The purpose of certification should foster education, training, and qualification Print

Individuals and small but growing companies are coming to FLAAR to ask how they can be certified in giclee printmaking. They view a university environment as an appropriate way to handle certification within a system dedicated to education.

Certification by a non-profit institute, especially in association with a university, is intended to provide help, education, tips, training so that any individual or company that sets quality as a goal can become qualified and work towards certification.

Certification is not to exclude people, but to assist all capable, innovative, hard-working, and dedicated artists, photographers, and printers to become masters in their field.

The following discussion is about certification of individuals as print masters and certification of companies as serious experts in their field of giclee, décor, and/or fine art photography.

Certification as a practitioner is not intended to be confused with a Certificate of Authenticity (such as required by the State of California).

Giclee, décor, and fine art photography are three very different kinds of printing: we encompass them all. We define these words throughout our publications and our web pages, but briefly:

Giclee is a limited edition print intended for collections and sophisticated display. Giclee and fine art photography are both dedicated to perfection within reason based on today's technology. Giclee is often called fine art giclee which causes confusion with fine art photography. Both, or either, may be considered giclee. That's the reality of language, it gets a tad nebulous. But all languages evolve, and trying to restrict a language to now allow new nuances or "foreign" words is self-defeating.

Fine art photography is by its nature a photograph, digital or traditional, inkjet printed on any material: canvas, watercolor paper, photo satin, or even silk.

Décor is not as fussy as a giclee print and is the kind of giclee print that decorates casinos, hotels, cruise ships, restaurants, businesses, and motels. This is where lots of the income and profit come from.

You can buy décor prints in Home Depot, Wal-Mart and comparable places. Sorry, that's the truth nowadays. Don't blame us. Besides, the growing market pumps lots of money into the world of giclee. If you prefer to dedicate yourself to private collectors, museums, and cognoscenti, this is the rarified atmosphere of pure giclee, and many ateliers make lots of income from this world.

The new technology will benefit all levels of giclee, fine art, and décor.

The new printers that will appear by the end of this year or early next year will redefine giclee quality and usher in a new era for fine art photography prints as well. The primary beneficiaries of this new technology are serious production houses, that is, professional giclee printshops and ateliers that produce substantial amounts of output every day all year.

Fortunately there will also be table-top versions of these sophisticated printers, so that aficionados can enter the market, as well as pro-sumers and newbies. But the serious action with the new technologies will be at the high-end. As an educational institution, we provide help and consulting to individuals and companies of all sizes, large and small. But each group is to some degree its own self-defining market.

Certification is misleading and inappropriate if it intends to exclude newcomers in order to protect a clique.

Each person who is dedicated to giclee deserves the opportunity to acquire training and experience so they can achieve certification.

Newcomers are a vital resource. An amateur is to some degree a dilettante, and generally a person who works hard not for money but because they like the work. Technically I would be in this classification, since I definitely don't make big bucks. Besides, every one of us started off knowing nothing about how an ICC profile is a mathematical transformation via LAB from RGB to CMYK. Trying to exclude newcomers is ultimately self-defeating. It's like trying to keep out the tide of immigrants. My ancestors came on a ship from Germany in 1848, and centuries before that they were probably often refugees from various political and religions persecution somewhere or other.

We live in a democracy, not a plutocracy or autocracy. Evolution is the survival of the fit. Hybrid vigor works in evolution and fresh faces in the world of giclee will help as well, especially since by the end of this year there will be giclee printing machines that most current giclee masters will never have seen or used before. So newcomers who start from Day 1 on these new technologies will be able to teach many of us old dogs new tricks.

I have seen and had the new technology described to me under NDA, and I can only say, the world as we know it will cease and a new world of technology will open up. The current world order will no longer hold its market share and there will be massive jumping ship to the new technology. Some of the leaders in the field have already discretely jumped. Whereas others are not yet aware that the Tsunami is about to hit, so are still in their hammocks enjoying the nice weather on the beach.

It takes more than just a printer to achieve a professionally acceptable giclee print.

Any certification scheme that requires you use only one single printer, or only one printhead technology is both unrealistic, impractical, and not legitimate in any event.

  • The person who invented the world giclee, Jack Duganne, uses a ColorSpan for his giclee and both a HP 130 and HP 8750 for fine art photographs.

  • At a top giclee studio on the East Coast, Gary Kerr, Fine Art Impressions, uses three Epson printers.

  • Back on the West Coast, Andy Wood of Squirt Printing uses at least four HP Designjet 5500 printers.

  • At FLAAR we use an Epson 7500, Epson 7600, and Epson 7800 for some jobs; and HP 130 for fine art photography, and an HP 5000 and HP 5500 for giclee on canvas and watercolor paper.

  • We recognize the quality of a Mimaki JV22 or Mimaki JV4, especially if you use inks and software from Scott Saltman.

  • A Roland printer with the d'Vinci modification and 12-colors via ErgoSoft RIP software is another viable professional solution.

All the above printers are certifiable (assuming the rest of the workflow is of equal professional stature). A Mutoh could produce giclee but the Mutoh company has dropped out of this market and does not promote its printers in this direction. But it has the same printhead as a Roland or Mimaki: a basic Epson piezo printhead.

It is not the printing machine that determines quality, it is the initial digitization.

If you use a point and shoot camera to record the original painting, and print the result on a $110,000 Iris printer, I don't think the result would impress many connoisseurs.

If you use the best 35m digital SLR camera, and print the result on the best Iris printer on the most expensive watercolor paper, an experienced giclee master could still tell the difference.

If you use a BetterLight or Cruse system (either one or the other), and print the result on a low bid Epson printer, or on any HP printer, even an older model such as the Designjet 5000 (on canvas or watercolor paper), I would wager that the result would be visibly better than a print on an Iris. Definitely it would last a lot longer and could be enlarged to a more substantial size. There would tend to be less distortion as well. Distortion is caused by the lens on a point-and-shoot and by most 35mm cameras as well. With a medium format or large format camera you are shooting through the sweet spot of the lens so you don't get as much aberrations at the edge.

The better your initial digitization is, the better the final print will be.

The better your printer is, the better it will reproduce a bad initial digitization. All the defects of a cheap camera or scan will be revealed the better your printer is.

So all the chatter in user groups and on forums about which printer, ink, or paper they use is nice, but it's just blissfully avoiding the reality that the initial digitization of the painting is what counts.

Achieve recognition for your professionalism and expertise.

You tend to know when you are good. But it does help when a panel of independent outside judges recognizes this too, and issues a certification that states your capabilities openly to the public.

And, we are all human. We may tend to over-estimate our abilities in some respects. So the training, seminar, and workshop aspect of certification brings you the benefits of advances already achieved by your colleagues.

Plus, giclee, color management, and inkjet printing technology are rapidly advancing. UV-curable inkjet printers are premature for most (but not all) giclee today. But what about the next generation of UV printers? Picoliter sizes are already down to 14 pL. The HP Designjet 5500, used by giclee producers all over the world, has a 16 or 17 pL drop. Within two years the picoliter size of UV-curable inkjet printers may be as small as 8 pL. On the rough surface of canvas or watercolor paper or textiles 8 pL is plenty small enough (it is better quality than an Encad; and an Encad, albeit a poor choice for fine art photography, was quite capable printing on fabrics or rough art papers, especially for décor). More than 50% of what is printed as "giclee" actually ends up being used as décor.

You achieve visibility on the website of the certifying agency.

Naturally this only makes an impact if the website of the certifying agency is actually read by anyone.

So it is helpful when the certifying agency already has a giclee website that is read worldwide and high in the search engine results.

Protect yourself from unfair competition.

If you are using pigmented ink (that costs more than dye). And if a competitor across town is using dye ink (which is cheaper), this would be a textbook case of where certification for the pigmented ink would help you against unfair competition. Also in this case certification would alert artists and print buyers in your area that there is indeed a difference.

Using any dye ink with a longevity of only a few years would be a good example of a print shop that would not be certifiable, not even as décor. There are only three dye inks that would pass:

  • Iris dye ink (since it lasts at least more than several years and is the original definition of giclee)

  • Ilford Archiva dye ink and comparable inks (ColorSpan's ink is comparable and it lasts and lasts even in the tropical heat and high humidity of Guatemala)

  • HP's Vivera dye ink has a rating of 70 years or more.

Note we say they would pass for décor. For giclee I would want to see longevity in a longer year range for a dye ink and 100 year range for pigmented inks.

There are reasons for a high level of quality.

An occasional complaint on the Internet is that some websites discuss only "expensive equipment." These complainers confuse quality with snobbery (see more on that below).

There are several levels of fine art giclee production:

  • Hobby

  • Second-business, retirement business

  • Commercial, either as first or second-business

    • Commercial, but with giclee as only part of the print shop

    • Commercial, but with giclee only very seldom

  • Full-scale décor or giclee as the primary business

  • Mass production, almost like a factory, usually décor not giclee.

We informally define a second-business is one you do in the evenings, weekends, or whenever you are away from your regular job.

FLAAR is available to assist all levels, all classifications, and each individual from beginner through introduction to full-scale professional. Our long-range goal is the highest quality. Often the equipment for serious full-scale giclee is a different brand or even an entirely distinct class of digital imaging input or output device.

So, for a hobby, most people ask us how they can use a point-and-shoot camera or 35mm digital SLR. But most of our coverage is of large format printers and Cruse scanners or BetterLight scanning cameras.

We sympathize when this range of equipment is outside the budget of a person or company just starting. Look at race cars, whether Formula One or even NASCAR. You may want to get onto the track and race yourself, but it costs millions to outfit a team. This is not the fault of the people certifying the race cars, their drivers and support teams. If you want to drive in the Grand Prix, it takes a certain level of equipment, training, practice which leads to experience, and investment (of time, initiative, and yes, money).

Part of the backup to the Certification process is helping educate clients too.

An educated buyer is your best investment. If buyers realized that dye ink of most printers was not accepted by giclee professionals, then the notorious scams that have blemished décor production would not have been successful for so many years. Most dye inks last only a few months in hot humid climates and last only 6 months exhibited in a room. At most a year or so.

But you have to be savvy, because there are three dye inks that last plenty long for décor: namely Archiva from Ilford (similar used by ColorSpan), Vivera by HP, and the most recent dye inks for Iris. The Iris continuous inkjet printing technology can't get pigmented particles through their heads so they have to use dye. So we allow a dispensation for Iris dye ink, as long as customers realize that it too will eventually fade.

Customers also should be assisted to learn the truth about dpi, apparent dpi, and other tricks of the trade. They will find out sooner or later, and better if they learn it from you than from a clever competitor.

Updating and continuing education.

We are never too old to learn. Besides, learning new things keeps our brain cells exercised. So a certification process should allow for continuing education.

In summary
Certification is a benefit both for the print master and for the artist or other client who is paying for the printing.


First posted June 22, 2006.

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