Sunday, November 22, 2009

Basics of How to Make Prints (Part 1)

Online or at various art shows, I'm surprised by the number of artists who ask me, "How do you make your prints?" Coming from a Graphic Design background in college, I've done it for so long now that I take it for granted!
Since it's such a common question, I thought I'd make a blog post (or, two) about it. Hopefully other artists out in the Wide World of Internets will somehow stumble upon this post and find it useful.

(This post is about making digital prints from a computer, as I'm definitely not educated in the other traditional methods of printmaking. I'm also assuming if you're going to a pro to have it done, they'll know what file type to save it as- and if you're doing it yourself, you're computer savvy enough to know about different file formats.)

*** If you've got questions after reading this, feel free to ask them in the comments section after this post or email me. ***

There are 2 main steps in creating a print from your original artwork:
#1. Obtaining the image capture as a digital file.
#2. Printing said file.

The methods of doing these two things and all of the in-between is where you really get into the nitty-gritty.

Since this will be a little long, I'll make it a two-parter. This, part one, will focus on the
There are a number of ways to get an image of your art onto the computer.

If you're not computer savvy...
The easiest way for those who are not computer-savvy is to take your artwork to a business who specializes in this very thing. You'll have to check your local (or in some cases, not so local) listings to find a place. For example, the best place I've found is about an hour and a half away: "American Art Associates" in Annapolis, MD. Most printmakers will do an image capture for you: You bring in your art and they essentially put it on an easel and take a very high resolution photo of your image. Their lenses and equipment eliminate glares and shadows. They put the picture onto their computer, adjust the color if necessary, do whatever other magic they do (I've never been part of this process) and save it. From there you can have them make prints for you, or you can ask them to save it on a disk for you for later use.

Pros of taking your art to a printmaking business for capturing the image and making prints:
1. These guys (and gals) do this for a living. This is what they get paid to do. If you're going to a reputable place, you can tell them what you want, sit back and relax, and they'll handle it AND make sure it looks great!
2. It's a lot easier than doing it yourself, aaannnnnd....
3. Much less time consuming than doing it yourself.

Cons of having a printmaker capture the image for you:
1. It can be expensive (depending on what your idea of expensive is...). An image capture of a large (over 11"x14") artwork, from my experience, can run $50 to $100 - maybe more. But since doing it yourself can be quite time consuming, having a professional capture an image of a large/difficult to photograph artwork is often well worth every penny.

Or try a little DIY.
If you are computer savvy and have some graphics software (Paint-Shop-Pro, PhotoShop, a myriad of others), you can try doing it yourself.
You can buy a scanner (they're pretty affordable, $100 and up) and scanning software (which should come with the scanner), lay your art on the scanner, scan it & import the image into the computer, and then save the file.

Pros of scanning it yourself:
1. After purchasing a scanner, it's basically free.
2. No driving around or making appointments- do it at your leisure.
3. If the artwork is 8"x10" or smaller and not glossy, it's a fairly simple and straightforward process. Lay it on the scanner. Open your scanning software. Scan it in. Piece of cake. (You can even eat a piece of cake as your scanner imports the image.)

Cons of scanning it yourself:
1. It can take up a lot of time. So even though the process is free, is it worth your time to sit and fool around with it?
2. If you've used glossy paint.... forget it. If your paint has any gloss to it at all, the light from the scanner is going to reflect off that and make white highlights. No good. And no simple way (that I know of) to fix it.
3. Large pieces can be a huge pain in the ass and take a very long time. When I have finished a 16"x20" painting (which is not that big), it takes me at least 4 scans to scan it in. Most scanner beds are about 9"x 11". Even an 11"x14" artwork will take about 4 scans to piece everything together all nice and neat.
Oh, and that whole "piecing together" process? That can take HOURS. And you need good graphics software to do it, too. Sometimes the colors in each scan might vary slightly. Sometimes you get shadows along a gutter (where your painting overlaps the edge of the scanner bed). Sometimes you've laid your artwork down slightly off from a 90-degree angle, so you might have to do a little rotating to get it to fit. The larger your artwork, the more scans you have to do, the more opportunities for unwanted shadows, rotations, overlaps, etc. It ends up being almost like putting together a puzzle.
(I scan most of mine myself because I'm cheap like that, and since my favorite place is an hour and a half away, I have to do a bit of planning to allow myself time to drive over there. Plus gas money of course, blech. Again, I'm cheap.... When I can afford to be. Meaning that if I've got an painting that is huge, I'll gladly pay to have it done. I'll emphasize again that it is worth every penny.)

UPDATE: I've now created a post about how I scan in my paintings! It's here:

Some artists have mentioned using a digital camera and taking a very high-resolution photo of their artwork themselves. You can try this if you've got a nice digital camera and, again, a little bit of graphics software. Be sure to *not* put your artwork in direct sun- it will be too bright and have much to much glare. Ideally, you want a bright but overcast day- or, if it's sunny, you want the art to be out of direct sunlight but in a bright place. No shadows.
Pros of using your own digital camera:
1. None of that scanning/piecing together business if you've got a particularly large painting or drawing. Woo hoo!
2. If you're out of the sun, no worries about glossy paint or shadows.
3. Affordable... obviously. (Unless you go buy a very expensive new camera!)

Cons of using a digital camera:
1. If you've got a very large painting, you're going to need to take a photo at very VERY high resolution to make large prints from the painting.
2. Wobble? You might need to use a tripod to take the best photo possible.
I've tried the digital camera method- admittedly my camera is almost 10 years old. I took photos of some paintings but the largest I seemed to be able to print them and make them look good was only about 8"x10". I'm by no means an expert on this method and I'm sure digital cameras have come a long way in the last decade!! If you've already got a camera and some software, you might as well give this method a shot and play around with it, decide for yourself- it couldn't hurt.

Okay, so by this point you have your image saved as a file. Now what?... See Part 2 :)
Coming soon!


Doris Sturm said...

Hi Samantha! Nic to "see" from you :-) Hope you're doing well.

It's cold, rainy and dark here today, so we're staying inside and hybernating.

Have a great day,
Doris and Gizzy!

Paul and Carol said...

Hi Samantha - While gloss is hard to scan, I wonder if matte workable fixative sprayed on the painting would help with scanning. Then using a gloss fixative to restore the gloss after scanning. If you don't wish to alter the painting, then I wonder if you place a printable transparency (matte side down) between the painting and scanner would cut down on the gloss. Not sure it would work, but it might be worth the try.