Most of us who work with photographic fine-art prints, painted images, or fine-art reproduction have some level of concern about fraud and unauthorized copying of our work or the work of the artists who hire us to make prints for them. Similarly, galleries, publishers, and collectors of fine photo and art prints often want assurance that the reproduction and sale of the piece has been approved by the artist who created it.
Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how a written Certificate of Authenticity can add real value to prints that are ready for exhibition or sale. Now, there is a new, additional step you can take to verify the ownership and authenticity of each print—particularly open editions. It’s called the ARTtrust solution and it can be used to verify the history and authenticity of a protected work.
Developed in collaboration between HP and Prooftag™, the ARTtrust solution is an integrated, self-certification system that includes completely unique ID tags, online registration, and serialized membership cards.
It is under full control of each artist and provides an individual identity to any Digital Fine Art Collection Print produced on an HP Designjet Z printer using HP Vivera Pigment inks. It can be used with whatever media type you choose.
A core part of the system is a unique "bubble tag", a translucent polymer identity marker that contains a totally unique, random pattern of bubbles that cannot be duplicated. Differences between bubble tags can be easily seen. The bubble tag has an archival-based adhesive, so it can be affixed to a print.
Bubble tages are provided in color-coded sets of three: one for the print, one for the Certificate of Authenticity, and the third for the artist's or printmakers records.
There are four steps involved in using the solution: registration, "artist's enablement", activation, and verification.
Registration: After registering on the ARTtrust website, you’ll receive a personal identification card with a unique, embedded Bubble Tag. You will need this ARTtag ID card to activate and control all of the tags associated with your work.
Artist Enablement: Acquire the tag sets from the ARTtrust website.
Activation: To activate the tags, you must register all three tags in the set on the ARTtrust website, along with information about what printer and media you used, etc. You can upload an image of the artwork if you like. Attach the tags to the artwork/print, the Certificate of Authenticity, and your own printmaking records.
Verification: Anyone who is interested in buying or exhibiting a print may now visit the ARTtrust website, view the bubble tag for verification, and review additional details about the print (e.g. availability, pricing, etc.). If the print has been output on HP media, the prospective buyer can also get information about the predicted archival life of the print. This can be a significant selling point to collectors, curators, and others.
Once a valid record is created, a buyer or collector can easily inspect the origin, history, and authenticity of a print via the web or mobile phone. One can even visually compare the bubble pattern registered online against the tag attached to the the print.
The ARTtrust solution can bring a new level of security and peace of mind to sellers and buyers of fine art prints. The bubble-tag-based system has been used to verify the authenticity of other valuables, including fine wines and perfumes.
I see this as a tool for both artist and printmaker; artists may elect to manage their tag system, registration, and editions independently. Or they may leave it to the printmaker, who could also purchase a system and administer it on behalf of, or in collaboration with, the artist.
In any case, ARTtrust can protect the value of an edition by guarding against unauthorized use or copying of a printed piece.
A written Certificate of Authenticity can add real value to prints that are ready for exhibition or sale.
Most artists and photographers tell me that they are content to sign their work, and add an edition number and date. This is fine, but there is a bit more that one can do that has real customer appeal. A Certificate of Authenticity can provide vital information about the image to a prospective buyer, gallery, or collector. The certificate can include the following (and/or other items):
· Name, location, and web address of the artist or photographer;
· Name, location, and web address of the printmaker;
· Type of camera or art technique used to create the image;
· Printing device used along with the type of ink and paper used, and their archival properties;
· Edition size and the dimensions of the prints in the edition;
· Number of this particular print within the edition;
· Information about the subject matter of the artwork;
· Information about when and where the photo was taken (GPS benchmark, date, time of day);
· A small color or black-and-white reproduction of the actual image;
· Signature of the artist or photographer;
· Signature of the printmaker;
· Copyright holder’s identity, applicable law, and reproduction rights;
In a way, the Certificate is a promise of quality and value. If the edition is limited, the buyer will know where they stand if they buy the print. If the buyer elects to sell the print down the road, the Certificate helps the print hold its value (hopefully it is increasing).
A buyer will also know that the print is made from the best materials available, that it was made by an expert printmaker, and that it is designed to last. A print like this becomes a valuable addition to a collector’s gallery, or an important heirloom.
We can’t know the long-term value of an image when we first create it – but we can record its provenance for those that come after us. In my view, the Certificate adds a tangible, credible foundation to the work, and provides information that might otherwise be lost forever.
Check out the Certificate of Authenticity I created for my photograph The Wave that now hangs in the home of a private collector.
In a future post, I’ll discuss controlling publication of editions, including storing reference prints, edition sizes, choosing media, and the like.