With digital fine art experiencing continued growth, it remains one of the greatest market opportunities for wide-format print providers looking to expand their business. Despite its promise, navigating the fine art and photography waters can become an overwhelming proposition. With a wide range of digital art media available today, choosing among them can be a confusing task.
As an increasing number of print providers turn to producing art reproductions digitally in an effort to increase their revenue and overall profitability, it is critical that they understand the fine art and photography market, as well as the various media options available today to serve this market niche.
Today’s fine art market consists of three key market segments—true giclée fine art, art reproduction for décor, and fine art photography—which produce applications for a wide variety of end-users. Ranging from professional photographers and frame shops, to museums and hospitality venues, these discriminating customers demand several common attributes, including image stability and reliability, the supplier’s ability to meet rush orders, the supplier’s ability to respond to color critical and technical support questions, as well as print quality and repeatability.
The following chart diagrams the price points for printed media that wide-format print providers can utilize to maximize profitability. Although prices for giclée printing on fine art papers can exceed $30 per square foot, the level of color management and printing expertise required, along with demanding expectations from clients, can easily break the bank without an efficient workflow and clear expectations.
The most profitable types of media—canvas, wall coverings, and backlit applications—are described in more detail below, as well as the other most popular options for meeting the demands of the fine art and photography market.
Traditional Media Options
The adoption of inkjet technology for fine art and photo reproduction has resulted from the flexibility afforded by digital printing. There is a wide range of digital art media available today in assorted weights, textures, and finishes that can affect how the final image looks and feels. The most popular media choices available to print providers looking to perfect their position in the fine art market include:
At an approximate cost to printers of $.10 to $.24 per square foot, matte papers provide great imaging because they feature highly absorbent coatings, which draw ink into the base. Available in matte or gloss/semi-gloss finishes, matte papers are cost-effective and ideal for presentations, posters, proofing, and map making.
At an approximate cost of $.35 to $.42 per square foot, these two-sided polyethylene sealed sheets provide excellent image quality and higher photorealistic looking images. Additionally, photobase papers are commonly constructed to meet archival standards and enable instant dry time. In contrast to photorealistic and matte presentation papers, photobase papers support greater ink load and no paper cockle, making them ideal for photo reproduction and point-of-sale graphics.
Fine Art / Rag Papers
Ideal for fine art photography and art reproductions, fine art papers are most typically characterized by their 100 percent cotton construction. At an approximate cost of $1.50 to $2.25 per square foot, these papers should also be manufactured to archival standards by being acid-free/lignin-free and with no optical brightening agents (OBAs).
Archival papers typically contain buffering materials like calcium carbonate, which neutralize environmental acids (from pollutants or adjacent materials). OBAs are chemical additives that absorb ultraviolet light and reflect blue visible light. The eye will perceive a bluer sheet as being whiter. While these materials are effective in brightening dull fibers, they are not permanent and will fade; ultimately causing the print to appear much more yellow.