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Serving the Fine-Art Market

(February 2010) posted on Thu Mar 11, 2010

The fine-art printing market requires knowledge and skills the commercial wide-format market does not–here's what you need to know.

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By Jake Widman

Principle 2: It starts with capture
Unlike a lot of commercial work that gets delivered as a digital file, artists are usually going to bring you a physical object—e.g., a painting—that they need digitized somehow. Some might have that done before they come to you, but don’t count on it: Nielsen says, “About 60 percent of our work needs capture, while 40 percent have that done themselves and give us a CD or a transparency.” The upside to capturing the image yourself is that it’s easier to control the color workflow if you start with a device you know.

Capture is generally done in one of three ways: with a high-quality digital camera or camera back, with a high-quality scanner used to scan an analog transparency photograph of the art, or with a scanner that can scan the art directly. The choice depends on the size and type of art, among other factors. But you can’t afford to take the process lightly. Artwork has nuances of color and texture that have to be captured in the beginning, or you’ll never get them into the print.

Susan Fader of Ditto Editions says, “What sets us apart is our digital capture and imaging. We use a BetterLight camera back to capture the image, and we take proprietary steps to ensure color accuracy. We profile each piece of art individually, and we light each piece individually, for example, to make sure we don’t get spectral highlights or glare.”

Other shops use scanners for smaller items, saving the camera for artwork that can’t be directly scanned. Ted Pfeffer of Iolabs says, “We provide scanning in-house, on a Creo IQSmart scanner. If it’s oversize, we have it shot by a photographer in-house, with a Hasselblad scanning back.”

And The Color Group’s Nielsen recounts, “We have a Crosfield drum scanner that we used back in the day to capture transparencies. As long as the piece of art is flexible, it can go around the drum. If it’s framed or on a stretcher bar, we capture it with a camera, which we outsource to a photo studio down the street.”