Great Expectations and the Perplexing Paradox of Fine Art Reproduction

One of the most common problems experienced in the fine art reproduction market is making the original artist happy with the reproductions you are able to create. Artists expend a lot of time, effort and talent creating an original piece of art, so it may be difficult to get them to accept a reproduction that doesn’t match their original exactly.

There are two things that you can do to make the artist more excepting and grateful of your version of their work: Set their expectations and use materials with a large color gamut.

Setting Expectations
Setting expectations is the most important thing that you can do for an artist. By properly setting expectations, they are more likely to accept a print that is not an exact match of their original. More importantly, you will prevent them from taking their business elsewhere.

Many times an artist will create his or her original piece using a large amount of different colors. Since your printer only has 7-11 colors (depending on the make and model), you will not be able to re-create their print exactly.

A good idea is to buy a 16-color and 64-color box of crayons and show them to the customer. Explain that they created the art with the 64-color box, but you only have the 16-color box available to re-create it. That usually hits home.

Now your customer should easily understand that your printer does not have an unlimited color gamut. The next step is to reassure them that no such printer exists. If you have a wide format inkjet printer from Canon, Epson or HP that has been manufactured in the last two or three years, then you can tell your customer with confidence that there are no other printers out there that can do a better job than the one your currently own. This will keep your customer from looking to your competition.

In order for you to be able to make this promise, however, you must update your printer if the newer technology offers a significant increase in color gamut.

Selecting Material with a Large Color Gamut

Finding a larger color gamut in your inkjet papers and canvas
Figure 1: Sunset Select Gloss Canvas has a 305% larger color gamut than the typical matte canvas. Click on the image for a larger version.

The paradox of fine art printing is this… Materials with matte finishes are usually preferred when doing fine art reproductions. Most of the time an artist will specify a matte canvas or matte water color paper. Due to the coatings of these materials and the physics of light, they traditionally have a smaller color gamut than all other papers. Therefore, you have artists who demand the largest color gamut possible requesting their work be reproduced on materials with the smallest color gamut.

The easiest way to increase the output color gamut is to change the material you are using to print. Luster and gloss materials have a larger color gamut because those surfaces are usually smoother than matte finish surfaces. This smoothness allows more light to bounce off of the print and directly back into the viewer’s eyes, creating richer colors, including blacks.

If your customer wants a print on canvas, then print it on a gloss canvas instead of a matte canvas. Your color gamut increases significantly with this simple switch (see Figure 1). If your customer absolutely has to have a matte finish canvas, then you can use a matte coating on the canvas, like those from ClearStar Corporation.

Which papers and canvas have the largest color gamut
Figure 2: Sunset Fibre Elite has a 157% larger color gamut than a typical matte fine art paper. Click on the image for a larger version.

If your customer wants a print on fine art paper, then print it on the award-winning Sunset Fibre Papers, which come in various finishes: Sunset Fibre Satin, Sunset Fibre Gloss, Sunset Fibre Gloss Natural and Sunset Fibre Elite. They offer an elegant, high-end finish that emulates the fibre prints of the traditional darkroom. Compared to a watercolor paper, their color gamut is significantly larger (see Figure 2). There’s also Sunset Fibre Matte if your customer insists on using a matte fibre paper, but they’ll need to keep in mind that its color gamut is less than that of the other Sunset Fibre papers. Again, it’s about setting exectations.

With a larger color gamut, your printer or RIP’s color engine will have to re-map fewer colors. That means more of the artist’s original colors will be hit by the printer. Your customer may not like the finish of the gloss canvas or fibre papers unprinted; it’s quite subjective. However, they will most likely appreciate the fact that these materials produce a copy closer to their original art.

To be sure, print their image on matte and gloss canvas, Sunset Fibre Elite and fine art paper and let them make the decision. I am sure they will pick the paper with the larger color gamut almost every time.

Also, try the relative colorimetric rendering intent when reproducing fine art, as it shifts fewer colors in the process. For more information about rendering intents and their effect on the final print, click here.

Special thanks to Tom Hauenstein for the expertise contained in this article.

Selecting a Monitor for Fine Art and Photographic Reproduction

LaCie's 700 Series uses RGB-LED Backlit, which allows the monitors to achieve a significantly larger color gamut. This is a crucial ingredient in photographic and fine art reproduction.

There are three major factors that a photographer or fine art reproducer should consider when selecting a monitor: Color gamut, bit depth and calibration ability. There are other things to consider as well, such as viewing angle, contrast range, refresh rate (if doing video work), and others, depending on your business model.

Color Gamut: The rule of thumb when it comes to color gamut is that bigger is better. You can find this information by checking the spec sheet of the monitor. It should provide you with percentage of sRGB, Adobe 1998, or NTSC (similar to Adobe 1998).

If you are a photographer whose workflow only exists in sRGB, then a monitor that hits 100% of this color gamut is the best. If you primarily work in Adobe 1998, then a monitor that displays 100% of this color space is recommended. If you are using ProPhoto as your color space, then the largest color gamut technology allows is your best option.

Bit Depth: The more bit depth a monitor has, the more accurate it will render your 16-bit files. A 10-bit monitor is the bare minimum with today’s technology, with 12 being a better option. Higher bit depth improves smoothness in transitions and gradients, whereas a lower bit depth might make them appear banded. You can also find this information in the spec sheet of a monitor.

Calibration Ability: It is imperative that you can adjust three parts of a monitor’s appearance. The first of these is brightness. You should be able to adjust how bright a monitor is according to the ambient light of your studio. 120 candelas per meter squared is a good LCD starting point. The second of these is contrast. This helps the monitor achieve a desired gamma setting. Today’s standard is Gamma 2.2, and I recommend this setting. The final calibration is white point. You must be able to adjust the individual red, green, and blue channels to create custom white points. A preset white point of 6500K may, in fact, be 6300K or 6800k. You cannot trust these preset options because they many not be accurate to begin with, and may shift over time.

A great monitor choice is LaCie’s 700 series. It uses a technology called RGB-LED – Backlit. Because it is RGB-LED, it can achieve significantly larger color gamuts than any other monitor available. The 724 (24 in.) and 730 (30 in.) can achieve 123% of Adobe 1998. Also, the bit depth is now 14 bit. This is the best option for the Adobe 1998 and ProPhoto color space user.

If you are interested in getting a new monitor, please feel free to contact a LexJet account specialist at 800-453-9538 and we can figure out the best solution for your needs. 

How to Find the Right Rendering Intent

Many people who print see the Rendering Intent option and are not exactly sure what it is and how it works. They usually select a Rendering Intent option a friend or colleague tells them to use and then think nothing more of it. It turns out that this selection can have a huge effect on how your image appears, and should therefore be understood fully.

Rendering Intents are mathematical rules on how to deal with out-of-gamut colors when moving from one color space to another. In other words, chances are that when you print an image there will be colors that your camera captured that are impossible for your printer to reproduce.

The printer driver can’t just delete the sections of the images it can’t reproduce or you would get images with large sections of nothing. Therefore, the driver changes those out-of-gamut colors to colors it can actually hit. The method it uses to do this is a Rendering Intent.

Rendering Intents in Photoshop CS3.

You may or may not have noticed that every time you hit print, there’s a Rendering Intent option. You can see it in the Photoshop CS3 print window (see the accompanying image sample). If you open up that drop-down menu you will see there are four options…