Giclees, Iris Prints, Litohographs, Monoprints, Seriographs, Posters…sorting it all out.

Utagawa_Kunisada_-_Printmaking_triptychThere are a lot of valid reasons why an artist should think about reproducing their work. There are also a lot of reasons NOT to. In most cases, artists start to think about doing prints of their work as a way to increase sales or generate interest in their work. But, unless you are also prepared to take on the additional burden of marketing, printmaking is not always the right option for artists.

Before the incredible introduction of the technology that led to the iris printer, artists were limited in choosing ways to reproduce their work. Lithographs were expensive and not cost effective unless printing large quantities. Most artists, unprepared for the distribution aspect of marketing prints, were stuck with hundreds of prints that would inevitably end up in their garage.

I’ve outlined some reasons why I think artists should consider reproducing their work. An excellent article, written by Craig Whitney, which should help artists in making the right decision, follows my suggestions.

  1. If your original work is selling faster than you can produce it, you should consider doing prints.
  2. If your original work is very expensive and limited in terms of audience, you should consider doing prints.
  3. If the same original work repeatedly attracts buyers, (i.e. you could have sold the same painting 20 times) you should consider doing prints.
  4. If you need to supplement your income with lower priced work, while your original work appreciates, you should consider doing prints.
  5. Lastly, if your image and/or ideas work as well or better in print form than they do as paintings, you should consider doing prints.

Artists should not make the mistake of turning to prints because their work is NOT selling. Doing Giclees or any other form of printmaking will not help you develop a new market, unless your work is particularly suited to that market. As always, I recommend that all artists “Do their homework, and proceed with caution”.

A Guide to Printing

This article was reproduced with the permission of Craig Whitney of Gemini Digital Colour.

If you’ve ever considered going into print, there’s never been a better time. Recent statistics show the art market retail spending is on the upward march, with increasingly affluent and (hopefully) taste-conscious buyers looking to buy original and limited edition reproduction works.

Until recently however, most “enthusiastic amateurs” will have been put off by the cost of printing. Why should you have to commit yourself to spending the wrong side of £1000 only to find out your masterpiece doesn’t sell? Well, the answer is you don’t

The days of artists being beholden to printers are past, digital technology has seen the emphasis move from the machine room to the desktop. These days it’s as important to be au fait with a PC and scanner as it is to know your Burnt Umber from Light Brown.

There are three “core” processes available to you to reproduce your work, these are:

Digital Offset – which uses the same process to put the ink on paper as “conventional” printing, but does away with film, plates and separate proofing systems. No minimum quantity, fast turnaround and great quality.

Offset Litho – the conventional route, which while producing a super result has lots of front-end set-up costs associated and usually involves minimum print runs in the hundreds. Turnaround times can be quite long and colour proofs of your work are often produced using a different process to the final printing, which can be confusing and inaccurate.

With both the above processes you can also produce Postcards, Greetings Cards, Invites, Catalogues, Brochures, Portfolios and just about anything else you can imagine that involves putting ink on paper.

The third and most recent addition to the artists reproduction armoury is Giclee. Pronounced Jee-Clay, it’s apparently taken from the French “to Squirt”, so while lacking any poetic value, it’s been adopted by the art world as the Trade term for what is basically very high quality ink-jet printing.

One of the most important things you can ever do is find a sympathetic printer who understands the demands of fine art reproduction and can supply you with samples that prove their competence. Very few printers will have all the above processes at their disposal – so do shop around. The Fine Art Trade Guild list reputable companies who have had to submit their work for approval and quality testing, so it’s worthwhile checking out their website for the low-down.

Do not just jump for the first option you’re given! Ask questions and discuss your needs.

Here then is a brief introduction to the three processes I mentioned.

1) Digital Offset – opens up a host of opportunities for Artists.

In the past, many would be artists have, I’m sure been put off publishing their work to a wider audience by the cost of printing. Most conventional print companies are simply not interested unless the quantities run into the thousands. That means more money for them and higher cost to you the Artist. But don’t despair – there’s a very inexpensive alternative…

Using modern Digital Techniques (NOT colour copying – proper printing) its possible to have 10, 20, 100 or just ONE print reproduced from your original artwork – cost effectively too.

Quality is indistinguishable from lithographic printing, as the actual printing part of the process is pretty conventional. The clever, time and cost-saving bit is getting the image to the press without messing about with film and plates.

Another significant advantage for the quality conscious (and who isn’t?) is that Digital Offset proofs are produced on the machine that prints the final product. So you get 100% accurate colour matching.

2) Offset Lithography – what most people know as “conventional” printing.

The ideal method if you know a print/card etc will sell well, as although you will need to order larger quantities, (usually an absolute minimum of 250) with 500-850 being the norm, this means the unit cost of your picture will be low. BUT you do have to sell them all to get the full benefit of that low cost. If you end up with 500 left under the bed it doesn’t count as a good deal!

Generally, colour proofs are produced using a different process to the actual printing, if you’re a stickler for colour matching consider visiting the printer to pass on press.

Always choose a printer that’s used to working with artists and understands the importance of colour matching. Also check that lightfast/colourfast inks are used and Neutral Ph paper (also called Acid Free) both these precautions help stop fading.

Colour seen on a computer screen are never a true reflection of what is printed, because the screen is lit from behind, refracting light, while you look at a print using reflected light.

Be aware that printing presses are not surgical instruments – they are huge automated machines. That means you almost certainly won’t get the exact quantity of prints you order. Standard variation is +/- 10%, so make sure you stipulate an absolute minimum number if it’s a numbered limited edition you’re after.

3) Giclee – Perfect for short-runs, larger formats and canvasses.

Giclee prints are widely regarded as the highest quality reproduction currently available., There is no minimum quantity, proofing is done “on-press” so you get perfect colour matching – whatever the proof looks like – the prints will match spot-on.

  • Very high-quality reproduction
  • Superb colour matching
  • Look and feel of original artwork
  • Perfectly reproduces subtle tones and graduations
  • Light fast – won’t fade or discolour
  • On-demand service – order only what you sell
  • No waste,
  • Greatly reduced ‘up-front’ costs.

The process also produces wonderful canvasses which once stretched, varnished and framed are a very faithful reproduction and hard to tell from an original oil painting.

Other Products…

As well as reproducing your artwork as prints, perhaps to be signed and numbered as a limited edition, you could con also consider the following options:

  • Posters
  • Greetings cards
  • Postcards
  • Invitations to exhibitions
  • Catalogues and portfolio’s

How to Save Money…

  • Send your artwork on disc if you can, that way printers don’t have to charge for scanning
  • Order in multiples if possible, rather than just one image at a time. This helps spread the costs and results in a lower price per print
  • Whilst with Giclee and Digital Offset there is no minimum order, the more you have, the more the cost per copy is spread out. On the other hand, don’t order more than you really need
  • ASK YOUR SUPPLIER FOR HELP AND ADVICE BEFORE YOU START – That could prove to be the biggest money saver of all (if they don’t give it, use someone else!)

Scanning costs

  • Scanning costs are one-off charges, you will only have to pay them once, then the digital images are yours to reproduce from, to use on the Internet, send as e-mail etc.
  • If you send a transparency or photograph, you supplier will have to scan it for digital reproduction. This also applies to original artwork that is flexible enough to be scanned.
  • If you send your images on disc, there are no costs additional to the standard set-up charge.
  • If you have a non-flexible original, perhaps a painting that is already framed, GOOD fine art Printers can arrange photography for you.
  • Scanning costs are dependant on the size of the original and the size you require it printed. There are also discounts for scanning
    multiple images, so it’s best to contact your printer with your specific requirements.
  • Some suppliers will automatically archive any image they receive or scan on your behalf. That means the digital image is available to you at any time in the future. Check that this is the case.
  • If you would like to burn a CD with your images in digital format, good suppliers will make a nominal charge of no more than ?20.00 to cover their costs. This can be returned with your printed job.

If at all possible, try to have the original artwork available for comparison and accuracy of colour matching.

So that’s a brief overview on the options open to you. I’ve not mentioned screen-printing – because it’s a more specialised and very expensive process not really suited to straight reproduction of existing painted or drawn images.

(Oh. And for the original printmakers out there, I apologise for referring to Limited Edition Prints, when they should be rightly called Reproductions. A true print is, I know, something very different and original, but the term has fallen into general use to describe anything that involves putting ink onto paper. So while I don’t really support it – people generally understand a short print run reproducing faithfully the original artwork by the term “Limited Edition Print”.)


One Response to “Giclees, Iris Prints, Litohographs, Monoprints, Seriographs, Posters…sorting it all out.”

  1. Celia Rocha said:

    Apr 14, 11 at 11:07 pm

    Thank you so much for this article! This is truly invaluable information for anyone looking into making prints of their work.
    Thank you!!!