The great thing about today’s fine-art papers is that we can choose from papers previously available only to painters and printmakers. Many of these papers are produced by mills that are 600 to 800 years old and that have been developing papers for many centuries. New coatings make these papers responsive to the inks, and the prints feel fabulous.
Ried: Fine art typically refers to watercolor-type matte papers that have varying degrees of texture, whereas commercial photography has historically lent itself toward glossy or luster alternatives. Today, the line has blurred significantly since photographers are routinely printing their work on canvas and fine-art papers, while fine-art reproduction companies are using papers traditionally used in photography, such as fiber-based papers. This development, driven by inkjet printing as the preferred output method, has effectively elevated and diversified both photographic and fine-art reproduction to the great benefit of both producers and end users.
Q. What advice would you give to photographers who want to print fine-art images?
Clayton: Purchase sample packs. You can research and have fun with sample packs before settling into your favorites. Digital fine-art paper coatings are fragile. Simply because digital papers are not soaked in water does not mean they have any hardier of a coating. Treat it like it just came out of the water bath. Don’t wipe the surface with your hands, don’t put the emulsion face down on something that you would not have with a (fiber) silver gelatin. Lastly, play, play, play.
Eiger: I recommend that every photographer study historic photographers, especially those who were outstanding printers. This education is critical. Refine the process of photographing, printing and reviewing your results. Do this with the best materials available. Repeated enough times, this process will allow you to discover the extra tones and details that are possible. Finally, find someone who is a truly fine printer and take the time to understand how this artist works. Learn about the types of decisions they make and the materials and processes they employ in their art form. Successful fine-art printing requires an investment in time and materials, attention to detail, and the expertise that comes from years of experience.
Friend: Printing your images on fine-art papers elevates your image. It showcases you as a real artist. It allows you to speak passionately about your print and explain the care taken to make it. These subtleties will help in raising the awareness of new customers and gain you a reputation. This will translate into more money.
Johnson: Experiment. Get a good printer. Get some media you like the look of and check compatibility with your printer. Download the profile from the media manufacturer. Set up the editing software and press go. I believe that there are a lot of hang-ups around the quality that can be achieved with inkjet. Shed the inhibitions and you will surprise yourself at the quality you can get. Having said all that I must come back to the often expressed statement “rubbish in—rubbish out.” So, make sure the original image is worth the effort you are going to exert in getting that prize-winning print.
Ried: Don’t be fooled into the “must be 100 percent Rag to be fine art” mantra, or that optical brighteners are all bad. “Rag” (actually cotton linters), alpha cellulose, and the combination of the two are archival when produced to international specifications. A characteristic of these “natural” paper materials is that there are color variances between batches. Bleaching, titanium dioxide, and optical brightening agents (OBAs) are used to assure consistency from lot to lot. The major concern is that OBAs can “evaporate” out of a product over time, thus bringing out the true color of the base paper, which is sometimes referred to using the somewhat mythological term “yellowing.” Low-cost brighteners that are added to coatings can turn the paper to its natural color very quickly. This is generally true for commodity-grade papers with very high white points. A much more stable procedure is to add the OBAs to the base paper. This is the most expensive and stable method of adding brighteners. Many fine-art papers on the market utilize optical brighteners to create consistent color base materials. These papers have been tested by various organizations, such as the Rochester Institute of Technology, Wilhelm Imaging Research, and others. Ultimately, it’s best to view your own work on the varying types of materials in the marketplace and decide what you and your clients like best.