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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

In keeping with their marketing support, Ditto gives its customers even more choices. “We archive files three ways,” Fader explains. “The client gets a CD with the full-res, full-size capture as a TIFF. On the same disc, we give them two JPEGs, one at 72 dpi for Web use and one at 300 dpi for printing. And each client has an online portfolio page that they can direct people to.”

Principle 7: Serve the local market
Much of your fine-art printing business will be local, because shipping art is expensive and artists want to see what you’re doing with their prize possessions. At The Color Group, Nielsen adds, “Our business is probably 80 percent local. Even before we started making art prints, we were already doing scanning and color for a lot of local art catalogs, so we had contacts with a lot of artists in the area. We’ve also done work on a directory of galleries in the local ‘art walk’ for 11 years now, and we’ve been able to tap that resource.”

A side effect of being locally oriented is that your customers are likely to move in the same circles and talk to each other. Nielsen says, “A lot of our customers come via word of mouth, some driven by the Internet.”

To Fader, the local orientation is a plus. “We don’t look to grow beyond New England and New York because we like to have a relationship with our customers. It allows us to really understand them. And the artists can walk in and see every aspect of our business and understand what we do.”

Principle 8: Decide what to call the product
The term ‘giclée,’ which has cropped up a couple of times in this article, has been applied to digital art prints since the 1990s. But some shops feel the term is outmoded or has negative connotations (besides the lewd one it has in French) and prefer not to use it for their products.

Of course, if that’s what your customers call it, you probably don’t want to correct them, Nielsen says. “A lot of artists use the term. They call and they can’t even pronounce it, but they want to know if we do it.”

De Coyte, on the other hand, says that ‘giclée’ “is generally used to refer to canvas reproductions you find in a mall. We call ours ‘pigment prints.’” [Editor’s note: Of course, this term is used only for prints created with pigment-based inks.]

To Pfeffer, the term has the same baggage. “We don’t use the word giclée—we prefer ‘Ultrachrome prints’ or ‘pigment prints.’ Giclée has too many connotations of bad paintings reproduced on canvas, like the stuff you see sold in galleries in a tourist town.”

Fader rejects the term even more emphatically. “The generic use of the word is undermining this industry’s future. There are no professional associations or guidelines or standards for what you can call a giclée. It’s a meaningless term.”

Longevity, technology, and positioning
The fine-art market can make a big difference in a print shop’s bottom line, as long as it—and the resulting clients—are given the proper attention and respect. Follow the guidelines we’ve discussed here, and you can be well-positioned to welcome artists among your shop’s best customers.

See also: "Bubbletagging for Certification."

Based in San Francisco, freelance writer Jake Widman
is a long-time contributor to
The Big Picture.