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Giclee today in 2009 is significantly more enterprising than in 1997 Print E-mail

The world of giclee and fine art photography revolved around Iris printers in the 1990’s.  I can still remember all the fancy claims about these Iris printers; I even acquired one for the FLAAR giclee research program. By 2006, we threw it into a dumpster when no one even wanted it for spare parts.

Many of us today forget that Roland was the first king of piezo-printhead printers for giclee (after people realized the Iris was obsolete). Roland was also the first with variable-sized droplets. Yes, before Epson.

There were a few years when printshops preferred ColorSpan. Actually the inventor of the word giclee, Jack Duganne, used a ColorSpan printer for his giclee for years and years: he had Iris printers up front but a ColorSpan in the back (and an HP next to it). He was not using any Epson in those years (when I visited his studio out of curiosity).

Then ColorSpan did not advance technologically at all (since they had no printhead technology of their own). Epson took over and still reigns supreme in the giclee, fine art photography and proofing market even today (2009).

But Canon began to gnaw away at the market share as Encad was disappearing in 2005-2006. Canon effectively took over their market share and began to erode a bit of Epson and some of HP’s market share. After all, Canon had the first “12-color” printer (after ColorSpan that is).

Then Hp fired back with the HP DesignJet Z2100, Z3100, and Z6100.  Canon replied by launching their new iPF printers.   Epson had already put out what it could in previous years so kind of got clobbered by the billion dollars that Canon spent and the separate billion plus that HP spent. So Epson decided to go after the signage market with an eco-solvent printer, the Epson Stylus Pro GS6000. Epson hoped that this one single printer could hold on to the giclee market and simultaneously take over the signage market from Roland, Mutoh, and Mimaki (all of whom use Epson piezo heads).

But this whole time there is another entire billion-dollar wide-format world of inkjet that neither Canon nor Epson is part of, namely UV-curable ink. FLAAR first entered this world in 2000 and jumped in further at DRUPA 2004. Long before DRUPA 2008 the FLAAR Reports have been the de facto reference for UV-cured inkjet printers world wide (read by over 340,000 people a year; keep in mind, these printers cost an average of $100,000 each and the better ones go for $320,000). So not exactly a desktop printer or a point-and-shoot digital camera that millions of people want to learn about.

Now, in 2009, UV-curable inkjet printers have matured (probably since 2007). So now is time to bring this technology into the world of giclee and fine art photography. Naturally experimental artists around the world are already aware of the capabilities of these printers on their own. Photographers especially should know about the UV-cured technology since Durst is one of the leading producers.

UV-cured ink for printing on thick, rigid, or rough-surfaced materials.

You can print on ceramic tiles, marble, granite, walnet, mahogany, rugs, carpets, your refrigerator door, your desk top, wallpaper.

You can print on every single part of a house or office: the wall panels, windows (glass, shutters, curtains, Venetian blinds even).

You can print on ceiling tiles, floor tiles, office cubicle partions. You can print on effectively anything you wish to run through your printer. Frequently I print on entire doors. In the Czech Republic I wanted to test their UV-flatbed (GRAPO Manta) on a door. There was not time to go to Obi (Germanic European equivalent there to Home Depot or Lowes here in the US). So they took off a door from somewhere in the building, took off the hingles, and we printed it. 

Printing door at GRAPO, summer 2008.
Dr. Nicholas Hellmuth whit printing door example at GRAPO, summer 2008.

A few months later I was back in Olomouc, Czech Republic, inspecting a newer model UV printer (Grapo Shark), and I saw the door was back on its hinges with my photographs still  on it.

Bathroom door back on hinges from autumn 08 factory visit.

Bathroom door back on hinges from autumn 08 factory visit.

This is how FLAAR learns all this: we go to the factories, to their R&D rooms, and are trained by the ink chemists and mechanical engineers. Then we test each printer. In 2007 I logged over 250,000 miles (that is about 400,000 kilometers). Did about the same in 2008 and for 2009 I am already round trip to Germany for a single day to inspect a UV printer near Wurzburg, then a weekend to inspect 32 different printers at a trade show in Dubai; then a week in Switzerland to be trained in a new dual-phase textile ink plus four days on new UV-cured technology. The last two weeks of March I will be in Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia Herzogvina inspecting printshops and lecturing at an international training program for architects and graphic designers on 3D scanning and 3D printing (plus giclee and printing with UV-curing).

All this material is then processed and presented in FLAAR Reports (on www.wide-format-printers.NET).

UV Curing ink chemistry: Easy to learn; you do not need to be a chemist.

You can easily drive your car and not have any idea what chemical additives are inside your gasoline. And most “oil” nowadays has a lot more chemicals than petroleum. But I doubt you spend time on the Internet studying what is inside your brand of gasoline and your brand of car oil.

Same with UV-curing inks. If you want to learn everything, simply acquire the basic introduction via reading the FLAAR Reports. Or hire Dr Nicholas Hellmuth as a consultant to fly to your art studio, atelier, printshop, or other business. Nicholas consults all over the world on a regular basis. He has helped set up giclee studios in Istanbul, Thessoloniki, Hawaii, etc.

Basically there are free radical pigmented UV ink chemistry (used by 90% of the printers); cationic ink chemistry (used by 6% of the printers but this per cent will grow in 2009), and dye-based often dual phase UV curing (used by about 4% but will grow).


UV Curing chemistry: mercury arc, LED, cold-cure

85% of these inks are cured by roasting hot mercury-arc UV lamps. 9% are cured by relatively cool LED lamps (but this market share will double this year). 6% are cured with cold-cure lamps developed by Gerber Scientific (to use on its unique cationic flavor UV inks).

Mercury arc lamps are so searing hot that they melt many materials, distort others, and can set others on fire. They are cooled by fans, shutters, water, or clever forms of reflectors (depending on whether the printer is low-cost and entry-level ($50K to $90K) or high-end ($240,000 and up).

You can learn all you need to at any major trade show but it costs about $1000+ by the time you pay your airfare, local transportation, hotel, meals etc. It is cheaper to get all the information to begin with from the FLAAR Reports, and then knowing all this, check out other resources. The advantage of the FLAAR Reports is that each is based on years of research (so you don’t need to spend weeks and weeks on the Internet). Besides, much of the information in these reports is not available on the Internet anyway.

In summary: today you can print art on stone of any kind, on wood of any thickness, on ceramic files (fired or unfired), on metal of any kind of thickness. So you can print your art on cleverly rusted metal, or even onto wire mesh if you so desire.

One company even makes a UV-cured printer that can print on spherical objects. Or you can create deep relief 2D with thermo-forming or full 3D with 3D rapid prototypers.

First posted Feb. 9, 2009.

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