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.
In my first post on shooting landscape photography last month, I shared a few tips for increasing your odds of going home with tack-sharp images. In this post, I’ll dig deeper into the details of making the most of your landscape photo opportunities. This list is based in many ways on the minor, and sometimes not so minor, hiccups I’ve had in my own work.
1. Before you leave your home or studio, make a checklist of the things you’ll need. I’ve learned the hard way to carry extra batteries, camera cards, and a spare card reader. Take the camera manual with you. An extra battery charger can be a life-saver. Most of us carry only one, and if it is damaged by a faulty wall outlet, or other problem, it can become a “game over” situation. It happened to me while I was in Israel; you won’t believe what it cost to have one sent by FedEx from New York.
2. Test your camera and each lens you plan to take before you set off on your trip. If you use zoom lenses, test the lens at the short and long end of its range. Check the lens for autofocus function, too.
3. Once you’ve chosen a spot from which to shoot (or even better, before that), ask yourself these questions:
Do I need to format or change camera cards?
Is the ISO setting correct? (Generally, landscape photographers should use the lowest available ISO setting – usually 50, 100, or 200 ISO.)
Is the white balance set to the conditions (daylight, cloudy, etc)? (Please don’t use AUTO white balance; this makes batch processing difficult, if not impossible.)
Is the camera set to record in Adobe 98 RGB (if available)?
Can the camera shoot in RAW? (If so, this is your best option.
4. Make sure you’ve chosen a safe place. If you think light will be low, take a flashlight and look around carefully. You’ll sometimes find a surprise (nice skunk!) And, if you are shooting near the ocean, never, ever turn your back on the water. It’s possible to lose a camera, or yourself, to an unexpected wave. On windy days, stay close to your camera and tripod, for obvious reasons. I’ve seen them go down more than once
5. Choose the right lenses. In 35mm format, a 14mm prime will do the job (Canon and Nikon both make very good ones). Some of the lenses in the 21-24mm range are good, but check the reviews before you rent or buy. There’s quite a bit of variation in performance among this group. The perspective control lenses (marked PC) made by both Nikon and Canon are very good, because you can expand the width of your frame to near-panorama proportions. You may also wish to consider a medium telephoto, such as a 200mm or 300mm lens. These give you the opportunity to isolate parts of a landscape, making for some interesting shots such as the image below.
6. Think about how you will see the screen on top of the camera that shows camera adjustment settings. If you are working on a tall tripod, you might have to bring something to stand on to see the panel, or change the camera position to bring it into view. I carry a small plastic dental mirror in my camera bag, and use it to see the top of the camera without moving it. This saves a lot of time, and sometimes prevents a missed shot.
7. Take extra care when using slower shutter speeds. If the wind is blowing, try to wait until for a quiet (or quieter) moment to take your shot. Try to remember not to rest a hand on the tripod or camera when shooting. Keep those fingers where they belong when you are shooting – away from the camera.
8. Set your in-camera exposure meter for center-weighted exposure, or spot exposure. Generally, my Nikon and Hasselblad cameras seem to do best with center weighted exposure. Full-frame metering usually results in an underexposed image in landscape work.
9. Make sure that your meter is accurate, and compare your meter to another one. Generally, incident-light exposure metering is more accurate than reflected-light, in-camera metering. You don’t have to spend a fortune on a handheld meter. For example, the Sekonic 358 handheld meter is a very good, rugged meter. Its cost is moderate, and used ones can be found with a bit of digging. Mine seems indestructible.
10. If you are shooting with HDR developing in mind, remember that the camera must stay exactly in place while you are capturing multiple frames. If the frames don’t match up (register) it will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to make the image work back in the studio. If you bump your tripod, just start that sequence over again.
11. Check the weather and the sunset/sunrise and moonset/moonrise times every day if possible. This is particularly important in mountainous areas, where the weather is very changeable. Here in California, I’ve been snowed in during June! Keep a sheet of flexible plastic in your bag, or even a small trash bag, to use as an improvised cover in bad weather.
12. Take a small notebook. Jot down the place, time of day, conditions, camera settings, the serial numbers of your first and last frames, and your personal thoughts. You’ll find these to be a real treasure when you come back to an image at a later date. Consider a GPS gadget for tagging your image files.
I took this surrealistic-looking image of the Colorado State Capitol Building from the rooftop of the Colorado History Museum. The Capitol was reflected in multiple windows on the side of a building across the street. The image was captured around 4 pm, using a tripod-mounted Hasselblad H-series camera, digital back, 100mm lens, ISO 50, f/5 @ 1/90 sec. There was a mix of clouds and sun that day, so I had to wait until the Capitol was well-lit to bring up the contrast in the shot. I did some Photoshop editing for contrast and perspective correction.