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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.

Throughout history 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.

Printing Methods

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.

Iris Inkjet
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.

Printing Terms

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