Prints of paintings and drawings are a popular method of sharing and seeing art, and more and more artists are making reproduction prints as part of their practice.
When preparing to make prints of artwork, it helps to consider the factors and costs that go into the process. There are inexpensive solutions available which can be achieved at home, although an artists’ needs will vary depending on where the prints will be seen, whether they might be part of an exhibition of work or a portfolio, or given to friends and family. We’ve explored the main factors worth considering when making reproduction prints of paintings and illustrations.
Why Print on Digital Paper Rather than Regular Paper?
Digital papers are coated to ensure inkjet receptivity, like size on an artist’s canvas. This coating varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and is designed to prevent the ink from wicking or percolating along the paper fibres, which would lead to colour distortions and blurring.
Some papers have an overcoating, which is how it gets a glossy or pearl finish. For example, when making pearl papers, manufactures use a porous ‘micropore’ plastic coating that holds pigment inks on the surface, or in the pores themselves. This allows colours to appear as luminous as the original painting. This is not possible when printing on regular paper, as it does not have the same coating and the ink tends to sink into the paper, making the colours appear dull and faded.
Digital paper is typically coated on one side, unless the packaging states otherwise. To double-check you are printing on the coated side of the paper, lightly touch one corner of it with a wet finger. The right side for printing will feel a little sticky.
A high-quality image is necessary for a good print. To be able to make a high-quality print, the camera or scanner used to capture or scan the artwork must be able to do so at a high level of resolution. To compare, most digital photos are recorded at a resolution of 72 DPI (‘dots per inch’), and the image file of an art print should be closer to 300 DPI. This is because the more dots of colour that can be printed in a small area, the more detailed your final image will appear.
You can photograph your work at home, with a camera or even your phone. Outsourcing to a professional photography studio will guarantee your artwork is captured accurately and at the best possible resolution. You can also have artwork professionally scanned on a drum scanner.
For printing at home, there are resources online which can help identify inkjet printers that operate on pigment ink-based systems. ICC profiles provided by paper manufacturers can also help you to accurately match up and reproduce colour quality, ensuring the final print quality is of a good standard. ICC (International Color Consortium) profiles are sets of data that describe the properties of a colour space and the range of colours (gamut) that a monitor can display, or a printer can print.
Photographing Your Artwork
Find a neutral coloured wall and hang the artwork at a height where the middle of the piece will be parallel to where the camera will be – either on a tripod or resting on a table or other sturdy surface.
If you are working indoors, ensure the room has plenty of windows and natural light. Uneven light across your artwork can be balanced out by holding up a white surface, so the light bounces off this and illuminates the areas of your artwork furthest away from the window.
Indirect sunlight provides good lighting so some artists also photograph their work outdoors when it’s cloudy or overcast. If you would rather work indoors, you will need to set up a lighting kit. If you don’t have access to a professional lighting kit, you can evenly diffuse the light with a white sheet or white plastic between the lights and your work.
Ensure the camera is set so the lens lines up with the middle of the painting, positioned so that the frame is filled with most of the painting, with some of the background visible as a border. You can crop this out later, but it gives you some leeway when taking the photo. Typical studio settings for a DSLR require a low ISO, usually around 100, and an f-stop of between f-8 and f-11.
You can use a remote or timer when taking the photograph, so the shutter button doesn’t jolt the image out of focus. Afterwards, you can use photo editing software to colour match and correct any inconsistencies caused by the camera, ensuring what you see on the screen looks as close to the painting as possible.
Types of Paper
There is a range of specialist fine art digital papers which can be used when printing works in different mediums.
It can be more difficult to create prints from watercolours than from other kinds of paintings because of their transparency and granulation. Artists looking to print watercolour paintings can choose from a selection of mould-made papers with textured surfaces, which help to authentically replicate the character and feel of traditional watercolour paintings. They are typically available in bright white and natural white colours to complement different types of work.
Paper makers like St Cuthberts Mill also offer digital papers with similar surfaces to their traditional papers, such as their Bockingford and Somerset range, allowing watercolourists and printmakers to match their prints to original works.
Oil and acrylic painters can also choose from different textured canvas surfaces and weights, as well as Gloss, Matt, and Satin finishes, depending on your requirements.
These papers are also excellent for reproducing prints and etches, however, some manufacturers also produce specialist printmaking and etching papers, like Bockingford and Hahnemühle German Etching – a traditional mould-made copperplate printing paper.
Hahnemühle, Legion, and other paper makers also provide downloadable ICC profiles for your printer. To reproduce accurate colour quality, certain settings should be calibrated before printing. To achieve accurate colour quality over longer periods, artists can use profiles. For individual one-off prints, profiles aren’t always necessary. For more detail on profiling, see the handling instructions on Hahnemühle’s ICC download page.
Double-sided papers are also popular and versatile. Creating your own book is another way of using digital papers to present your work, such as by creating a catalogue to accompany an exhibition, or share with friends and family. Read our article The Simplicity of Self Publishing for advice on creating books.
If you are making prints at home to sell at art fairs, open studios, or online, you will want to package them for safe transport. If they are A2 or smaller, Jackson’s Polypropylene Bags are perfect – simply add a stiffener like a piece of mountboard (Daler Graduate is ready cut and economical).