you have any advice on how to go about doing this?

This is a huge subject, Jonas, so I’ll try to stick to the basics. You’ll find more detailed information elsewhere in this blog and on my website.

Let’s first tackle a few common questions:

“Does having prints done of an image change the value of the original?”

In my opinion, no, and certainly not downwards! I’ve had a few buyers in the past use this argument to push the price down but as far as I’m concerned an original is an original whether or not a print has been taken from it. I don’t see the value of Constable’s Haywain halving just because we can all buy postcards of the image.

“If you are going to have prints made to sell, will you have to make all of them first?”

It depends on (1) the process, (2) your “sales potential” among the dealers and (3) your pre-publication promotion.

(1) If you print by giclĂ©e then you can print whatever number you need on demand and don’t have to hold unsold stock. If you print by offset-litho then you have to print the entire run in one session – and pay for it, but it’s much cheaper in the long run than giclĂ©e.

(2) If you have a known track record of sales then you will be able to take orders from the trade before you print. In time you can take them even earlier – I’d already sold the first 30 copies of my Cairn Terrier print “The Barn Patrol” before I knew what the setting was.

(3) If you can take enough forward orders then you’ll have the printing costs covered before you print. That’s what the What’s New page on your website is for – already promoting your latest drawing even if you don’t yet know what it will look like. You should be gathering email addresses of interested parties and awarding them “special” status by sending them pre-publication details.

“Does the fact that I want to make prints influence how I draw my picture?”

Yes, to some extent. First, always draw for you and never for your market, because if you don’t have anything personal to say about you subject, you can’t expect your buyers to be interested in it. The only commercial consideration I ever make is to use the most popular colouring for the dogs I include, but that doesn’t affect what they’re doing or how I see them.

From a practical viewpoint, don’t draw on paper so thick that you can’t roll it. To achieve good prints you need a good scan, so follow the lead of the printing industry and use a laser drum scanner. Source the nearest pre-press house in your area and they should have one. It’s not expensive. I pay about £15 ($23 USD) for an A3 (about 30 x 42 cm) image scanned to CD, but it has to be taped around the scanner’s drum, so don’t draw on illustration board or any very stiff paper.

Tip: Tell the scanner operator you want the paper to be read as white! The scanners are so accurate they will read an off-white paper as a value in the drawing.

Printing types – GiclĂ©e printing

GiclĂ©e would probably be a good way to start. The per-print price is high but you don’t need to print many at one time.

GiclĂ©e is inkjet printing but not all inkjet printing is giclĂ©e. It involves state of the art 6- or 8-colour printers using 200-year lightfast inks on a variety of art papers. Just do an Internet search for your nearest giclĂ©e printer – although you can do this almost as well by mail with some of them. You can often have as few as 10 prints made, the settings are stored, and you can repeat the printing as often as you need to.

Printing types – Offset-litho printing

This is much cheaper per print but you need to print an entire limited edition in one print run, or maybe 500 open edition prints, to make it viable. It also means…

Life is fine and rosy until the fateful day when you decide to print. Suddenly you find yourself talking to Printers! The dictionary definition of a printer should be “One who puts ink on paper without any reference to the source image”. I’ve had some bad experiences, as you may have guessed! 🙂

After a while you can train them to look at art as Art and not as just another job. They can even be trained to understand that what you want is a print that is indistinguishable from the original. They however will tell you that this is not possible. And they’re right…… printing is one long agonising fight with compromise. For example, offset-litho printing uses a pattern of dots, and four adjacent round dots will always leave a white hole between them. Hence, the most solid “black” only ever achieves 90% coverage.

I use the duotone printing process that uses two of the four-colour process plates – black and magenta I think. As long as my printer knows which plates, that’s OK! The black plate prints with black ink and the magenta plate uses a warm grey. The two combine to capture the deepest blacks to the lightest of tones.

Incidentally, giclĂ©e printing can print dense blacks, and you can print on demand instead of holding dead stock – but it is ultimately much more expensive per print. Until recently, I used giclĂ©e only for images that didn’t fit into my current market, so I’m not paying to print copies that might never sell.

In-house printing

Buying a giclĂ©e printer can, depending on sales, quickly pay for itself. If, for example, you’re paying a GiclĂ©e Printer £15 per copy and your printer costs you £600, it only takes just over forty sales to pay for it, taking your running costs into account. It’s also an ideal way to test the sales potential of new work or work that doesn’t fit your usual subject matter. I use an Epson R2400 printer that prints up to A3 size. And, of course, you have ultimate control over the appearance of the print.

Do not be tempted to purchase an old used printer that doesn’t use the K3 system of inks. Older giclĂ©e printers mixed the colours to create the greys, and that usually resulted in a colour-cast (called Metamerism). Your print might look black and grey under natural light, but green under fluorescent, and blue under yet another light. The K3 system avoids that, because you can turn off the colours and print using only the black, light black, and light light black cartridges – no colour in the mix so no colour-cast.

Costing

Spreadsheets are an ideal way of controlling your costs and profit. Set up a “what if” spreadsheet so you can alter the variables and instantly see the results. Mine allow for paper and an estimation of ink costs, plus any other costs I might encounter. If you intend to sell your work matted, for example, then factor that in too. Who are you selling to? If it’s to retail customers through your website, set the final profit to the selling price less your costs. If you’re selling to the trade (stores, print shops, galleries, etc) then assume your profit will be reduced by their 50% discount. In my case, I assume 10% will be sold at retail price and 90% wholesale to the trade. If you’re unsure of a figure, always err on the gloomy side – so assume 50% discount for trade sales even if some will accept 40%.

Sales

As your website features commissioned portraits I don’t know what subject matter you want to sell as prints. If it’s animal related you might find associated clubs with websites who might be interested in selling your work. Some may just make mention of your prints and provide a link to your own site, which is just as valuable.

Never fail to follow up a lead, however tenuous it might be. For example, in the days before the Internet, I would always answer a letter with an enquiry about local stores that might be interested in my work – even if the letter was to my Electricity Provider. And every letter and envelope still bears my website address – even if it’s to my Aunt Edith or the Taxman!

You can visit galleries personally (by appointment) or send them a detailed mailing. Visit a few galleries with your originals before you print and ask them to give you some idea of the retail price you could command. They should know – it’s their business.

Run an online search for similar artwork and note their prices. Finally, when you determine your own prices don’t be too cheap. The price reflects your own opinion of your work and “too cheap” is far more damaging that “too expensive”.

Print types

OPEN EDITION : No restriction on the number printed and the image is reprinted every time stocks run out.

LIMITED EDITION : Restricted to a set number of prints, which gives the image a rarity value. Each print in numbered – 652/850 for example – where that’s print number 652 out of an edition of 850. No more will ever be printed.

I changed from open to limited edition prints because, theoretically, the cost doesn’t really matter. When you can sell a £1 offset-litho print for £60, the cost is largely immaterial. I wanted to be able to print to a quality and not to a price, as I had to with my open edition prints.

Finally…

Finally, produce work that tells a story, however simple. Even my head studies tell a story. Before I began each one, I’d decide what the dog had just been doing and was about to do. That made it “alive” in my mind and it became built in as I worked. Each one was never a “drawing” but always a recreation of a living animal.

If your work doesn’t say something, you’ll be an illustrator and not an artist. Illustrations are not widely popular with the majority of the buying public. A botanical illustration, for example, will tell you about the shape, form and detail of a flower, but you won’t be able to feel its waxy petals or appreciate the way it bends in the wind. Illustrations tend to be too “clean” – Nature is a messy creature – so the occasional nibble by a caterpillar in a leaf adds the missing sense of reality 🙂

The story can be complex or simple, the drawing should be your interpretation and not a copy of a reference, and it should contain what you personally want to convey to your viewers and future customers. “Look at this” you should be saying “Look how beautiful it is. No, look closer. Really close…” and they will, and they’ll appreciate something that they only glanced at previously. As graphite artists, we can’t hide behind colour, and that’s a huge advantage – we’re detail-based and don’t have big brushes to suggest anything with a wide sweep. As a bonus, we also tend to stand out from the myriad of paintings in galleries.

If you haven’t already done so, join a good forum where you’ll receive constructive criticism and assistance Obviously I’m going to suggest www.TheDrawingForum.com run by myself and JD Hillberry – but it is the best for constructive critiques and help, and we welcome posts on business and printing issues as well as for artwork.

You can view Jonas’s work on his website at www.Galaxy-Artworks.com