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.
Any time a pro-model inkjet printer comes out with features radically different from the status quo, questions inevitably arise from photographers anxious to fully understand the true capabilities and benefits of the new features. That’s certainly been the case with the Gloss Enhancer on HP’s Designjet Z3100. Here are just a few of the questions I’ve been asked at some of the trade shows and seminars I’ve attended.
What is the HP gloss enhancer?
It is a clear ink, which when mixed in correct proportions with the other inks on the page, provides a more uniform gloss on the surface of a print, effectively eliminating gloss differential on prints created on glossy or satin papers, and perceived “bronzing” in black and white prints.
Which media can the gloss enhancer be used with?
The gloss enhancer is intended for use on glossy and satin inkjet media. It has no perceptible impact on fine art, watercolor, and similar matte papers.
Is the gloss enhancer like a clear coat or varnish?
No, it is not a clear coat or varnish. The gloss enhancer’s main purpose is to improve the smoothness and gloss appearance of the final print. In my opinion, the gloss enhancer renders prints made on glossy or satin media as smooth and uniform as their darkroom cousins. Personally, I find that the dimensionality and “pop” of the prints is improved, and I find it very pleasing.
Unlike a clearcoat, the gloss enhancer is applied like an ink, and is closely controlled by software. In fact, the gloss enhancer is controlled by its own screening algorithm and it is applied selectively where it is needed. The gloss enhancer is only applied to areas of an image that have an RGB color value of 254,254,254 or lower. Pure white (which has RGB values of 255 in each channel) will not receive the gloss enhancer. (As a practical matter, I set white and black points slightly under max values when using inkjet printers.)
How do I control the use of the gloss enhancer when printing?
The printer driver provides controls that allow you to either: (1) turn the gloss enhancer off; (2) use it only on the inked area (“econo mode”); or (3) use it on the entire page. I recommend turning the gloss enhancer off for making proofs, and using the econo mode for final prints. Applying it to the whole page is usually unnecessary, and wastes a small amount of the enhancer.
What effect does the gloss enhancer have on color?
That’s a good question! If you look closely at a print that has been made using the “whole page” setting for the gloss enhancer, you may perceive a slight change in the white point of the uninked paper. In other words, you will see the gloss enhancer on the unlinked portions of the page, and it seems to reduce the white point to a very small degree. I’m not certain, but I believe that this is the result of increased “glossiness” or reflectance.
In my conversations with HP color scientists and engineers, they indicated that the gloss enhancer has no effect on color rendering in a print. In my own experience, I have made prints from the same color image using gloss enhancer turned on, and turned off – and I can’t discern any significant difference in color between them. Gloss appearance and smoothness – yes; color change – no.
Does use of the gloss enhancer change the dry time for a print?
Not in any significant degree, at least on HP media. Some users tell me they have noticed increased dry times when using third-party media. I use many types of papers, but I haven’t had this problem. I suspect some of these issues may be related to using printer-managed color with third-party media, instead of creating a custom profile for the job at hand.
Does use of the gloss enhancer improve print durability?
I don’t have hard information on this topic. First, on HP media the prints are highly water and damage resistant --even without the gloss enhancer. Prints made with HP Vivera inks are highly water resistant, even under running water. Using the gloss enhancer, my personal impression is that prints seem to be more water and scratch-resistant, but I’m not sure how one would go about quantifiably measuring these properties.
Does it make sense for photographers to use the gloss enhancer?
In a word, yes. I see little or no downside, and the benefits in terms of print appearance are significant. I use it consistently. I recommend it to all of my printmaking customers, and so far, none have told me that they prefer not to use it.
In my opinion, the HP Professional Satin photo paper combined with the Z3100 Vivera inkset (including gloss enhancer) provide the best-quality pigment-based photographic prints I have ever seen.
If you have tried the gloss enhancer, I’d be interested in hearing more about your own experiences and observations. And if you have any other questions about it, please feel free to ask.