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Batten down the Hatches! Photos, Fine Art, and Proofs
As the line blurs between who prints what for whom, it becomes even more important to control the color management process, set expectations correctly, and develop an efficient print workflow from capture to print.

By Tom Hauenstein

Since I handle tech support for LexJet, I speak with businesses in the signage, fine-art reproduction, and photography industries on a regular basis, and there’s an interesting trend I’ve noticed over the past couple of years. The lines that separate these industries are breaking down. A common example of this is the photographer who is now doing limited-edition prints for artists, and the fine-art reproducer who is doing enlargements for photographers.

The reason for this convergence is that these industries utilize the same equipment and software, for the most part, to fulfill orders. However, just because these factors are the same does not mean that the workflows are the same. The biggest reason for this is that the person who has creative control of the output shifts from the photographer to the artist when moving from photography to fine art reproduction.

The Photographic Workflow

The photographer has total creative control of the process all the way through print. Therefore, photographers should invest in a good monitor with a decent bit depth (at least 10 bit) that more accurately reflects what the camera captures, and should also calibrate and profile their monitors on a regular basis with a high-quality colorimeter. I recommend an Eizo CG line or LaCie 5 or 3 series monitor with the Eye-One Display 2 from X-Rite. This will enable you to soft proof on-screen for what will come out of the printer (scroll down or click here to get to the final section in this articleHow to Soft Proof – for, you guessed it… how to soft proof!).

Michael Daube captured this flower during his recent trip to India. Superior Giclee reproduced the image onto LexJet Water-Resistant Satin Cloth with its Epson 9800. © Copyright 2007 - Daniel Saccardo

This soft proof will let you know, before printing, if the quality of the file is sufficient, and what color corrections need to be made. The soft proof will eliminate the need for a hard proof (a printed proof), which will save time and money in printed materials.

Not having to verify a hard proof makes the photographer more efficient. Ultimately, it’s this level of efficiency that determines profitability. For example, if the photographer does not have a good, color-calibrated monitor and does not utilize a color managed workflow, a different approach would be required…

First, the photographer would make a print and evaluate it, then spend more time in Photoshop color correcting, and make another print to determine if the changes fixed the issues. The photographer might have to repeat this process multiple times, which would take up a lot of time, ink, and paper. These inflated labor and material costs will quickly eat away at profits, usually causing the photographer to break even or actually lose money on the job.

The Fine Art Workflow

When reproducing fine art the photographer will still capture the original piece of art, but it is the artist who ultimately has creative control and determines if the print is of sufficient quality. The photographer/printer should still invest in a good monitor that is calibrated. I would not recommend depending on a soft proof, though a soft proof will certainly be helpful in cutting down on the number of hard proofs.

The best way to approach this is to print a hard proof for the artist and get him or her to sign off on it.  The hard proof should be printed at the true size of the reproductions, and on the same material. If the reproductions are going to be on multiple types of materials there should be a full-size hard proof printed on each material.

Black Cat Studio, based in San Francisco, is one of the West Coast’s premier fine-art reproducers and has a detailed color-managed workflow from capturing the fine art piece through print production on the studio’s Epson printers, which are driven by the ImagePrint RIP. Photo courtesy Jay Daniel.

Each material has a different color gamut, and colors appear different at different sizes so it’s not a good idea to print a smaller version of a hard proof on a different material. This eliminates any surprises and properly and accurately sets the artist’s expectations.

I would keep this artist-approved hard proof on file as the master. That way the photographer can compare later reproductions to the original master to assure that every print in a limited run is meeting their standards.

The artist’s biggest expectation has to do with color gamut, and it’s up to the printer to explain the potential color gamut issues in the reproduction process. While the artist can use an unlimited number of colors to create a piece of art, the photographer is left with only 8-11 colors to reproduce that art, depending on the printer model.

Still, even with its limitations, inkjet is the best option for fine-art reproduction because the color gamut exceeds that of any other printing method available, including screen printing and lithography. Whether you prefer to call it giclee, or simply what it is, it’s the best method available and this fact must be communicated.

Because of the inherent color gamut limitations, the artist also needs to be aware of rendering intents and how those rendering intents affect their image. The two options are perceptual and relative colorimetric. Both move out-of-gamut colors to the closest in-gamut color, but treat in-gamut colors differently.

Perceptual shifts in-gamut colors so the color relationships hold up across the image. This means that perceptual will usually brighten up the whole image to bring it into gamut, effectively shifting all the colors in the image, but transitions and gradients are rendered more smoothly.

Relative Colorimetric does not move those colors that were already in-gamut; it moves just the out-of-gamut colors to the closest in-gamut color. Relative Colorimetric will maintain the original saturation and color better, but might leave transitions and gradients slightly choppy. 

By performing the proper fine art workflow the photographer avoids the possibility of printing large amount of prints for the artist only to find out later that the artist refuses to pay because he was not happy with the reproductions.

In this case, the photographer/printer would not only waste a large amount of printing materials and labor, he might lose this job, and potentially lose any repeat business. When you compare the costs of a hard print compared to the cost of losing a job or, worse yet, a repeat customer, the hard proof seems inexpensive.

How to Soft Proof

Soft proofing is simply setting up your monitor to display what will be output on your printer. This will help you make necessary changes and color corrections to a file before wasting the time and money of printing it out. Also, it gives you the ability to make color corrections to a file specific to the printer, ink, paper, and resolution you will be using to print.

Figure 1: Click on the image for a larger version.

Obviously, your monitor will not display exactly what your print will look like for a couple of different reasons. First, your monitor displays color in the RGB model, and an inkjet printer creates color in the CMYK model.

Even though you dumb-down the color gamut of the monitor to match the gamut of your paper profile, there is still a difference. The difference stems from the fact that a monitor uses a backlight to provide light, where a print uses light reflected off the surface of the print to provide light. If the white point of your monitor is not the same as the white point of the light you are using to view the prints, this difference is magnified.

By setting your monitor to 6500K and buying 6500K bulbs for print evaluation, you decrease or eliminate this discrepancy. Also, your monitor has no way to account for paper texture, which affects how light is reflected back to your eyes. Even with these differences an accurate soft proof gives the user a far better idea of what will come off the printer compared to not doing it at all.

The setup is fairly simple in Photoshop. First, go to View – Proof Setup – Custom (see Figure 1). This will bring up the following dialog box (see Figure 2). Next, go to Device to Simulate. You should select the profile that will ultimately be used to print.

Figure 2: Click on the image for a larger version.

Directly underneath this drop-down you will find a check box called Preserve RGB Numbers, which should never be checked. The next drop-down allows you to choose the rendering intent that will be used to determine how to handle out-of-gamut colors. As mentioned in the previous section, The Fine Art Workflow, your only two options should be Perceptual or Relative Colorimetric.

Directly underneath this drop down is the Black Point Compensation checkbox. I recommend that you leave this checked. Use the preview to determine if Perceptual or Relative Colorimetric is better, and then replicate that choice in the Print with Preview (see Figure 3).

Finally, there are two Display Options check boxes at the bottom (see Figure 2 again) that attempt to make your monitor look closer to your print if they are checked. They actually tend to overcompensate for the RGB-CMYK difference and should be left unchecked.

Figure 3: Click on the image for a larger version.

In the final analysis, you need to identify the types of jobs you are performing. Each type of printing solution requires its own type of workflow. By performing the correct workflow for your job, you will increase repeat business and cut down on labor costs, which has a strong, positive impact on your bottom line.

Volume 2  -  No. 9

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