Mexican Chewing Gum..."
Inkjet technology is little more than a decade old. That's nothing when you consider it was over 500 years ago when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press and artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Martin Schongauer, and Lucas van Leyden began printing engravings. Now artists are turning to the once-lowly inkjet for fine-art printmaking. It's called "giclée."
by Bret Lortie
Today the use of inkjet technology for fine art printmaking is serious business. In fact, for artists willing to experiment outside traditional printmaking techniques — etching, lithography, and screenprinting, to name a few — digital printmaking is another means of creative expression ripe for exploitation.
What's no laughing matter is that digital printmaking, not unlike photography and silkscreen in their infancy, is the target of skepticism. When you start using inkjet printers to generate original fine art, limited editions, or reproductions of existing artwork, you encounter questions of legitimacy, quality, and longevity.
After more than a year of research, Nash discovered the Iris 3047 graphics printer, but wasn't satisfied with the surface quality of standard Iris papers. So, he and partner R. Mac Holbert began modifying the printer and its software so they could print on a variety of quality papers. After much experimentation and some initial successes, they produced the first giclée, or "little squirt."
The term giclée is tossed around rather freely when it comes to digital fine art prints, which simply adds to your confusion when someone trying to sell you art by the next Picasso launches into art-speak. Originally, giclée applied to output on an Iris inkjet printer, specifically the Iris 3024, 3047, or the 3047G (renamed the Iris GPRINT in 1998). But today, depending on whom you talk to, giclée refers to digital fine art prints output on any high-quality inkjet, for instance, those done on an Epson 3000 or better.
but is it art?
What is the difference between creating digital fine art prints and just outputting computer graphics or reproductions? The answer is subjective and dependent upon the artist's intentions.
"If I select an existing digital file, then I'm simply outputting," according to Jon Cone of Cone Editions Press, Ltd., in East Topsham, Vermont. "However, if I consider what an Iris [printer] can do that is different from other outputs, then the project [is] determined by understanding the qualities of an Iris print. The process is fundamental to printmaking, because there isn't that much difference at the project level in terms of how decisions are made between a digital project and an etching project, for example."
How an artist creates images for printmaking is highly individualized. Considered a pioneer in the field of digital fine art printmaking since the early 1990s, Cone is a developer of printmaking software and archival inks. Cone collaborates as master printer with a number of artists, such as Richard Avedon, Kiki Smith, Robert Rauschenberg, Gordon Parks, Helena Chapellín Wilson, and many others, and has seen a variety of techniques. For instance, paintings and other objects too large for scanning can be captured by digital camera. Hand-drawn lithographic separations can be photographed digitally, then combined on computer before printing. A scanned, screenprinted, or digitally printed image sometimes may serve as the background for a drawing, photograph, or painting, all of which may combine for a mix of handiwork and digital imaging that is digitally output to create an original work of art.
Other Important Factors
|"Self Portrait as a Tourist"
Siligraph & Ink Jet Transfer
Image size: 18x24"
Paper: Rives BFK
of the Iris
That range encompasses the entire RGB gamut and beyond, resulting in chartreuses, vibrant oranges, or cobalt violets.
In addition to its range in color, Iris printing is also an economical way to create limited editions if you're not known. Combined with some creative marketing on the Internet, an unknown artist could potentially make a name for himself or herself without the expense of setting up a traditional limited-edition press run. From university students to established artists, printmakers willing to try something new can benefit from this kind of technology.
What will it cost you? An Iris printer costs upwards of $60,000 so you probably won't be buying one. Rather you'll be taking your files to an Iris shop for printing. For instance, a 32" x 46" print (generally the largest available) will cost approximately $350. Test prints, which are necessary when color is critical, cost around $75. Silicon Gallery of Fine Art Prints, in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, New York's Laumont Editions, and other studios offer package agreements that benefit artists planning to print many sheets during the initial run or in the future.
the move to digital
Randy Green, owner of Muse [X], has worked with more than 75 well-known artists such as Long, including Vito Acconci, John Baldessari, Uta Barth, Mike Kelley, and Andrea Zittel, and considers his company's strength to be its ability to work collaboratively with artists.
"Charles Long came in and sketched some of his shapes onto a pad with a number of instructions. We had someone here render the images digitally. Then we worked with the artist to create a file and concentrate on the color," Green explained.
"There was a constant give and take of ideas," Long said. "It's one of the best projects I've done. I'm so amazed with how it turned out."
His final product, entitled "Internalized Page Project," comes in two volumes with seven images each and has been exhibited at Bonakdar Jancou Gallery, in New York, and at Shoshona Wayne Gallery, in Santa Monica, California.
Long's prints were done on an Iris 3047. Although Muse [X] specializes in several printing processes, Green admits that Iris is at the top of the field when it comes to giclée printing.
"I wouldn't consider Epson in a league with Iris. But it depends on what you do. If you have a nice watercolor, nothing is comparable to Iris. When you're printing for a glossy, more photographic look, I prefer the Light Jet 5000." But with a nod to recent hardware releases, Green adds, "The Epson 9000 has a lot of potential."
Color fidelity is also one of the Iris' strengths, but it's not just a matter of hitting a button and watching it print. The artist and master printer at a fine art press such as Muse [X] must work very closely together to make a print. Color must be calibrated and recalibrated, particularly when experimenting with different surfaces, in order to achieve the artist's desired results.
One advantage of making a giclée is that the artist doesn't have to produce a complete set of prints at one time, unlike traditional printmaking processes that require an entire run be completed all at once. With digital printing, a portion can be made now and the remaining ones printed later as needed, without loss of quality. Once the artist is satisfied with the results, the information is stored digitally to create prints as needed.
With most traditional printmaking, the plates are destroyed after the project's done. But a number of printmakers expressed that there's nothing to prevent the digital artist from producing more prints "on-demand."
Nothing, that is, except the artist's integrity. It is up to the digital artist and printer to determine how the digital file will be handled, if at all, after the print run.
Cone agrees there are inherent problems, such as disregard for the artist's intentions by generating unauthorized printings and sizing a print to best suit the customer. However, he believes there is a built-in, yet limited, system of protection. "In a way, technology will take care of the problems of uniqueness and originality. Any files you now have will be unreadable in four or five years."
New advances in paper production also offer solutions to problems of unlimited printing or authenticity. Bob Toth, Northeast marketing manager for Arches Paper, explains that special watermarks can help verify dates. For instance, at Arches, watermarks not visible to the untrained eye are changed with each batch of paper.
As with all purchases of art, it pays to do your homework and ask the right questions of both the gallery and the artist.
Henry Wilhelm has been watching stuff fade since 1976. As director of research for Wilhelm Imaging Research, an organization in Grinnell, Iowa, that tests and researches colorfastness and staining of digital output and photographic print materials, it's his business to evaluate how artwork holds up over time.
Back in the 1970s, he studied photographs to determine their longevity. Now he watches inkjet printouts, too. Wilhelm tests for fading by subjecting artwork to high-intensity light while maintaining normal humidity and temperature levels.
"It took a long time even with color photography," he explains, "to gain a certain level of image permanence." He's found that, when printed with special inks on archival papers, Iris prints should last for many decades to come. However, he notes that when you get beyond the Iris and other high-end ink sets, "most desktop products don't have that kind of permanence." But it's simply a matter of time, he says, before that changes, too. "This is still a very early stage."
There also is a trade-off between color gamut and longevity. The dye-based
There are inks on the market, such as Iris' Equipoise and Lyson's FA inks, that attempt to balance image stability and color gamut. Colors printed with these inks on archival paper will generally last 32 to 36 years before noticeable fading occurs.
By comparison, a color negative print on Fujicolor Crystal archival
paper can last 60 years. But the market is new, and inks are being developed
that promise greater longevity and a wider color gamut.
"TheJournal - Filtered Memories"
dots are not created equal
But the Iris uses dots that vary in size. While ordinary inkjets lay down a scattered pattern of tiny, fixed-size dots, the Iris overlaps dots on top of dots, in all different sizes, to mix its colors. Because of this you get the perceptual effect of a higher resolution a "visual dpi" of 1,200 to 1,800.
A desktop inkjet, such as the Epson 3000, prints many dots in the shadows of an image, packed closely together, but very few dots in the highlights. The sparse distribution of these fixed-size dots in light areas is often visible to the naked eye. By contrast, the Iris printer's 32 different dot sizes make it a true variable dot size printer. "With an Iris printer, you're maintaining 300-dpi resolution all the way into the highlights," says Wilhelm.
choose old-fashioned when there's digital
It's not just the cost advantage that is making this possible. Once you eliminate the expense of traditional printmaking, which includes numerous proofs by the artist, a print run that must be executed entirely at one time, and results that can vary from beginning to end, digital printmaking still comes out ahead in Wilhelm's mind. "It's the digital control that is the tremendous advantage," he says.
Cone explains that the move toward new technology is having an impact on future artists. "As more and more computers have entered the classroom and art studios, university art students are more inclined to study new software applications and to incorporate digital technology into their work instead of learning more traditional printmaking methods. We may have to relearn traditional printmaking.
"What we try to do [at Cone editions] is provide workshops for students to show how traditional printmaking can be combined or enhanced with the inclusion of digital output."
Parks, a photojournalist for Life magazine for more than 20 years, is the subject of a major retrospective organized by The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The touring exhibition includes approximately 200 photographs and a selection of inkjet prints. The artist, whose photographs capture images of racism, poverty, high fashion, and celebrity, began experimenting with digital printmaking in the early 1990s. Twenty-four of his inkjet prints are now in the Corcoran's collection.
Author, artist, and award-winning photojournalist for the United Nations, John Isaac recently switched from conventional developing to digital printing, because he finds "there is so much more I can do."
These days, after scanning his negatives, Isaac adjusts color and contrast levels in Photoshop then saves his images on CD. His experiments with dye-sub printers led him to try inkjet. "When I printed the negative of the girls working on the loom on Pictorico's glossy paper with my Epson Photo EX, I was surprised at the detail. The faces of the girls had never printed that clearly before. You can see their expressions through the warp." In fact, Isaac says he now prefers digital printing. "It's the way to go. Plus, it takes the dirty work out of printing."
Helena Chapellín Wilson agrees. After years of specializing in gum printing, an age-old, labor-intensive developing process that requires the use of highly toxic chemicals, she now uses her G3. Wilson shoots 35mm black and white film, scans the negatives and combines them in Photoshop, then outputs on an inkjet. She varies the results by using different printers, inks, and papers, as well as additional coatings.
Iris Graphics, with a technology that's almost a decade old, currently dominates digital art printing, but it won't continue for long. Currently, a number of printmaking studios are testing the new Epson 9000, also a variable dot size printer. According to R. Mac Holbert at Nash Editions, Inc., Epson has greater vision and commitment to the technology than Iris Graphics at the moment. Although the ink sets for the 9000 currently cannot stand up to Iris inks, initial test results look promising and studios will appreciate the Epson's self-cleaning feature and more efficient printing time. With conviction, Holbert states, "If the 9000 is not the Iris killer, the next incarnation will be."
Bret Lortie, writer and editor in Oak Park, IL., an be reached at email@example.com .
This article is illustrated with digital prints by World Printmakers artists, Dorothy Simpson Krause and Kenneth Kerslake.
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