So I spent quite a few hours some weeks ago entirely resetting my printing workflow... and suddenly I remembered how painful it had been in the first place, when I decided to take the leap and print my own giclees. Once you have all the information, it's actually quite easy, but I couldn't find a single tutorial gathering all the info in one place. So yeah, here you go!
Some of these steps I was lucky enough to learn from a professional art printer. Some I learnt through trial and error. Hopefully this tutorial will be useful to you!
What are giclee prints, and why would you want to make them?
Giclee prints are high-quality fine-art reproductions printed with pigment inks on archival paper. They differ from regular fine-art prints, which are made with dye-based inks, which sink deeper into the paper (making images slightly more fuzzy, and details less crisp) and are not as lightfast as pigment inks.
Giclees are pretty much the best quality prints you can get, but they are not cheap to make, and the materials are a serious investment. They are really beautiful though, so if your plan is to make small limited series of prints, I would definitely recommend them. If you are planning to print large editions of your artworks and price them quite cheaply, there are probably better alternatives for you out there. It really depends on how you distribute your artwork.
Close-up shots of one of my giclee prints. See how sharp it is, and how vivid the colours are?
- obviously, a giclee printer (i.e. inkjet printer with pigment inks). I own an Epson R1900 printer, which is no longer on the market. At the time I purchased it, I wrote a lengthy blog entry on giclee printers, which is a bit outdated but still useful if you are considering purchasing one.
- fine art archival paper of your choice. I use Hahnemühle Bamboo, but that's up to you. Archival papers come in all kinds of textures, white-warmths, and prices, so your favourite may be different from mine. Important: do not use art paper for printing. It's tempting but archival printing papers are coated with a special coating that helps the ink adhere and stay put, and will give you much better results.
- if you are a traditional artist like me, a scanner, obviously! Make sure you scan your artwork at high resolution (min. 300 dpi, but 600 dpi is better), and with all the settings of the scanner turned off. This usually produces better results.
- a photography software. I use Photoshop CS5, and the commands I will show you here are for this software. I am sure that other versions of Photoshop and alternative softwares have similar settings though.
Calibrating your devices
This is a critical step to setting up your printing workflow. Calibrating ensures that colours are handled consistently throughout the process, so that they can be reproduced as accurately as possible.
The critical thing to calibrate is your screen, to make sure that what you see is what you will get (although that is never totally true when printing - I'll get to that). Screen calibration is done with a colorimeter that you place on the screen to measure how a set of colours are rendered: these devices are expensive, but surely you can borrow one from a graphist friend (that's what I do, anyway). Otherwise there are online tests that will help tweak your monitor settings, but such calibrations are never as good as a custom screen profile made by a colorimeter.
Technically your scanner should be calibrated as well, if you use one. Scanner calibrators are expensive as heck and I personally never calibrated my scanner. It's a good scanner that was well-calibrated from the factory, though, so I make do.
Calibrating your printer is also critical to producing beautiful prints. When printing, how a colour is rendered depends on the printer but also on the paper you use. You will therefore need a printing profile matching your printer AND your paper, called an ICC profile. Luckily for you, paper producers provide calibrated ICC profiles for almost every printer you can wish for, for each of their papers. Go to their website, download the correct ICC profile to your computer, and you'll be set. Depending on your operating system, you will have to place your ICC profile in the correct folder in your computer, for example:
- for Windows Vista and 7: Windows / System32 / Spool / Drivers / Color
- for MacOS 10.2 and beyond: Library / ColorSync / Profiles
Preparing your picture for printing
Open your picture with Photoshop (or your favourite software). If it asks you what profile to use with the picture, choose the "no colour management" option, as you don't want that to mess with your calibration profiles later on.
Yes my Photoshop is in French
First and foremost - if you are a traditional artist and your artwork is scanned, you need to clean up your artwork. There are always little pieces of dirt, eraser dust and fibers that stick to traditional artworks or inside your scanner. As giclee prints are very high resolution, these show terribly on prints - they actually look like there physically is something on the print. So zoom in at full resolution and track little specks of dirt all over your artwork, and remove them using the Cloning tool in Photoshop. It only takes a few minutes and makes a world of difference.
Also, if your artwork is scanned - I suggest not making any alterations (i.e. adjusting the brightness/contrast/colour balance/etc) just yet. I have found that files fresh from the scanner often reproduced the original artwork much better than adjusted files where these parameters have been tweaked a bit, even if these look better on the screen. Files fresh from the scanner sometimes look a little washed out but that is ok - printing will produce a darker picture. That is because on screen, your picture is lighted by transmitted light (i.e. the light comes from within), while on paper, your picture will be lighted by reflected light (i.e. environmental light that bounces on the paper). Transmitted light is much stronger and makes colours look paler.
Then, you can check how print will look like by softproofing your picture, i.e. visually correct for any differences that the printing process will make on what you see on the screen. This include correcting for the tint of your paper, but also modifying slightly the colours that are outside of the range that can be reproduced accurately by your printer (known as the gamut).
Go to View > Proof Setup > Custom, and choose your printing ICC profile in the list of simulated devices. As the rendering mode, choose "Perception": this means that if some colours are out of your gamut, all the colours will be slightly modified to get everything back into gamut, instead of just modifying the colours outside the gamut. This way, you will not have ruptures in your gradients and such. Also check the "Black Point Compensation" box, which makes sure that perfect black on your monitor will correspond to the prefect black of your printer, and the "Simulate Color Paper" box.
This will give you a pretty accurate idea of how your print will come out. It should look a bit washed out.
Checking View > Non-printable colours (or Gamut Warning, Shift+Ctrl+Y) will show you any areas of your picture that are outside of your printer gamut, and will therefore be slightly different on your print.
Making test prints
It's rare for a print to come out perfectly on your first try. In order not to waste too much ink and paper, it's best to make test prints.
Resize your file to about 10x15 cm and copy it to a test file. You can have many different test prints in your test file, it saves times! Then print your test file with the actual printing setting you will use for your prints: hit File > Print, and set your printing settings.
- your printer should be your giclee printer.
- Printing parameters: this will depend on your printer, but here are my settings for an Epson R1900, which should work for most Epson printers. Paper source will usually be "Manual" with fine-art papers, which need to be feeded through a special slot in the printer. Paper type should be something like "Velvet fine art". Size is your paper size. Important: you then need to hit the "More options" thumbnail to set important info: paper margins should be "no margins", and the "Unactivated (no colour calibration)" box should be ticked. You want Photoshop to do the colour calibration as it is able to load the printer/paper ICC profile.You can save all this info in a custom printer setting.
- Back in the Photoshop printing menu: on the right, choose "Let Photoshop manage the colours", and check your correct ICC profile in the list. Rendering mode should be Perception again, and Black Point Compenstion should be ticked.
And you're set to print your test file!
Remember, you have to use the actual paper, not cheap printing paper, otherwise all this process is useless!
If the colours are not satisfying, you will need to tweak them with the Image settings (Colour balance/Levels/Brightness/etc). And print new tests, etc, until you're happy.
Print your prints
Make sure the printing settings are as described above, and print away!
Let them dry thoroughly then sign them and number them like the happy artist that you are.
Wrapping and shipping
Giclee prints are sensitive to scratches, because they are printed with pigments that don't actually sink into the paper. You don't want to let them lying around unprotected, as they can get damaged quite easily. You can wrap them either in clear cello bags, or into a sheet of white tissue paper. The second method is considered "the classical proper way" but I personally feel that clear bags look a bit more professional. Each one their own I suppose!
Shipping prints can be a conundrum. Most artists insist on shipping their prints in flat hard enveloppes, because it keeps the print nice and flat. Unfortunately in my experience, mailing large flat enveloppes has meant lots of damaged prints that have been forcibly introduced into tiny mailboxes, and also lots of lost prints. I now send my prints rolled into long, hard cardboard boxes that are about 10cmx10cm in section. This way the prints are not rolled very tight, but can't be bended of folded. I have never had any damaged prints since, and no lost prints either. Not sure why the last one is, I suppose that the boxes look less conspicuous and don't get stolen as much - and possibly they're easier to handle by the mail services and don't suffer from the "this doesn't fit in the box - OOPS IT FELL" syndrome. Just my two cents.
And that's it!
Print like the wind, fellow artists!