Image credit: Jenie Fawckner (artist)
Not all art printing companies were created equal. There are a range of options when it comes to price and quality. A lot can also depend on what you need done.
Is it just prints you need? Or do you need to scan (digitise) your artwork to get higher quality prints?
Do you actually need archival quality giclée prints or can you get away with a cheaper option?
Some art printing companies may be comparable when it comes to the printing process, but can vary widely in the quality of the artwork capture. This is a critical first step. In order to achieve museum-grade fine art prints, a high res image image is required. To be clear, that means one which is in perfect focus with every detail from the original and with amazing colour matching properties.
If you don’t have a high resolution file of your artwork, you’re not going to get that perfect reproduction print that looks almost identical to the original.
Here are 8 questions you should ask a giclée printing service before you go ahead with a job:
- How do you digitise artwork?
- What brand of printer do you use and how new is it?
- What inks do you use?
- What are the paper stock options on offer?
- What is your colour management process? And can I see a proof?
- What are the size options?
- Can I see examples of your work?
- What’s your turn around time?
Let’s dive into the detail of each of these questions so you’re up to speed on all the technical bits and pieces.
1. How do you digitise artwork?
There are two main methods used to professionally digitise artwork: scanning or photography.
There are convincing arguments for both methods, however scanning is generally the superior option. This will depend on the type of scanning technology the printer has invested in though.
Why not use photography to digitise art?
It requires a very technical set of skills, which even if mastered, still leaves limitations with image size, resolution, colour accuracy and lighting.
At Cie-Elle, we use a Cruse large format flatbed scanner which is the most advanced scanning technology in Australia. Not to toot our own horn, but often artists are referred to us by other printing companies because our technology is renowned throughout the industry.
We can scan original artwork at actual size (1-1) scale which means the whole artwork stays in laser sharp focus. This is impossible to do with a digital camera. Read more about scanning Vs photographing artwork here.
2. What brand of printer do you use and how new is it?
This question goes hand and hand with the next one about what inks are used. Essentially most professional printing companies will use either Canon or Epson printers. Companies that produce high quality giclée prints will use larger model Canon or Epson printers that hold up to 12 colours.
What’s probably more important is checking what brand inks they use and if these are truly pigment-based inks. We will get into more detail on this in the next section though.
But the short answer here should be, the brand of inks matches the brand of printer.
For example, a company using an Epson printer should also be using Epson branded inks. Likewise, Canon printers should use only Canon branded inks. At Cie-Elle we use the latest Canon PROGRAF iPF9400 and the Canon Lucia 12 Colour ink set.
What you want to look out for…
Some print houses may use cheaper inks produced by a third-party. These will work in the high-end branded printers but may not actually be archival quality inks. Even though they claim to be. So, to be safe, we’d recommend asking the question and making sure the printer uses the same brand printer and inks.
Why is the age of the printer important?
Generally speaking, you’re better off going with a company that has a relatively current model of the printer. That’s not to say it has to be brand new, there’s not much in it being a few years old. However, if you’re comparing a printer that’s over 5years old, technology could have improved.
3. What inks do you use?
For a print to be classified as a giclée print, pigment-based inks must be used. There are some companies who claim to produce ‘giclee prints’ but they use the cheaper dye-based inks. These are usually the more affordable ‘giclee prints’ but for a good reason – they are cheap inks and not actually fine art prints.
Pigment-based inks will last a lifetime when printed on archival quality paper. Whereas dye-based inks are typically used in lower end inkjet printers and will fade much faster.
4. What are the paper stock options on offer?
Another factor used in classifying a print as a true fine art or giclée print is the paper or substrate used to print on. There are many mediums to print on to, but if it’s not ‘archival quality’, it basically means it won’t last as long.
The term museum-grade is used interchangeably with ‘archival quality’. Essentially this means it’s of the standards used in galleries and museums arounds the world, and will last 75-100 years.
If you know you want this level of quality, then ask the printer what brands they stock. Look out for reputable brands like Hahnemuhle, Canson, Breathing Colour and IIford. If they don’t stock these reputable fine art paper brands then I’d question their status as a genuine quality giclée printing service.
Before diving too far into the variety options available, it’s worth asking yourself if you need fine art archival quality paper. There are plenty of more inexpensive options out there if you’re not concerned about the prints lasting 75 years.
Check out our paper stock guide, we have included star ratings for easy comparisons. But keep in mind, paper choice is usually a personal choice and the same artwork can look very different on different papers.
5. What is your colour management process? And can I see a proof?
Many printing companies may seem comparable based on inks, printers and papers used.
Luckily, there are other ways to separate the average printing companies from the few that will leave you speechless at the end product.
And at the end of the day isn’t the point of giclée printing to get a print that looks like your original? So much so that you can’t actually tell the difference between an original and a print.
We already discussed digital capture, which depending on the method and technology can either set a company apart from the rest or blend in with the crowd.
What’s the other key factor you can use to compare companies?
When it comes to fine art reproduction and giclée printing, there is a huge degree of technical experience and experience varies widely. As can attention to detail and colour management protocols and processes.
So, what do you ask the printer?
Are you using ICC profiles? Do you use RIP software (Raster Image Processor) or similar to print the files?
You don’t even have to understand what this all means, but if the company doesn’t answer yes then they may not be using the proper methods and this will impact the quality of your end result.
Can I see a proof?
This may seem like a no-brainer, but crazy things happen especially when things are busy. Your printer might offer you a small web file to show you a visual proof before producing prints for the first time. Or you could be invited in to view an artist proof.
6. What are the size options?
Make sure there are a range of sizes available, or at least what you need. Most custom sizes are available up to widths of 1500mm.
7. Can I see examples of your work? Do you print on-site?
Don’t be afraid to ask for examples of previous jobs completed. Reputable printers will welcome this question, and most likely you won’t even have to ask. It will be one of the first things you see when you visit a print studio.
A studio visit will provide the best idea of the quality to expect. Asking all the above questions will cover most of your bases, but you can never be 100% sure unless you see for yourself.
The other important question is how much they do on-site. How do they handle and manage artworks? Some companies may not even print onsite, some may scan elsewhere and then print somewhere else. How comfortable are you with your artwork being shipped around?
8. What’s your turnaround time?
Always a good question to ask. Even if you’ve worked with a company before, turnaround times can vary depending of volume of work the company has on.
Some may offer shorter turnaround times but charge a premium to do so. Best to check all the options and how they impact price.
Want to hear more about our process? We’d love you to pop in and see some examples of the work we’ve done.
Book an appointment now or call us on 02 9638 1533 for a no obligation chat.