F i n e A r t P r i n t i n g
The Experienced Printmaker
Digital printmaking is both an art and a craft. The mere possession of a high-quality
printer does not guarantee that a high-quality print will result. Only
those printmakers with experience in this craft and an eye for the
quality of workmanship required to produce a beautiful print can claim
to be true digital printmakers. There are so many issues involved which
an experienced printmaker must deal with on an every day basis that the
process itself becomes an art form. Papers, ink combinations, ink
tables, color management and coatings are just some of the variables
involved in digital printmaking.
An experienced printmaker acts as an aesthetic guide to the artist,
working collaboratively with them during the printmaking process. By
assisting an artist to make subtle and complex technical decisions about
digitally printing their originals, a true digital printmaker will
render the best results in producing, or reproducing, original art.
artists have made work using an enormous range of materials and
processes. Artists working today using digital tools are also using a
wide variety of methods. The print processes listed here are the most
popular digital printing methods for artists. This list is by no means
all-inclusive since both artists and printmakers will continue to push
the envelope, discovering new, innovative methods by which fine art
prints may be created.
The term Giclée originated in 1991 with Jack Duganne who coined the term
to refer to fine art prints created with digital output. It was intended
to be a word which would be added to the lexicon of printmaking terms in
the vocabulary of fine art printmaking. It’s derivation comes from the
word “gicleur,” the French word for “nozzle.” Giclée is the French verb
“to spray” (as from a nozzle) and thus the direct object of the
“spraying nozzle” would be Giclée as most digital printers today use
nozzles to direct ink onto a substrate. The main intention of the word
Giclée was to distinguish “fine art prints” from those created for
non-art or commercial purposes.
To date, most Giclée have been made with Iris inkjet technology.
However, recently introduced alternative inkjet technologies are also
producing beautiful results. The term Giclée has evolved into a broader
term describing a high quality digital print produced from a wide
variety of printer manufacturers.
The Iris inkjet printer uses a continuous stream of four inks: cyan,
magenta, yellow and black, to produce an image. This process produces
four million droplets per second which, in the hands of a trained
printmaker, has the capability of producing an extremely high-quality
image. The “inks”are actually water-based dyes, making the final print
susceptible to moisture. Iris inkjet printers are capable of printing on
almost any substrate that can be wrapped around their drums, up to 34”x
46.8”, depending on the model of printer being used. Many printmakers
have exploited this feature, printing onto a wide variety of substrates
including watercolor papers, canvas, Japanese rice papers, Mylar and
other exotic surfaces.
Alternative Inkjet Systems
Any printer which applies ink to paper is a potential printmaking
device. This is an exciting time for inkjet devices. Some recently
introduced inkjet printing processes have gone beyond the four-color
print to incorporate six to eight color ink nozzles. This results in
more options for printmakers and for artists. Ultimately, choosing the
device and quality of a particular process becomes an aesthetic decision
by the artist and the printmaker. It is akin to the decision an artist
makes when selecting a brush or a specific palette of colors.
Direct to Photographic
Until recently, a photographer who wanted continuous-tone photographic
prints produced from their digital files would need to produce a digital
transparency. The photographer would then produce the final
continuous-tone print using a conventional enlarger and the digital
transparency. During the past two years there have been some very
exciting printers developed which are producing continuous-tone prints
directly from a file without the need for an intermediate transparency.
These printers image onto conventional photographic papers and film
using lasers. After lasers expose the papers, a conventional
photographic processor is used to develop the image.
Reproductions versus Original Prints
What exactly is a reproduction? And, what constitutes an original print?
In the most basic sense, a reproduction is a print or copy of an
original artwork created outside of the computer, usually by
conventional means such as paintings, drawings or watercolors. A giclée
digital print based upon using an original painting, drawing or
watercolor is an example of a reproduction.
An original digital print is not based upon using original artwork
outside of the computer. The artist may use elements as source
materials, such as photographs, drawings or other appropriated images,
but the final form of the work exists only in the computer and as the
final print or as an edition of prints. Some exciting, challenging and
rigorous original digital printmaking is currently being created by
various artists in close collaboration with printmakers.
Possibly the greatest concern that knowledgeable art collectors have
when considering the purchase of digital prints surrounds issues of
stability. Printmakers should disclose which materials have been used in
the manufacturing of the print, including paper and inks. Please see the
Wilhelm Research Institute website.