Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The risks of buying fine art printing:

Not all fine art printers are the same. There is no ‘standard way of working’, so it’s important to know the prints you get are as good as they can be.

There are two basic methods to reproduce art; conventional litho/digital printing or giclée printing.

Conventional litho/digital printing:


It’s cheap and fast. 


The range of colours and colour detail (gamut) are very limited. There are normally only four colour inks - Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black, and the inks are not lightfast. They will fade over time. The papers also have a ‘limited life’ and will eventually discolour. The minimum print run is usually 100 copies and there can be some variation in quality over the run. Repeat orders might also not look exactly the same. Generally, prints made in this way hold little value over time. 

Trying to find a good litho/digital printer is not easy, mainly because the art world is not good business for them. To make money, they need to keep their machines running all the time, and they need long runs of commercial work. They also work to tolerance level that’s fine for disposable print, but might not meet the needs of the discerning Artist.

Giclée printing:


Currently, the best quality prints available. The range of colours and detail is the highest available for prints. The number of inks used is normally at least eight, which includes three ‘blacks’. These are very important as they provide a continuous ‘grey-scale’, which is the basis of most other colours. The inks are all pigment, so they won’t fade, and prints can be made on acid-free, often mould-made, papers that are of archival quality and won’t discolour or affect the print ink. 

Apart from the level of quality achievable, the next greatest advantage for the Artist is that they can order just one print - and know that every subsequent print will be exactly the same. Giclée prints are recognised as a valued reproduction of an artwork and can increase in value, particularly ‘Limited Editions’.


It’s not a ‘cheap’ product and printing is not fast, as each print is individually produced.

Giclée printers are more available and better understand the needs of the Artist. They normally don’t do ‘commercial work’. However, not all giclée printers are the same. If you’re hoping to sell your prints, you need to be working with the best - your customers will expect it.

The things to look out for when selecting a giclée printer:

  • Can you trust them - they will have digital ‘masters’ of your work?
  • Can they provide you with the level of understanding, service and turnaround you need?
  • Are their premises secure - they probably will have your original artwork onsite for a while?
  • How are they going to ‘capture’ your art? There’s a big difference between a properly scanned file and one taken by a regular camera. For quality prints, you need big, high-resolution files without any compression (JPEG).
  • How good are they at matching the print to your original artwork? This is a real skill and requires a totally calibrated system - from scanner to printer.
  • Will they provide you with a copy of your master file? Some have been known to ‘hold their clients to ransom’ by insisting they hold onto the master file, thus preventing you from using another printer.
  • Are they ‘Accredited’ by the Fine Art Trade Guild? Accredited printers are required to have their prints laboratory tested each year to maintain their accreditation.

On the more technical side:

  • Are they using ‘Manufacturers Inks’? Some printers try to reduce their costs by using cheap ‘alternative’ inks. These are usually not lightfast, quality controlled or meet industry standards.
  • Are the papers/canvas of ‘Archival’ quality? Again, printers can reduce their cost (increase their profits) by using cheaper materials. They get the benefit, not you.
  • Are they using current technology? This influences how good your files/prints are and keeps your investment in the scanning/mastering your work up to date.

Make your selection based on track record, level of 'real' service offered and quality of work. Find accredited printers on the Fine Art Trade Guild website: www.fine art.co.uk.

Overall, you need a good working relationship. Often it’s a long-term relationship, so you need to be confident they’ll still be around in the future and they’ve not diversified off into some other business.

Salt of the Earth has been an Accredited Printer by the Fine Art Trade Guild since 2003.