This is an article written for the Fine Art Trade Guild about giclée printing – it is the 5th in a series which gives the important points you need to know – for more details read the other 4 articles that follow

A bit of print history and giclée printing made easy – with some myths out in the open


Giclée printing and litho of old, follow the same principles. Now it just misses out a few stages. All of the controlling parts of the process happen before the print machine of either method starts printing!


Image grabbing – Digitising


Litho printers worked alongside a repro house. Repro, or pre-press, was the image grabbing of it’s time. They used a drum scanner for transparencies and flexible artwork or photographed rigid art works using filters to separate the cmyk colours. A film, one for each, cyan, magenta, yellow and black was produced.

Each film was then placed on a printing plate and exposing to light which transferred the image to the plate. This was bolted to the press and the job was run. As the paper touches each plate in turn and the image builds up.

Giclée prints are made by creating a digital file and sending it to a print machine. So we have to take control of what gets sent to the machine – everything about the end result, is controlled from the beginning.


The most important part of the giclee process


Think camera, photographer, scanner, file preparation. These are more important than the actual end machine, ink or paper.

The best quality giclée prints are the ones that have properly prepared files. You have 3 elements to this – size, colour and sharpness.

Size doesn’t always matter. I know that with a good 300dpi file I can print it at 400% – 72dpi (300 divided by 4 is 72) without any visible loss of quality. Before you tear you’re hair out, try it, or send it to your printer to test.

The best results are from people who have a great deal of knowledge in colour reproduction.

Whether scanning or photographing include a piece of black and a piece of white card in the image as this is all you need to get a good giclée result. If you are taking a photo the light needs to be even.


File sharpness


Now the Holy Grail – unsharp masking – image sharpness. Whatever file I get, from my scanner, photographic studio and 99% of clients, I will sharpen again. Again experiment and see what suites you.

One final thing on files, always keep the original file without changing it at all. Make any changes from that and do a ‘save as’. I go back to the beginning many times and remember every change you make and re-save.


The right giclée inks


Ask your printer if they use OEM lightfast inks, if he doesn’t they may not last long. It’s only the yellow and magenta that fade – look in junk shop windows and you will see old black and blue pictures!


Giclée Paper


Paper, or media as it is also known, is another area to consider. My opinion is not to get too bogged down with this, as when you view most images from a few feet away behind glass in a frame, I doubt most people see a difference.

Make sure the paper and ink have an acceptable blue wool reading.


The print machine – plotter


Now the dumb animal at the end of the process, the print machine or plotter. This together with the RIP (Raster Image Processor) produce the prints.

The file gets sent to the RIP, this then does the clever computery bit telling the plotter to spray this much ink, in that position, and print with these colours mixed together.


Raster Image Processor – RIP


The RIP has colour profiles for the papers, and colour output space, rgb or cmyk. There is no doubt that if you can get a true RGB workflow it gives the widest colour available.


RIRO


To finish, the machine only does what it is told, the RIP only processes what it receives, so if it does not get the right info it will not give the right result. – rubbish in rubbish out!


My 4 other articles which give a little more detail of the giclée printing process

Printing is Easy! – article written by Mick Hodson for the Fine Art Trade Guild January 2013

There is nothing complicated about printing! There, that will annoy a few printers.

From when I was a young designer in the biggest book design studio in Europe in the 60’s, it became apparent that the printers in the world – and we were dealing with Italy, Spain and the Far East at that time – were a bunch of “that’s what you get mate”, merchants.

Not to be too harsh, it was time consuming and expensive to make corrections, but nobody asked them to for the same reason, so they became complacent.


Colour correction


To a bunch of creatives this was laying down the gauntlet. It has to be said that there was very little control in those days but we decided the time had come to fight back and get what we saw was possible.

This meant learning how to colour correct proofs, how machines work, and when you ask a guy to reduce the yellow in that bit, how he does it. Only then can you tell the printers from any country which bits of the colour they had got wrong,

Let’s do a bit of basics on printing. There is no difference in the main principal now to what it was then. Now it just misses out a few stages. This magazine will be produced using the same methods.


Scanning and film separations


Printers worked alongside a repro house either outsourcing or within their organization. They did the image grabbing of it’s time.

They used a drum scanner for transparencies, or photographed flat art using filters to separate the cmyk colours on both systems.

A piece of film, one for each of cyan, magenta, yellow and black was produced. Each film was then placed on a printing plate and exposing it to light transferred the image to the plate.

This then got bolted to the press and the job was run. As the paper touches each plate in turn and the image builds up.

So there we go, nothing complicated and now it’s much easier because we can see on a screen what we will get from our totally digital image, send it to the press or plotter, and job done.

What you will be aware of is that the end bit is easy. Press a button and the print comes out. The machine that the paper comes out of is a dumb animal.

It only does what it is told. If you made bad scans, bad plates or a bad file, the machine will give you a bad print.

So we have to take control of what goes to the machine – everything about the end result is controlled from the beginning.

The person who runs the machine is at the mercy of the person who created the repro or these days the file.

Where is this going I here you say. To get good prints you have to work with people who have a great deal of knowledge on colour reproduction, not someone who buys a machine to have a go at giclée printing.

The sign of a true professional is someone who can cover up his mistakes better than the next person. This comes from training and usually from getting it wrong the first time.

If you don’t know how to correct colour then sooner or later you will come unstuck, pressing the buttons and dusting the machine is easy!

Think camera, photographer, scanner, file preparation. These are more important than the actual end machine or paper – rubbish in rubbish out!

 


Rubbish in rubbish out! – article written by Mick Hodson for the Fine Art Trade Guild February 2013

This was my closing statement in the previous article and, it is the most important information you need to know about giclée printing.

The best quality prints are the ones that have been prepared properly. You have 3 elements to this – size, colour and sharpness.

Your file needs to be a good size to start with. If you are printing yourself through Photoshop, then you need a file that will stretch to the end output size without degrading.

The good thing is, unlike litho printing where you need a proper 300 dpi (dots per inch) file at the finished size, the technology now cheats the system by comparison.


Experiment and make mistakes to improve your knowledge


I have been doing this a long time and I still struggle to understand some of the technical things you read. Experiment, that’s all you need to do. Don’t believe the manufacturers all of the time.

I know that with a good 300dpi file I can print it at 400% (making it 72dpi) without any visible loss of quality. Before you tear you’re hair out, try it or send it to your printer.

He may, like me, have a program that enlarges small files so let him do it. But do that before you do any enlarging yourself.

One final thing on files, always keep the original file without changing it at all. Make any changes from that and do a ‘save as’. I go back to the beginning many times and every change you make and re-save degrades slightly in jpg format.


All you need is a little piece of black and white paper or card


Colour rendition is either very easy, very lucky, or a nightmare – easy when you have control over scanner or camera, lucky because you are happy with what you get, or a nightmare when you are not set up properly.

The main thing to do if you are doing it yourself, is to include a piece of black and a piece of white card in the scan or photograph as this is all you need to get a good result. If you are taking a photo then the light is important – it needs to be even.

I get clients who want to supply their own files for me to do giclée printing, so I get them to photograph their artwork with these cards.

Providing the black and white patches get the same light, ie not in a shadow, then this gives surprisingly good results and saves money.

I open their file in Photoshop, and using the droppers in curve adjustment, it straightens out most pictures. Nothing is as good as a professional scanner or photographer though.

It amazes me how good digital 35mm is now. With the right lighting and lens I have seen files as good as you get on a £20k camera. I think up to 36x24 inches is worth a go.

The lens choice is the most important issue here, it’s no good having a flash camera giving huge files if they are out of focus.


Now the Holy Grail – unsharp masking – image sharpness.


Ink, paper and plotters – article written by Mick Hodson for the Fine Art Trade Guild April 2013

My last article explained image capture. This can also be called repro, scanning, or digital photography. This is what you hand over to your giclée printer if you have had the digitizing process done already.

This time I am going to cover the other 3 elements in the process, inks, papers and plotters.


Only use OEM giclee inks


I am not sure if it still happens but a few years ago there were a lot of companies manufacturing inks that they said were perfect substitutes to the real thing. OEM are the real ones – Original Equipment Manufacture.

I am sure there are people out there with machines that cater for the poster and non life expectancy work who will use them, but a fine art printer trying or using them will do so at their peril. If their machine goes wrong, the warranty will not cover any damage.

If you get a good light fast test done once who knows if they will keep up the consistency of manufacture in the future. Only work with people who use the real thing.

It is a valid question to ask your printer if they use OEM inks. A long time ago I heard of a big printer who was caught out using dodgy inks and had to close down because of it, probably to avoid litigation.

I never heard what happened to the hundreds of prints that were fading on gallery walls!

Paper, or media as it is also known, is another area to consider. My opinion is not to get too bogged down with this, as when you view most images from a few feet away behind glass in a frame, I doubt most people see a difference.

I get calls from potential new clients asking about what I can offer and they can be more concerned about the type or manufacturer of a paper than anything.

I encourage them to think more about the quality of the file and the ability of the printer to get the best output, rather than the paper.

Make sure the paper is of the right quality ie will it last a long time and it will not discolour or let the inks fade. The other issues simply are canvas or paper and textured or smooth.


The importance of a RIP – raster image processor


Now the dumb animal at the end of the process. The giclée print machine or plotter. This is very important together with the RIP (Raster Image Processor) that drives it.

The file gets sent to the RIP, this then does the clever computery bit. It has a bunch of colour profiles for each paper, and the output colour space (rgb or cmyk) to be used.

There is no doubt that if you can get a true RGB workflow it gives the widest colour available. Being able to use RGB has only been truly available for a while.

Before, you could print a file RGB, but in reality it took your RGB file, processed it for printing, then sent it to the machine which only had cmyk inks in it, so a bit of a cobble up but it did look a bit brighter.

Now you can get true RGB. I know because my set up does it and my 12 colour machine has a red, a green and a blue ink cartridge and my RIP has been specially written to do it.

To finish, the machine only does what it is told, so if it does not get the right info it will not give the best result.


Giclée printing paper – a useful link to Hahnemuehle

http://www.hahnemuehle.com/en/digital-fineart.html