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How Do You Make Prints?

April 27, 2011

The original painting is on the left, and printed reproductions are on the right.

I’ve been asked many times how an original painting becomes the source of fine art reproductions. I can answer in three words: shoot, correct, print. Let’s discuss these in a little more detail:

David Hawkinson, Photographer of Artwork at Hawkinson Photography/Terra Nova Gallery

1. SHOOT: First of all, the image must be captured through a scan or a photograph.

For many years, the preferred medium for artists to archive their images was a 4×5 inch transparency, which is basically a big slide. The transparency can then be scanned to create a large digital file. For some reason, the old schooler in me still likes transparencies, even though they are in some ways a thing of the past. I guess it’s just comforting to have a physical object like a transparency rather than just a digital file out in cyberspace somewhere. And I think I just love the idea of film.

These days, rather than shooting a transparency, most images are captured digitally, by scanning the image or by taking a digital photo. In my experience, the digital image is often crisper, more harsh, and usually a little easier to color correct than a scan from film. I think most printers prefer to work from a digital photo or scan.

Even if I don’t know if I’m going to reproduce a particular image, I usually get it photographed at Hawkinson Photography. David Hawkinson has been a photographer of artwork for many years. He can shoot on film or digitally. I archive every painting I create by getting either a digital or a transparency. That way, if I ever need to make a print later on, I’ve got the image ready to go, and I don’t have to track down the painting or borrow it back.

2. CORRECT: The next step is to prepare the file for printing.

When a painting is photographed or scanned, there are often blemishes to remove on the digital file. Dust on a scanner and shiny highlights on the textures of a painting often need to be eliminated or toned down digitally. This is called “cleaning” the digital file.

Any time a painting is photographed, the image changes. Subtle shifts in color and value become lost or accentuated. A good prepress technician will be able to adjust the digital file so its colors are as true to the original as possible. The technician calibrates the computer and printer so the finished print reflects the original as closely as possible.

The two prepress technicians I use are Dallan at Amalphi Arts and Bob Boyd at FOV Editions. These technicians are also photographers, so they can do step one as well as steps two and three. It can be advantageous for the same technician to shoot, prepare, and print your image. That way the camera is calibrated to the computer, and the computer to the printer; so the process is streamlined for the technician.

Full disclosure: my prints do not look exactly like my paintings. I prefer my prints to be slightly different than the originals. My prints are often slightly higher in contrast and slightly warmer than the originals.

3. PRINT: Print on canvas or fine art paper.

Once the file is ready to go, the image is printed on fine art papers and/or canvases with large format printers using expensive inks. Then the print is trimmed and coated with a protective finish.

Note: The process described here is known as Giclée printing, as opposed to offset lithography printing. Giclée printing produces a higher quality print and in quantities as small as needed. Offset lithography produces lower quality prints and is only cost effective when large quantities are produced, for things like posters, cards, and such.

So there you have it! Shoot, correct, and print. It’s almost as simple as printing up your own digital photos on your home computer. Add a healthy dose of expertise and high quality materials, and that’s the whole process in a nutshell. Let me know if you have questions.

A stack of prints ready for a signing at BYU Women's Conference.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 27, 2011 10:09 am

    I sure wish he had Boyd here in Arizona… and a really good fine art capture photographer. Who does your framing?

  2. May 16, 2011 7:00 am

    This is a great explanation, you have a great ability to communicate verbally (well, textually I guess) as well as visually. Thanks and thanks again for allowing me to see your stuff at the show the other day. I appreciated meeting other people there too, but promise I wasn’t there to do that but to enjoy your work. Which I really did. I’m sad I won’t be in Utah for a while but Montana is beautiful too. Cheers!

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