I’ve long felt conflicted about finishing my prints. When I first tried it years ago, most of the products available used smelly, potentially toxic chemicals. I didn’t have time to experiment with some of the creative effects that could be achieved with gels and I was skeptical that a spray or liquid clearcoat could add to the archival life of a print.
Those days are gone. Today there are many non-toxic/non-hazardous sprays and liquids that can applied to protect the entire print surface as well as gels that can be applied either to the whole print or selected areas of the print for artistic effects. Plus, independent testing groups such as Wilhelm Imaging Research have shown that products such as Premier Eco Print Shield can extend the display life of a print.
Finishing products can be applied with a spray gun, roller, brush, and even one’s fingers!
What are some of the reasons one would want finish a print?
Protection of Print Before They Are Framed. Even if a print will ultimately be framed and displayed behind glass, a good, evenly applied spray can protect the print from the accidental scuffing, scratching, fingerprints, or sneeze-damage that can occur as the print is handled and packed up for transport from your studio.
Protection of Unframed Prints. Some photographers and artists regard the glass or acrylic used with frames as a barrier to accurately viewing all of the colors and details in their work. And canvas is typically displayed unframed or framed without glass, so the viewer can fully appreciate the subtle textured weave of the canvas.
Any print that is framed without glass needs to be protected, not only from UV light and abrasion, but also from airborne contaminants such as cooking fumes, cigarette smoke, and insect residue. Printed canvas that will be stretched to create a gallery wrap needs to be protected from the abrasion that can occur while the print is being stretched. Even inkjet-printed pages that will be bound into an album or portfolio book need protection as the pages will be frequently touched and turned.
Appearance. Some sprays can change the appearance of an inkjet print to better resemble continuous tone printing, by reducing or eliminating gloss differential and bronzing. The gloss optimizer used during printing with the HP Designjet Z-series printers greatly reduces or eliminates these problems, but many enthusiasts and professionals who use printers without gloss optimizers have discovered that the right spray can even out the gloss on a print surface.
Artistic Effects. Some photographers and artists now use different types of gels and varnishes to embellish their prints before they are matted and framed. These gels can either subdue or enhance overall contrast and color or add texture or brushstrokes.
Perceived Value. If done well, print finishing may make a print more attractive to a potential buyer or collector. Hand-embellishing a print by brushing on a gel makes each print a unique piece of art.