HP has a history of responding to artists, photographers, and fine-art printmakers who want to adapt inkjet-printing technology to advance methods for creating and reproducing art. The latest example of HP innovation in support of the arts occurred in June, when HP introduced an application that makes it easier to use the HP Designjet Z3200 wide-format inkjet printer to produce large-format photo negatives on high-quality inkjet-printable transparent materials. The negatives can then be used with monochrome photo-printing processes such as platinum/palladium and color processes such as dye transfer or carbo.
To demonstrate the viability of the new system, Gabe Greenberg of Greenberg Editions (above) and Arkady Lvov of Platinum Editions used HP Large-Format Photo Negatives to produce 30 x 40 in. platinum prints of four iconic images by Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt (below left). The images were exhibited at Les Rencontres d’Arles Photo Festival and the ArtHamptons international art fair in New York and will be shown at PhotoPlus Expo Oct. 28-30 in New York.
The photo-negative process was featured on the cover of the August issue of Wide-Format Imaging magazine and has sparked a number of questions and discussions on various online forums. So, in this post we will address some of the most frequently asked questions. If you have any additional questions, we encourage you to submit them here or through the HP for Designers page on Facebook!
1. How does HP’s Large-Format Photo Negative application work?
The Large-Format Photo Negative Application is a package of paper presets that owners of HP Designjet Z3200 printers can download for free from HP’s website. Whenever printmakers want to print a negative on a clear film, they can select one of the presets on the printer’s front panel. The presets instruct the printer how to combine green and black ink to produce negatives that have the right combination of opacity and tonal response for the type of alternative printing process the printmaker wants to use.
The Large-Format Photo Negative Process is based on the discovery that the green Original HP Photo ink acts as an excellent color filter for the UV light used in alternative printing processes, such as platinum printing.
HP has developed a single preset so that when an RGB image is sent to the HP Designjet Z3200, the Green channel in the image will be used to form the final negative and the Red channel will be used to control opacity using Black ink. To find out how much black ink is needed in your process, a form of calibration must be performed first.
All of the steps in the process are explained in detail in a 33-page PDF entitled Making HP Large-Format Photo Negatives. This document explains how to prepare the image, load the clear film, and find the correct opacity for your process. For a quick overview of the steps, watch a video on the HP Graphic Arts Channel on YouTube.
2. How did this process originate?
The Large-Format Photo Negative Process was developed by Angel Albarrán, an HP color specialist and avid photographer with a passion for alternative printing processes. He discovered that the green Original HP Photo Ink has a very linear response to ultraviolet light, meaning that as the density of green ink on a negative increases, the amount of light that shines through to the coated paper decreases in a very predictable (and controllable) way. To exploit this linear response, Albarrán developed an application that provides accurate differentiation among tones through the grayscale spectrum. As a result, well-defined details automatically show up in shadows, mid-tones and highlights, and there’s a clean white on the final prints.
3. What is platinum printing and why is there so much interest in it?
On his Platinum Editions website, Arkady Lvov notes that platinum printing was the medium of choice of photographers Alfred Steiglitz, Edward Steichen, and Paul Strand. It’s a handmade photographic process in which a light-sensitive solution containing platinum and palladium salts is brushed onto an art paper, dried, and exposed in contact with a negative to ultraviolet light (as shown below). When the exposed paper is placed in developer, the metal salts revert to a metallic state and form the image. The print that emerges from a series of clearing baths consists of particles of precious metals permanently embedded in the fibers of the paper.
In Tom Hubbard’s excellent post on The Portland Metro Photographic News blog, Lvov alludes to five reasons why platinum printing is so popular: (1) image permanence due to the stability of the platinum; (2) the evenness of tonal response; (3) the beautiful luminosity and dimensionality of the prints; (4) the perceived value; and (5) the health and environmental safety of the process compared to silver-halide photo printing. Lvov also notes that “To fully control the possibilities of tonal range, you must have a good negative.”
4. Will the use of the digital negatives adversely affect the perceived value of platinum prints?
It’s not likely. As Elliott Erwitt point out, “Platinum printing is the Rolls Royce of photographic reproduction, and has traditionally been limited to modest dimensions. These new, large-format platinum prints, with their unusual size, are a Rolls Royce and Ferrari combined. They are a new, unique way of seeing and experiencing familiar, iconic images. The resulting four pilot photographs have a luminosity that is not achievable by any other process, old or new.” He describes HP’s application as a good advance, noting that “Collectors will be particularly interested, because a platinum print is something rare and valuable.”
5. Will it be possible to expand the system?
Yes. The Designjet Z3200 is a robust and versatile printer. It includes some built-in tools that can be used to expand the possibilities for creating large-format digital negatives. For example, when using the Printer Utility tool provided with the printer, you can:
- Add more opacity if it is needed for a specific process by changing the ink limits under paper management;
- Lift up the pizza wheels when a specific paper is used;
- Use the spectrophotometer to measure a custom chart and export;
- Import profiles created inside the printer.
These features can be used to address issues that sometimes arise when creating digital negatives for photographers who care deeply about achieving the absolute best quality in their final prints.
6. Is this solution suitable for making negatives for silver halide prints?
No, this Green plus Black ink combination has been optimized only for the traditional photo-printing processes that use ultraviolet light.
We are pleased there has been so much interest in Large-Format Photo Negatives. If you have further questions or suggestions, please submit them here!
Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt (center) inspects two of the platinum prints produced by Arkady Lvov (right) of Platinum Editions with the Large-Format Photo Negatives that Gabe Greenberg (left) made on his HP Designjet Z3200 printer. Erwitt's photos of Marilyn Monroe and the California Kiss were two of Erwitt's four iconic images printed with the large-format negatives.
Making prints on a softly textured canvas can provide a pleasing, painterly look to your images. Printing on canvas can also eliminate the need for an expensive frame and matting, remove glass as a barrier to viewing, and provide an additional step in the creative process.
However, canvas prints typically require some sort of finishing treatment. You should definitely plan to apply some sort of liquid coating or spray to provide protection against display hazards. After the coating has been applied, you can brush on some clear gels that will enhance the surface texture of the print and make it look more like a one-of-a-kind piece of painted art.
Once you start investigating all of the canvas finishing options that are available, you’ll discover a host of new ways to enhance the aesthetics and perceived value of your prints.
Here are a few points to keep in mind with regard to finishing canvas prints:
The Right Coating Can Add Protection: Canvas prints are often displayed without glass in the frame, or are displayed “as is” on the stretcher frame. They are more vulnerable than prints framed under glass, because the surface of the print can absorb airborne contaminants such as ozone and VOCs (volatile organic compounds), oil and dirt from hands and fingers, water, etc. Without the protection provided by UV glass or Plexiglas in a frame, the canvas is exposed to UV rays from daylight and artificial lighting. Applying a high-quality liquid coating or spray to a canvas print helps keep the print protected from airborne contaminants and UV light while preserving the aesthetic appeal of the textured surface of the canvas.
The Right Finish Can Change the Aesthetic Appeal and Make Each Print Unique: Many painters and photographers I work with now regard print finishing as an additional step in the creative process. With coatings and acrylic gels, you can modify the perceived color, contrast, and texture of your prints.
Protective coatings are available in matte, satin, and glossy finishes, which can be used to change the overall look of your prints. For example, applying a moderately glossy finish will often improve the perceived contrast and color saturation on images printed on a matte canvas.
You can also be creative with how you layer your protective coatings. For example, try a matte or satin finish first. If that doesn’t look right, you can apply a glossy overcoat as a top layer. Similarly, if your print surface looks too glossy, you can tone it down by adding a layer of satin or matte-finished coating.
Don’t be afraid to experiment! Some photographers apply both matte and satin/gloss finishes in selected areas of the print – which can give each print a unique look and feel.
After the coating is dry, you can use a gel and a handheld brush to add transparent brush strokes to selected portions of your work or the entire image. These brushstrokes can add texture and depth to a print, and make every print different from the others.
The Coating Must Be Compatible With Your Ink and Canvas: Painters have long used different types of varnishes to protect their original artworks. However, most of these materials aren’t compatible with the inks and coated media used in inkjet photo printing and art reproduction.
Coatings compatible with inkjet prints can either be solvent-based or water-based. The solvent-based coatings are typically used with ink and media combinations that aren’t promoted as “instant-dry” or water-resistant. I’m not a big fan of the solvent-based materials, simply because of the smell and, in some cases, the toxicity of this type of product.
Water-based coatings, such as PremierArt Eco Print Shield, are toxin-free and work quite well with pigment inks such as the HP Vivera Pigment inks used in the Designjet Z3200 printers and water-resistant canvases such as HP Professional Matte Canvas.
You Can Choose from Several Application Methods: Finishing materials are most often applied with a brush, foam roller, or spray gun. Some protective coatings are also available in an aerosol spray can.
I prefer to use a roller, as it is much simpler to use, and is well-suited to fine-art workflows that involve coating only a few pieces at a time. A spray gun is ideal if you’re working with large pieces, or higher volumes of prints. Spray cans are convenient, but can be tricky to use and cost more.
Generally, more than one coat will be required. In part, this provides more protection. But it can also help prevent the coating from cracking when the canvas is stretched. You can test how many coats you need by coating a test print first. Fold an inked corner over tightly. If you notice cracking, you need to apply another layer of coating.
· If you hire a framer for your canvas prints, make sure the company’s staff is familiar with stretching inkjet canvas. Incorrect technique can give uneven results
· Work in a dust-free, environment. This includes the table surface, rollers and brushes, and airborne contaminants.
· Allow sufficient time for your prints to dry before you first coat them and between each layer of coating. How much drying time is required will depend on the temperature and humidity of your working environment. Generally, prints made with HP Vivera inks on HP media will dry down enough for coating within a day. Experiment with some test prints on scrap materials
· If you are using a roller, keep a second damp roller handy to smooth out excess coating material, remove bubbles, etc. This really saves time.
· Once the print is finished and hung, your best bet for occasionally removing dust is a feather duster, gently applied. I keep one just for this use, and replace it once it starts to show signs of embedded dust and dirt.
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.
The latest model printers, like the HP DesignJet Z3200 and the Photosmart Pro B9180, are capable of creating prints that last over 200 years thanks to the formulation of pigment inks and the coatings on the papers we print to. Obviously, that’s a long time, and while the print might be viable for that period, improper care and handling will lead to an early death.
One problem with inkjet prints is the tendency to scratch easily. This is particularly true with prints made with pigment inks, because the pigments sit on the surface of the paper rather than being absorbed into the swellable coatings used on inkjet papers made for dye-based inks. So, rubbing against something, or the errant fingernail can ruin an otherwise perfect print and expensive sheet of paper.
The simplest solutions are usually the best, and print handling is no different. If you’re doing quality printing for exhibition, sale, or other public use, wearing a pair of cotton gloves will protect your prints from fingernails as well as oils on the skin, fingerprints on a glossy print, or other unforeseen disasters.
For fine art papers and canvas, I’ll normally use a spray protectant after the print has set for 24 hours. Desert Varnish from Moab, Lumijet Protective Spray from Hahnemuhle and Premier Art Shield from Premier Imaging Products are all good options that seal and protect the print from moisture, scratches, and fingerprints and won’t yellow as the print ages.
Print protection shouldn’t end here though. Storage and display should also have their own safety measures in place. Starting with storage, it’s best to store your prints flat. It avoids unwanted curling or bending, and handling is easier. Always use a protective sheet between each print. Acid-free tissue paper, available at most art stores or online at sites such as Light Impressions, is an inexpensive way to keep your prints from rubbing against each other.
If you’re mounting your prints for display, make sure that you’re using an acid- and lignin-free mat board and backing material. And, if your prints are going behind glass, never let the print rest against the glass.
A little extra caution up front can save time and money down the road. When you consider how much effort you spent getting to the point of creating that print, the extra effort is well worthwhile.
Limited editions have been around as long as printmaking. What exactly does it mean in today’s digital world though when another copy of the image is just a couple of mouse clicks away?
First, your customers have an expectation that the print they’re buying has a greater value than an open (or unlimited) edition print of the same image. But, the quality itself may be exactly the same. So what are the differences, and are they still important?
A limited edition must have a firm and guaranteed maximum number of prints available. For example, you might decide to limit your edition to 50 prints. Typically, you’d number each print, then provide a certificate of authenticity with the print stating what number that print is in the edition (i.e. 10 of 50) and when the image was printed. The certificate should be signed by you if you’re printing one of your own images and by the artist/photographer if you’re printing for a client.
Now, does this mean you can only have 50 copies of an image and never print again? Of course not. An open edition could be done of the same image without the authenticity and numbering information. What makes the limited edition more valuable is the guarantee that you’ve done the work on the print yourself, rather than having some outsider do the work on potentially inferior materials. An example of this is Ansel Adams prints – you can buy open edition posters and reprints, but you’re going to pay a premium for a print that is done from the negative.
Personally, I won’t do open editions on the same media that I use for the limited-edition print. For example, if I’m doing the limited edition on HP Hahnnemuhle Smooth Fine Art, then I won’t do an open edition of that print on the same paper in the same size as the limited edition.
You can also have any number of sizes of a limited edition. For example, I might do fifty 16 x 20 and fifty 11 x 14 prints. The key is that there will only be 50 of any given size. If you intend to do this, you need to be clear about it so that your customers aren’t left with the impression that there will be 50 prints total, regardless of size.
I also place additional information about the print on the back of the mounting board. This information includes when the image was captured, where it was taken (if it’s not obvious), and other details that a collector might find useful or add value to the purchase.
Also, you need to keep records of when a limited edition print is sold, and to whom you’ve sold the print. This is for the client’s protection and yours. Careful record keeping is your insurance that you can certify the authenticity of the print and the limited nature of the run.
Also consider pricing. A limited-edition print should be priced appropriately higher than an open edition. If you’re selling normal 16 x 20 prints for $100, a limited edition print should be in the $200 range (or more). You want the buyer to feel that they are getting something special. By default, a limited edition is a collectible piece of art or photography and should be treated as such.