How to Print Copies of Art

Artists who embrace technology for managing and printing their work have a distinct advantage in today’s digital age. The flexibility afforded by this allows creatives to do much more than have a single canvas of their work.

For over 200 years, artists have used a process of lithography to duplicate their work. The word “lithograph” means “a stone print.” Lithography works on the simple physical principle that oil and water do not mix. This technique came into use around 1798. Limestone is the most common surface on which to work. First, the image is rendered in reverse on the stone with grease crayons. Afterward, the stone is dampened with water, repelled by the greasy medium wherever the artist has drawn. Then the stone is inked with a massive roller loaded with oily ink, which only sticks to the greasy areas of the design but is repelled by the wet bare areas of the stone. The paper is then pressed onto the stone, and the ink is transferred to the paper. In a color lithograph, a different stone is used for each color. The stone must be re-inked each time the image is pressed to the paper. Most modern lithographs are signed by the artist and numbered to establish an edition.

An offset lithograph also referred to as a limited-edition print, is a reproduction done through a mechanical process.  In this process, the artist has not directly contributed to making an original print: he has not designed the plate. Instead, paintings, drawings, watercolors are reproduced photomechanically. The artist may sign many of these “reproductions,” but technically, they are not genuinely original lithographs.

Giclée printing is a contemporary buzzword for fine art digital prints made on inkjet printers. Since then, Giclée means any fine-art printing, usually archival, printed using an inkjet printer. Artists, galleries, and print shops often suggest high visual quality printing, but it is an unregulated word with no associated warranty of value.

The word giclée is credited to printmaker Jack Duganne in the early 1990s. He was a printmaker working at Nash Editions, a large format digital print shop in Manhattan Beach, CA, initially founded by musician Graham Nash. Duganne wanted a name for the new type of prints they were producing on a modified IRIS 3047 graphics printer, a large-format, high-resolution industrial prepress proofing inkjet printer on which the paper receiving the ink is affixed to a rotating drum. The printer was adapted for use with fine-art printing.

Duganne wanted a word that would differentiate such prints from the regular commercial Iris prints used for proofs in the commercial printing industry. Giclée comes from the French word gicleur, the French technical term for a jet or a nozzle, and the associated verb gicler (to squirt out). Une giclée (noun) means a spurt of some form of liquid. The French verb form gicler means to spray, spout, or squirt. Ever the creative, Duganne settled on the noun giclée.

In addition to its original association with Iris prints, the word giclée has become loosely associated with other types of inkjet printing. These processes include processes that use dyes or fade-resistant, archival inks (pigment-based), and archival substrates primarily produced on Canon, Epson, HP, and other large-format printers. These printers use the CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) color process as a base with additional color cartridges for smoother gradient transitions (such as light magenta, light cyan, light, and very light gray), up to 12 different inks in top model printers [orange, green, violet (Epson); red, green, blue (HP)] to achieve more extensive color range. In addition, a wide variety of substrates on which an image is available to print with inks are available, including various textures and finishes such as matte photo paper, watercolor paper, cotton canvas, pre-coated canvas, or textured vinyl.

One interesting historical side note, the original IRIS 3047 graphics printer purchased by Graham Nash was finally retired from operations in 2003. The landmark printer and his first print – Nash’s 1969 photographic portrait of CSNY bandmate David Crosby-are now a part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

The idea of replicating painting by hand for an artist sounds daunting. However, unless you are Bob Ross, the best way to create multiple images of the same composition is to produce a digital image of your painting. By capturing it digitally, you forever have access to the image, which has many beneficial uses. The most important one is your ability to print reproductions. But how do you go about turning your painting into a high-resolution digital image file and not a cheesy art fair snapshot?

If you can use your visual skills for photography, you may be able to capture a good version of your work. If not, you may have a professional photographer in your network who would be willing to assist you with this undertaking.

If you attempt this yourself, you need more than putting your work on an easel and shooting. Instead, approach this as any photographer would. Use the right tools to get the best results. The key to success is using a photographing Art Easel. This specialty easel is crucial for holding artwork upright and square to the camera.

Don’t use your phone to capture your work. A 35 mm DSLR camera that has a resolution of at least 14 megapixels is the right tool. You can never have too many pixels when photographing something as detailed as a painting. Invest in an electronic cable release when shooting artwork. This cable releases the shutter without a shake or vibration from tripping the shutter with your finger. Use a tripod to make things level and square in the viewfinder and to eliminate shake or vibration. Light your work appropriately. Use a lighting kit that consists of light stands, strobe heads, and softboxes or umbrellas. You can purchase this kit for under $600.00.