Monday, November 29, 2010

Spot-On Color

How to Pin-Point Corrections for Spot Colors

Israel Shotridge ( is one of Alaska's finest Tlingit carvers. His carvings and serigraphs are well known in and beyond the Native Art world.

Israel Shotridge in full Tlingit regalia

Totem © Shotridge Studios
Shotridge's career started with totem poles and branched out into many other forms including serigraphs.

Serigraphs are the product of a unique and pain-staking printing process. Images are made on paper by forcing special inks through a fine mesh screen. Where no ink is wanted, a stencil mounted onto the screen blocks it. Functionally the process works the same way as silk-screen printing.

Serigraphs Collection © Shotridge Studios
Left to right: Potlatch, Heron, Wolf , Orcas and Thunderbird

Screen printing started in China about 3,000 years ago and is still done the same way today...using machines instead of people when done on a commercial scale.

Traditional serigraphy involves the cutting of stencils with knives. Today they can be and often are made digitally, of course.

One stencil is made for each color.

Color separations for Shotridge's Potlatch © Shotridge Studios

How Colors Are Made

Colors are either primary, secondary or mixtures of them. Primary colors are irreducible. Orange is reducible to red and yellow. Yellow is reducible to green and red. But green and red are irreducible, making them primary colors (of light). There is a lot more about this subject in my book, Giclee Prepress - The Art of Giclee (which you can test drive at available at and in previous blogs.

Most colors are mixtures of other colors, just like shopping for house paints. A dab of this, a splash of that... each combination is totally unique. No other color will ever exactly match it. You learned that when you went back and got that extra quart you needed to finish painting the house. It didn't match exactly, eh?

In the serigraph and silk screen printing processes, colored inks are squeegee'd through stencils onto paper (tee shirts, or whatever) one color at a time. After each color is applied to the substrate the stencil is removed, a new one put on for the next ink color, and so on.

Registration between colors is the hard part. If one stencil moves even a little bit, it can ruin a fine piece of artwork or printing. However the process requires some degree of physical force to squeeze the ink through the stencils onto the substrate, and that stress can deform the stencils if not carefully controlled.

The difficulty of maintaining registration also limits the total number of colors that can be used.

New Technology = New Marketing Idea = New Product

Until now, Shotridge Studios released their serigraphs only as silk-screened prints on art paper. The prints have been popular for over a decade. Ordinarily you'd think that's great... but 'mature' markets are a challenge for sales aficionados like Sue Shotridge, Israel's wife who runs Shotridge Studios allowing Israel to do his thing (lucky him).

Sue Shotridge is one of those rare people who see the big picture.

Sue Shotridge checks giclée color tests.
Today's big picture is about delivering more for less. That much has been clear for some time and is the likely vision of our future together, but that's another story. For now, it's enough to think about how to add value to your printed art. What makes Sue especially clever (at least in our estimation) is that she totally clued in the possibilities that giclée offered to develop new limited editions of the serigraphs. After all, if Hollywood and the music industry re-sell 'digitally remastered' art, by golly, so can Native Artists, eh?

Giclée Adds More 'PDV'

Readers of this blog know how giclée has fundamentally altered the art world. Until giclée, art patrons had a choice of originals or prints. Art prints used to be – and still are in many cases – hand-made by lithographic or rotogravure printing.

As the industrial revolution produced faster and cheaper printing machines, the market migrated towards the lower priced prints... and still does. But I digress...

For the customer there used to be only two choices... an expensive original or a $50.00 poster. But not anymore...

Giclée changed all that by printing images of finer quality than any other printing process. That introduced a third level of quality, a middle range positioned between a traditional print and an original. Sue recognized that and decided to create a new product line... the Shotridge Giclée Collection.

Shotridge Studio's new showroom is housed in
Vashon Island's historic
Fuller House at the crossroads of
Vashon Highway and Cemetery Road, catty-corner to the

Vashon Allied Arts Blue Heron Gallery hiding behind the
bush pointed out by arrow.

Now, when customers come to their new studio showroom on Vashon Island they will have a choice of three price/quality levels. That bodes well for the Giclée Collection because customers usually go right down the middle when it comes to art and wine.

While the expanded range should make customers more happy, the Shotridges are happy too because with giclée they can print on demand, which eliminates their need for inventorying large quantities of large prints.

Detail of Potlatch © Shotridge Studios

Sharp Eye for Detail

The smallest details are part of any big picture and Sue Shotridge catches them all. The differences between a serigraph and a digital reproduction of one made on our new 10-color Epson® 9900 are like the differences between a diamond and a Zirconium®... you need a loupe to see the difference.

The main difference is the sharpness of the lines of a serigraph or silk-screen print. Serigraph stencils are cut with blades. They are like the lines of a vector illustration.

Vector art has to be rasterized for giclée printing. Rasterization breaks down images into the pixels we have all come to know and love. That is done to make full color printing possible.

Without dots, a separate printing plate is needed for every color. Want to print a rainbow? That's a lot of printing plates.

Although rasterizing breaks-up otherwise sharp solid lines into a matrix of dots (which can result in 'jaggies' without sufficient resolution density), by using dots 'full color' can be made from as few as four ink colors -- cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK).

All Colors Are Not Created Equal

The four-color printing process cannot produce all colors.
For color-critical material like logos, spot colors are used.
The logo graphic is put on a fifth printing plate (or a sixth, etc)
for a precise ink color, usually selected from a standard
color reference like the Pantone® swatch book shown above.

The fact that the four 'process colors' (CMYK) are simulating other colors is an important distinction. It means that process colors cannot exactly match the kind of spot colors used in serigraphy or any other screen printing process. That is why there are spot colors in the first place... because the four-color process can't do the job... it is physically impossible.

The question is...

How Close Can You Get?

Being in the fine arts printing business, the reputation of Vashon Island Imaging ( rises and falls with our color accuracy. Our slogan is 'best color in town'. That's why we just installed Epson®'s new 10-color printing technology. It prints more colors than any other printing process. That's a tall claim, eh? (Makes it good for tall orders.)

Want Proof?

Proof of giclée's claim to best color is found by virtue of the implementation of Epson® 10-color technology as a proofing system for nearly all other printing machines in the world.

The 'Proofing' version of the Epson® 9900 has a sophisticated (expensive) Fiery® RIP that can mimic most other printers. Here's how it works:

Say you want to print a million copies of something. You need a big printing press. There probably isn't one of those near your studio, and you may not speak any foreign languages. How can you be sure the color will be right?

A million of anything is a lot, but if it is unusable the same amount can seem like more. You can prepress to your heart's content but at some point you've got to see something, otherwise you are flying blind.

Hold that thought...

...Meanwhile, lets say that in the whole wide world there are 1000 colors and the picture you are printing is a rainbow that contains 999 of them. Anything less than 999 cannot be a faithful representation of the colors in the original rainbow, eh?

Here's the rub: no printing machine can do that.

More Colors = More Better

Continuing in 1000-color mode...

Printer A can print 700
Printer B can print 800
Printer C can print 900.

Printer C can be used to simulate the colors output by printer A or B, but not vice versa. Ergo, since the color gamut of Epson® 10-color technology is wider than any other printing process, it can be used to mimic any of them.

Translated, it also means the gammas of all the world's primary printing processes are smaller than the gamut of Epson® 10-color printing machines.

So the capability is there, the question is, do you have the prepress skills to control the machine and output pixel-perfect printing?

Ferrari® cars offer a comparison. The car can do anything but how it performs is limited by the skills of its driver. So it goes with giclée printing.

Go With the Flow

In the end there are only three things that will affect the colors in the giclées you print:

- Ink
- Media
- Light

The colors of ink, media and display light are fixed points like the points of a triangle. You can rearrange them, but whatever you select is fixed. Fixed within them are the white point, neutral point, black point and any 'tint' that will affect all other colors.

The ink flow rate is not fixed, however. Thus everything you do in your prepress work is done to control the flow of ink(s) to create pixels of specific colors, with digital accuracy.

PhotoShop® provides enough controls to give you the accuracy you need but there are so many that it can be as confusing as the cockpit of an airplane.

So what do you do in a color match situation like the Shotridge serigraph collection?

Overcoming Optical Illusions

Begin by reducing the variables. Look at and compare single colors at a time. Test them that way, too. Soon you will discover that simply moving one way or another is making things worse. As one color gets better the other gets worse, or at least different. Even if one of the colors remains the same, it will appear different as the other changes.

The gray box illusion demonstrates the interrelationship of tones.
Although the gray is the same, it doesn't look that way.

Co-dependence is tangible in the case of color. Changing one color in a group has an effect on how all others are perceived. It may not be a physical fact, but the optical illusion is real enough. The effect of co-dependency is heightened as colors approach opposition. Colors that oppose each other are also called complementary colors.

Complementary colors cancel each other out. Add them together in equal parts and you get a neutral shade of gray. (Noise-canceling audio headphones work the same way with sound waves.)

It is difficult to look at the borderline between areas of complementary (or primary) colors. The rods and cones in our eyes cannot cope with extreme differentiation because the cells are vibrating on a microscopic level. The cells along the border rapidly shift between the colors on both sides. The more divergent the colors, the more the borders will 'vibrate'. It is also what makes colors fight with one another.

Potlatch © Shotridge Studios
The three colors in Shotridge serigraphs are Teal, Red and Black.
These particular colors are part of the Native 'brand' and are thus 'holy'.
Teal is a shade of cyan. Red and cyan are opposites... they complement one another.
Did our ancestors know that?

So you can see that trying to match colors is problematic at best. If changing one color affects all others, the permutation of possibility gets astronomical fast as you add more and more colors.

Two other factors make matters worse. Colors appear differently according to the light they are perceived in and different people have different degrees of color 'blindness'.

Each of us sees some colors better than others and has favorites. These physical and psychological factors preclude the possibility of our every knowing whether any two people see exactly the same colors as someone else. That's why we compare things to certain standards of measurement, like Pantone® color system.

In digital imaging, every one of several million colors has an identifying number by which other digital devices can recreate them faithfully if proper color management has been followed throughout the chain of communication.

Using those standards, and a few other tools, we can control colors with the incredible accuracy needed for color-match work.

Reduce the Variables

Unlike you who print giclées, your client is usually clueless about most of these issues and challenges. Worse, clients mostly think that with PhotoShop® you can do anything. Well, in this case it turns out that they are right... You can achieve pixel perfect printing. (Hint: read my book.)

Here's how I approach color match at Vashon Island Imaging:

Process of Elimination

The key is to eliminate variables as fast as you can so that you can deal with one color at a time. Before you can do that you must get a sense of what your client thinks is right. It doesn't matter what you think of the colors... it matters what the client thinks about them. That is where the problems start.

One of the biggest challenges is communications -- talking about color. In the printing business we talk color day and night. We know how to talk about color. Most others don't know how because they lack the vocabulary. Did you ever try to describe a flavor? ...That's what I mean.

Speaking of Color

Begin with a client consultation. To solve the communications problem and get past the need for color-language skills, provide some test prints to form the basis of your discussion. Ask the client to tell you what is right and wrong with each color.

Use the client's opinions to make your first set of color corrections. Provide an odd number of new tests, each of the same image but with different combinations of (changed) colors. Again, ask the client what is right and wrong with each color.

Look at a picture in PhotoShop® and to see an example of what I mean use Image / Adjustments / Variations. You'll see a variety of looks with hue differences. When you select one, you see more variations of just that... tints, contrasts, etc. That process of selection is what we are emulating in our printing tests.

Whatever direction your color correction takes for one change, take another in the opposite direction. For example if one change involves magenta, the other should involve green. Work in pairs. The same applies to brightness and contrast. Working in opposites helps everyone narrow things down because sometimes it is easier to see what something shouldn't be rather than what it should be.

Solitary Confinement

The goal is to get the colors right one at a time... so deal with them one at a time. As soon as Sue agreed on a shade of red, only the teal would change in the next tests.
12-step test for teal.
By confining the choices to one solitary color, the effect of color co-dependence spoken of earlier becomes instantly apparent. In the above grouping the red is the same throughout although it appears to be as different as the 12 hues of teal are.

The only way to get a semblance of control over the optical illusion of color co-dependence is to change only one color at a time. Then apply only one kind of color change at a time.

In the case 'Shotridge teal', Sue thought it wasn't blue enough and that it lacked 'ooomph'. Being an ex-New Yorker, I understand what 'ooomph' implies. Translated into giclée terms it means more Saturation and Contrast (another inter-related pair of variables).

The next test (shown above) has 12 changes of blue. The top row has 22 points of blue added to the Mid tones. The middle row has 22 points of blue added to the Highlights. In the bottom row the blue was added to the dark tones ('Shadows'). Then, to the right of each row there are 11 and 22 point variations of Brightness.

The purpose of this test is to determine if blue is the needed change and if so how much. In a perfect world you will find the final combo in a grid of 3, 6, 9 or at the most 12 choices. More choices than that becomes overwhelming and the brain will shut down.

Don't be surprised if you have to go back to the previously approved color and change that again. It is usually a result of color co-dependence revealing as much about the unchanged color as the changed one.

The Potlatch color test series for Shotridge Studios included
a final round using the selected Teal with 5 different shades of Red.

All tests were done on two types of heavy-weight fine arts paper, both made by Epson®.

- Hot Press Bright White
- Hot Press Natural White

Both of these are fabulous papers for giclée, offering a good black. They have the dmax of Enhanced Matte with the look and feel of nice art papers like Hahnemuhle® and Arches®. It's the best of both worlds... with none of the 'curl' problems you encounter with some Hahnemuhle papers.

We try to stay with Epson® papers because they are made to work with their inks. That keeps the gamut as wide as it can be... and as noted earlier, more colors is ‘more’ better.

Sequence for Testing

To summarize, the testing sequence for each color is as follows.

1.) Hue
2.) Color
3.) Brightness
4.) Levels
5.) Saturation (seldom used as it shifts color)

Each of those variables should be tested in pairs of opposites aiming towards control of a solitary color.

Impossible Dream

To keep yourself sane and your client happy it is important for everyone concerned to remember two things:

- True color match is virtually impossible
- True color match is very expensive.

Using the testing sequence just described will get you through color match to the 99th percentile in the fastest way, using the least testing materials.

Another way of looking at it is this: If you had to struggle so hard to tweak the color, will your viewers see the difference? Don't scoff. That is a legitimate question. There are a couple of answers:

While the 12-part test shown above was drying, a few other artists came to the studio. Each asked what it was and when I explained it was a color test each did a double take, looked harder and said... 'oh yeah, now I see it'.

The flip side of that is 'Madison Avenue' research that proves without question that slight variations in a color will have an impact on sales.

Sales... that's Sue's territory and she'll be the first to say that their red and teal colors have an impact on Shotridge sales. That's why I listen carefully to what she says. I know that her sales equal my sales... and that's the kind of color co-dependence I like... The kind involving the color of money. That's what I call 'spot-on color'.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Back to the Future

Techniques & Tools Whose Time Has Returned

Vashon Island Imaging lounge © Pam Swanson 2007

The studio on Vashon Island is itself is example of 'back to the future'.
Compare this 2007 view of our lounge with the 2010 picture I just made (below).
The lounge has morphed into a teaching workshop.

Vashon Island Imaging lounge in 2010.
Eventually I outgrow everywhere I live, one way or another.
As the hallways get narrower, I know that migration time is near.
People who visit my studio sometimes comment that they feel like they are in a museum. They are ...and in this museum all the machines are working (although some gather more dust than others).

Sometimes even I wonder why I keep some of the stuff. The old Epson® 2200's we have at Vashon Island Imaging ( are a good case in point. They were workhorses for years but not recently as times (and inks) change... to say nothing of the cost of ink in those small 12 ml cartridges compared to the large 350 and 700 ml cartridges on today's big Epson® giclee printing machines.

My left brain said dump those old 2200's, they are just taking up space and cost too much to run. But my right brain didn't make the same connection. That's probably because nearly every time I have dumped anything major that decision has come back to bite me. Here's just one example...

In 1980 my picture library contained well over a million slides. When I closed the New York studio and moved to Hawaii they were all put in storage. Ten years later I brought them all to Sweden realizing that I was going to be in Stockholm for a while and that the slides were rotting in the hot and humid Hawaiian atmosphere.

1981 arrival of picture archive in Honolulu.

1,000,000 anything takes up some space. In this case, the slide library filled the better part of a 20-foot cargo container. Not having that much space available for an archive in Stockholm the library was ruthlessly edited to 25% of its former size. 75% was tossed.

Edited picture archive contains about 500,000 images.

As I said, a million of anything is a lot. Going through that many slides was a daunting task. However it was less painful than you might imagine because the library was about 50% stuff we had shot for Burger King® and Clairol® shows.

Yours truly changing slide trays at a Burger King® rally.

Burger King® extravaganzas whipped teen-age burger flippers into a frenzy at pep-show rallies around the USA. My company was called The Incredible Slidemakers back then. The crew and I would troop a 15-projector rig that we would run using an AVL® Show Pro V slide controller to project onto a giant screen. Our projections were the 'backdrop' at events for 1000 or more screaming teeny-bopper Burger King® workers.

Yours truly with programming rig for an 18-projector Clairol® show.

Clairol® extravaganzas were attention grabbers at hair and beauty shows. The shows were fast paced and used multiple screens. We called them 'mindblowers'. The content was sprinkled with candid shots of audience members shot earlier or gathered from archives.

Vanity Fair

People watch shows more carefully if there's a chance of seeing themselves or friends. It's a great way to boost audience motivation as well as interest. Anyway...

The picture library became over stuffed with thousands and thousands of pictures of pimple faced kids either flipping burgers or posing as models at local beauty shows. Although some of those pictures once propelled their subjects and colleagues out of their seats with yelps and cheers they were totally useless anymore. Thus in one fell swoop I lightened the load 50% by committing those slides to the custody of the Stockholm town dump.

One snowy night a year later the phone rang in my Stockholm studio and when I lifted the receiver it was Ken Perry calling from Singapore. Ken was Marketing Director for Clairol® when we produced some of the aforementioned shows. But that was nearly a decade ago.

Ken told me how hard it had been to track me down. I admitted that I was amazed that he actually had been able to because I had lived in Hawaii, Australia, California, Vancouver and Stockholm since last seeing Ken in New York City.

He told me he was working on a giant anniversary spectacular for Clairol® and that he would pay 'anything' to get his hands on those old slide-show shots... the ones trashed a few months earlier.

Ever since then I have been loath to get rid of anything that might have even an iota of a chance of being useful. So the old Epson® 2200s were still in place and thank goodness for that because they saved the day on our most recent job.

Old Technology Saves the Day

When the phone rings at Vashon Island Imaging I never know what awaits me on the other end of the line. As word spreads about the wide range of services we provide, more 'unusual' jobs land on my desk. The challenge of some of these generates the excitement that makes life worth living for a giclée printer.

The challenge for any professional giclée printer is to balance reality with expectation. That is, what the client wants versus what can be delivered. The gap between the two generally widens in an inverse proportion to the client's understanding of digital imaging and PhotoShop®.

Many totally sane artists have been led to believe that they will be able to get great results all by themselves using 'prosumer' gear. Actually, they can if by 'great' you mean better than 10 years ago. But the results you get with an investment of a few hundred dollars and a few hours of PhotoShop® training isn't good enough for accurate color reproduction. That fact saddens many artists and photographers and leads some of them to our doorstep at Vashon Island Imaging.

Here we take on all sorts of projects from product shots and art copy work to prepress ...all the way through finished art and production. We can do that because I didn't throw out those old machines.

I still have and use many traditional photomechanical machines and procedures to produce the finest quality giclée prints. Those who follow this blog or who have read my book (available at are familiar with many of these 'old fashioned' ways and why they produce superior results to purely digital alternatives... at least from the aesthetic side. In the end, it's not what it says on the dial, it's what you see in the print.

Our latest project has been printing an installation-art piece called Severed Head for artist Monica Gripman. It turned out to be an appropriately named job because it took a 'disconnect' to get the look the artist wanted. (Installation art refers to large-sized pieces that are installed professionally rather than carried home from the gallery.)

Monica Gripman assembles Severed Head
on a large Plexiglas® sheet at Vashon Island Imaging.

Gripman's work is a collage like none I have seen before. At first clance the collage appears to be a disorganized stack of pictures. Then you realize that together they form another image, usually a sensual one.

Monica Gripman's style is 'Retro' and reminiscent of David Hockey's work with Polaroid® pictures. However she takes it to a new level utilizing more contemporary machines that are on on the leading edge of Retro. Her 'camera' is an old copy machine. Captures are output onto photo paper using an ancient old HP® printer.

Although she makes it look easy, many 'shots' are captured to get the pieces for her picture puzzles. 'I burn through a lot of material before I get the pictures right,' she explains. 'Severed Head uses 14 out of about 150 pictures.'

In the background I hear her partner Greg correct her noting the number was closer to 300. 'Whatever,' she continues, it costs us quite a bit to put one of these together even using the most economical materials.'

'Aha', I thought, 'the old 'bottom line''.

The bottom line is more important now than ever before, especially for artists who must invest their time and money with greater risk than most people can imagine.
Severed Head is no exception being a collage of 14 giclée prints mounted on a large sheet of Plexiglas® measuring 72 X 30 inches. It costs money to make a piece of work like that to say nothing of shipping it. This piece is destined for display in New York City and to ship it safely across the country a special container is being built. But I digress...

What drove Monica to our doorstep was the frustration of trying to make a set of copy prints with an Epson® R1900. Whoever sold her the printer should have his or her ink cut off because anyone who meets Monica knows at a glance that this gal is a Ludite.

Or is it just me?

I am considered a Ludite by some and a wizard to others. It's all relative, eh?

Don't get me wrong, Monica is one sharp cookie. She got all the gear they told her to, followed all the instructions, pushed all the right buttons, and got results. Unfortunately, those results indicated that she would have to learn more about printing... a lot more.

Anyone else might have been very satisfied with what the R1900 printed. However, Monica was trying to match the look of the ancient HP® printer and 'plain' photo paper.

The disconnect was that it was easier (and more accurate) to use old technology than to dumb down a modern machine in some kind of simulation. Sure, you can build a bunch of custom profiles, blah blah blah.... and while you are doing that I will print the job on my old machine and go out to lunch. So...

Being a sharp cookie, Monica decided that learning to be a master printer was not the best use of her time.

Catering to the Artist Mentality

Artists are demanding clients when it comes to printing. For some reason they expect that the colors in the reproduction will be like the ones in the original. Silly artists... What do they know about color management?

Monica explained the problem as she laid out the original prints made on the old HP and the copies of them made from scans and printed with the R1900. There was a world of difference between them, even though Monica had followed all the instructions.

Comparison of prints made by Monica's old HP machine (right)
and her Epson®
R1900 (left) shows visible differences easy to see
even in this tiny blog picture of them.

The HP® prints had been scanned to high quality TIFF files and those sent to the R1900 for output onto Epson® Premium Luster Paper. Most folks would have probably OK'd the copy prints and many might even have preferred them. The rich blacks produced by the R1900's pigment inks make those printed with the HP's older dye inks pale in comparison.

However, Monica went on to explain that she had already showed the originals to the gallery so the new prints had to match the old ones exactly. And why not use the originals? ...Because they had become marred by over-handling without adequate protection.

Matching the look of Monica's original prints was complicated by
differences in the white points of Costco's photo paper (left)
Epson® Premium Luster (right) which is warmer.
Both have about the same brightness and reflectance, thankfully.

I explained to Monica why the copies could never exactly duplicate the originals unless they were printed by the same printer on the same paper. It didn't really help to know that, in her point of view. All she wanted was a solution... and that's where the old Epson® 2200s came in.

The HP® machine used to make the originals is much closer in age to an Epson® 2200 and both use old dye-based ink technology. The look produced by each is similar and different than the look produced by modern printing machines. So the 2200 was chosen for output of this series of prints.

The next challenge was to get the colors as close as possible to the originals. That is not as easy as it seems with an Epson® 2200 because the level of control with a $500 machine cannot be compared with a $5000 one.

Complicating things, the pictures in Severed Head have large areas requiring good dmax. However, the highlight details of the hair were marginally captured by the scanner and are even hard to see even in the originals. With any over-inking those 'highlights' would be obliterated. Needed was independent control over the dmax of the background and restoration of the hair highlights.

Restoration of Highlights

Restoration of the highlights is possible but requires a lot of work. It was therefore decided to concentrate on the highlights around the central point of interest, the face. Those were brought out of the shadows using the following procedure:

1.) The hair was 'Lasso'd' and copied onto a separate layer placed above first layer, in PhotoShop®.

2.) Levels were squeezes to create super-high-contrast rendition with the highlights clearly visible.

Squeezing the Levels produced a high-contrast version
revealing hair details as well as abrasion marks on the print surface
(indicated by red arrows).

3.) The layer was de-saturated to reduce the color build-up that occurs as contrast is increased (and with it saturation).

4.) The separation of highlights from dark tones was intensified using Brightness and Contrast.

Look close and you can just see the hair highlights
made by the steps above as well as a whole lot of spotting and
cleaning to get rid of the dust, scratches and noise you always find
in any scanned image's dark tones.

5.) The highlight layer was placed on top and it's Blending Option was set for 'lighten'.

[Detail of] Severed Head © Monica Gripman 2010

The highlights layer fills the shadows of the picture layer beneath it.
Although the background of the highlight layer is black (see Step 4),
by setting the layer's
Blending Options to 'Lighten' only the highlights are visible.

6.) The layer's Opacity was lowered until the blend was perfect.

The finished print from the Epson® 2200 (left)
looks very close to the original (right) printed on an old HP machine.

What's perfect? Only a test print can tell you that. You can't see a faithful representation of these kinds of shadow details on a monitor. However, being able to control the intensity of the highlights with a simple adjustment of Opacity gives total control to this important visual element while printing.

Having the highlights (and shadows) on separate layers allows precise manipulation of the image to precisely control the amount of ink flowing to each pixel.

Photography Beats Scanning

The mark of a good print is being able to see into the shadows and highlights. The more details the higher the quality.

I explained to Monica that in the future her work would print better if the originals were photographed rather than scanned.

Traditional photomechanical methods are the only way to get consistency from one capture to the next. Consistency is coin of the land in the realm of collage... at least for giclée printers. A collage is like a side-by-side comparison on steroids. Without consistency, you'll never make any money. Imagine all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle having different looks!

Who's Flying the Plane?

Executive Jet Aviation Inc. annual report cover © Douglas Mesney 1973
Do you think these jets are flying on autopilot?
Scanners use algorithms that analyze images and calculate the 'right' levels, curves and colors. It will do its best to capture the entire dynamic tone range of any picture put in front of it. But it can't, for two reasons:

1.) The dynamic tone range of the picture being scanned probably exceeds the exposure limits of the capture device's sensors

2.) Digital capture devices are set for mid-range 'average' tones. They are easily thrown off by too much of any color, but especially lights and darks. For example, small patches of tone on large black or white fields are tough for auto anything.

Although scanners have image control settings, that is not the problem. You can dial away until you get the first one just right. Then comes the real problem.

Consistently Inconsistent

Consistency from one scan to the next is the problem. There isn't any.

Trying to make all of Monica's 14 scans look alike with the kind of precision she likes would be a daunting task with or without auto pilot. Think about the total number of adjustments that were made by the scanner, then make a permutation of that number. The result is the number of possible combinations you might have to go through for each and every one of the 14 scans.

Well, no thank you. While your doing it the digital way I'll photograph all 14 originals and go work out... or maybe I'll go fishing... I'll bring my cell phone... you can call.

Fortunately Severed Head is supposed to have (ever-so-slightly) inconsistent color from print to print, so that was a 'break' for us.

The 'heads up' of this story is don't be too quick to sever the connections with old machines. What better way to recreate the Retro look than with retro tools and techniques? And how many times a year do folks come into your studio asking for the Retro look? Do the math and it'll be back to the future for you too.

To speed you on your way, learn more about photomechanical production techniques for giclée printing in my book, Giclée Prepress - The Art of Giclée. Pixel-perfect printing in thirteen steps. Read a sample at

Coming Attractions

See more of Monica Gripman's work soon right here. We can't show you the finished piece, Severed Head, until green-lighted by her gallery ... so re-connect with us soon to see it!

Next blog features the capture and printing of Monica's most recent encaustic artwork made as a preview for an installation piece entitled Mexican Indian.

Friday, November 19, 2010

How Wide Is Your Rainbow?

T0 and Fro © Douglas Mesney 2004 - 2010
They say there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Although I've never found one, that could be my fault, not the rainbow's. After all, where is the end of the rainbow? ...or anything?

They also say that art mimics life. It certainly does when it comes to rainbows and giclées. That is, how wide a rainbow can you print? ...Not how long or wide, rather how many colors? ...Huh?

The Gamut Gauntlet

Is there a person alive who hasn't painted or drawn a rainbow? It's something everyone has done. So let me ask you, how many colors do you need for a rainbow?

Kids finger-paint rainbows all the time using just red, yellow and blue. However the color spectrum we call a rainbow needs six, at least:

● Purple
● Blue
● Green
● Yellow
● Orange
● Red

I guess you have to add black and white to the list for technical accuracy, although these colors can't be found in a rainbow.

Primary Colors Create Secondary Colors

Without light there are no colors. Colors are thus made of light. The primary colors of light at red, green, and blue (RGB). Equal parts of all three create white light. The absence of any is black. All other colors are made by adding together combinations of red, green and blue light... thus RGB are called 'additive colors'.

As light falls on the world around us it is reflected off the objects around us back into our eyes. When white light falls upon a green leaf, the leaf absorbs blue and red light and reflects back only the green portion of the visible light spectrum. Thus, reflected light produces colors by subtracting parts of the spectrum, and are thus called 'subtractive colors'.

Looking at a light source you see additive colors.
Looking at a picture of a light bulb you see subtractive colors.
Photographic processes create rainbow colors by combining red, green and blue... the primary colors of light. When combined, the primary colors of light produce the secondary colors that artists use... cyan, magenta, and yellow. (This subject is covered in depth in my book, Giclée Prepress - The Art of Giclée and in previous blogs).

On the left, Cyan Magenta and Yellow (primary printing colors) combine to form Red, Green and Blue. On the right, the Red, Green and Blue (primary light colors) combine to form Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. Notice the differences when all colors are added together. Inks produce black. Light produces white. That is why RGB colors are called 'additive' and ink colors are called 'subtractive'.
As you well know, mixing pigment colors together produces other colors. Eventually you get muddy brown gray yuk if you mix them all.

(Theoretically, mixing all subtractive colors produces black. However this is not a perfect world, so printers use black ink to add what their less-than-perfect colors can't produce by themselves.)

Dynamic Tone Range

The number of colors you can make from the number of colors you have is called a gamut. It is the dynamic tone range of the picture... the sum total of all colors.

Gamuts are like a rainbow, which is also called a 'spectrum'.

The colors we can see -- called the Visible Spectrum -- are only part of an infinitely wide 'energy rainbow'. The ends of the visible rainbow extend out beyond blue-purple to into TV, radio and x-rays. Beyond red is Infrared, etceteras.

Even the visible spectrum is infinite. There is no way to reproduce all the colors that exist in the visible spectrum or any real rainbow. So what is a poor printer to do?

Historically, printers have recreated rainbow colors using only four colors:

● Magenta
● Cyan
● Yellow
● Black

(The fifth color, white, comes from the paper. Whatever the paper's color, that's 'white' for the picture printed upon it.)

Those four inks are the fewest needed to get a faithful representation of the colors in the world around us that is acceptable to most people... until digital imaging turned the world of fine arts printing upside down. The rainbow hasn't looked the same since.

Twist of Fate © Douglas Mesney 2004 - 2010
You might ask, why use the fewest colors? Cost is the main part of the answer. More anything costs more. Mechanics also played a big role in the case of printing. You've seen those old-fashioned printing presses, right? Big monster machines. More colors would make them even bigger.

There are traditional printing presses that will handle seven, eight, or even nine colors and or varnishes (varnishes are considered 'colors'). They produce fabulous results, but hang onto your wallet. And what if you don't need 1,000 copies?

Even at the peak of perfection, traditional printing can only produce a finite number of colors... its gamut is thus limited to those colors. The gauntlet of gamut is never ending for artists, photographers and (especially) printers, all of whom seek the best color.

People build pictures by working on computer monitor using PhotoShop. The monitor produces an entirely different kind of colors than does any printing press. To be able to recreate the kinds of colors people see on monitors as closely as possible requires a very wide dynamic tone range, or gamut. Most printing processes are challenged by the gamut gauntlet producing disappointing results compared to what is possible with giclée.

Giclée Throws Down the Gamut Gauntlet

The limitations of traditional printing have to do with how they apply ink, which is by contact. At some point the paper and ink-carrying plate are pressed together. The better the squeeze, the better the printing, generally speaking.

The physical forces involved in contact and squeezing put physical limitations on how small you can print dots. At a certain 'point' the dot is so small that it either breaks or becomes like a needle. It's like paint brushes... at a certain point you can't get finer.

Spray painters don't have that problem. The guy that invented giclée probably knew that. Who was he? Nobody can say. Nobody can even tell you what the word 'giclée' means, actually. More importantly is what it has come to mean.

As I explain in my book, 'giclée' means 'spray' in French. That loose translation explains the ink-jet technology used for giclée printing. Ink-jet printers spray the ink onto paper and other substrates. That is a fascinating story in and of itself, but not for now.

The Secret Is In The Dots

Spraying ink requires no contact or squeeze... so there is almost no limitation on 'dot' size. In fact, one traditional printing dot is replaced with up to 2880 'micro dots' by the giclée process. Smaller dots mean greater detail.

Traditional printing dots are shown in the top row. Notice the white space around the sharp-edged dots. White space dilutes the color saturation, placing a limit on perceived color depth. The second row shows sprayed dots. Notice there is no white space. Also notice the additional colors produced where the sprayed colors overlap.
Sprayed colors generate additional tones (I call them 'rare tones') where the sprays overlap. Furthermore, by overlapping the spray patterns there need be no white space between dots (pixels). The result is more colors and more saturation (less white space).

Who can forget those first Epson® ink-jet printers back in the 1990's? Their intense color saturation and gamut was eye opening and caught the attention of artists and photographers. Suddenly there was desktop fine-arts printing... Giclée had thrown down the gauntlet on gamut.

Looking at some of those early prints now one can see how much better today's giclée printers have become. Their appearance, compared to modern prints, is like the difference between the sRGB and Adobe 1998 color gamuts; the former is more saturated and contrasty looking than the latter.

The migration of digital imaging technology is relentless. Every new generation of digital imaging devices and giclée printers widens the gamut. Widening the gamut is the same as making the rainbow wider. Who wouldn't be happy about that?

As more colors as added, the rainbow expands and gets smoother.

More Colors is More Better

Everything has its limits... even ink-jet. Despite the much improved gamut and near photographic detail of the early giclée printers, the prints definitely had their own look, one which lack subtlety compared to what we can do today. It all has to do with the number of colors.

You can draw a picture of a rainbow with three colors, but seven is better as we noted earlier. More colors in the mix produces more rare tones as a result.

At a certain point a light went off in somebody's head and they realized that the only way to significantly expand a printing gamut is by adding more ink colors. The early Epson® printers for example used seven colors, adding light magenta, light cyan, and light black to the normal CMYK mix. These significantly increased both the printing gamut and Epson's sales curve. But that was in the last century.

Since then nobody has looked back. More and more colors are being added, making it possible to print a wider and wider spectrum. But what does that really mean?

If you do prepress for fine arts printing, as we do here at Vashon Island Imaging (, then you know how hard it is to reproduce the look of certain paints and pigments used by artists. You can get ever so close, but there's always something that differentiates the original from the copy. That makes sense because the giclée printer is not using the same kinds of pigments as the original artwork. Any good forger knows that.

It stands to reason therefore that the more colors that you have the better rainbow you can paint... or print.

Visible Differences

A good example of what I am talking about is the visible difference between ink generations and printing machines.

Fanned out tests of Jacquelyn Lown's Between the Worlds clearly show visible differences between inks and machine generations. From the bottom up: the new Epson® 9900, then the older 9880, then two prints made with an Epson® 4800. The lower is before a firmware update and the uppermost a print made by the same machine with firmware update (ironically, it is not as good as the print made before the update, in my opinion).

Even at the tiny scale in this blog it is easy to see the differences between these prints made by Epson® printers only 1/2 a generation apart. Shocking, isn't it? Which is better? That is for you to decide. But what if you didn't have to decide? ...Huh?

A new printer can closely simulate the look of an old machine, but not vice versa. That is because the newer the machine the wider its gamut. If you have more colors you can choose to use less. But if you have fewer colors you cannot choose to use more, eh?

'Best Color In Town'

That's our motto at Vashon Island Imaging... 'Best color in town'.
Having a motto like that you have to deliver, or the jig is up.

What we deliver is a full range of services for fine arts reproduction and the 'art of business printing'. Some compare us with so called 'service bureaus' but we go far beyond that at Vashon Island Imaging. Our service range is total... from nothing to finished product... like a rabbit out of a hat.

But there's no 'magic' to it, actually. In the end it's a simple matter of colors. The more you have the more you can make.

Most of our customers are artists and photographers who will migrate to the best color wherever it is. Our goal is to be their destination. You've heard of a 'destination restaurant'? How about a destination print shop?

Rainbow Rider © Douglas Mesney 2004 - 2010

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Just as their car can make or break a limousine driver's reputation, having the latest gear will help drive sales for a giclée printer.

Using contemporary gear is also an insurance policy, in several ways. Being under warranty is one kind of insurance. Customer confidence is the other. Who likes stepping into an old airplane?

Ok, so it's only a giclée, not an airplane. Nobody is going to die. But it gives customers a warm and fuzzy feeling to see anything new. It also gives them confidence to know that they are getting the finest quality available. These days that kind of extra confidence is sometimes needed to keep your shop their destination.

So put it together and what have you got ...a customer POV (point of view) that boils down to 'who’s got the best color, eh?'

That means the widest rainbow wins. Now about that pot of gold...

For a giclée printer, the pot of gold is the giclée printer. That's the fundamental truth of the matter... The machine produces the gold for you.

Fundamental truths are irreducible and now we have the first two of four irreducible fundamentals important to fine arts printers and publishers:

1.) Printing machines produce gold
2.) Bigger rainbows are better

Can you see where I am going with this by now? If not, let me clarify. Besides 'just' information I like each blog to have some socially redeeming value.

The socially redeeming value of this particular blog is to provide a glimpse of our reality at the crossroads of simultaneous technological and economic migration. To stay in business you have to be relevant. Being relevant requires participation in the migration, going with the herd. Oh... It's all so existential.

Existential Questions

Technology has changed buying and shopping habits. If you are a printer, like I am, you can never forget that today's customers have a new modus operandi. They know that they will be able to get what they want at the price they want from somebody somewhere... and that the web will make it easy and fast. That's why there isn't a retailer alive who isn't scared to death by

Two more new fundamentals truths are applicable to the new MO:

3.) Instant anything available now for less
4.) Loyalty has no monetary value

That shift in the shopping paradigm poses existential questions for every business, particularly those having to do with the Arts in any way. Giclée printers are particularly venerable because their art is digitally made thus a captive to technological change. The art of giclée is a work in progress. If you don't migrate with the technology, your customers may migrate from you.

Add all four fundamentals together and they clearly spell: upgrade or die. Given the choice, I prefer being a giclée printer. Thus and so, Vashon Island Imaging has upgraded to the new 10-color Epson® 9900.

New Epson® 9900

It takes a lot to make me invest in anything these days, but my heart is with the product and this machine's gamut is so much wider than the older Epson® 9880 that I simply could not resist.

Besides the rationale presented above, there's the creative, which is hallowed ground for me. If for creative reasons alone, the bigger rainbow always wins. Well, nearly always.

As far as I am concerned there is no such thing as too many colors.

The new Epson® 9900 uses 10 colors, two more than the 9880. The new colors that have been added are a green and an orange. That widens the gamut for all tones in those families. Extra gamut will be very useful in controlling those hues.

Epson® long ago got blues and magentas under control. By that I mean colors with life and depth... vibrancy and vitality... luminosity. Its a subtle difference nearly impossible to see or even duplicate on a monitor.

Compared to blues and magentas, greens and reds suffered more. By 'suffered' I mean the results lacked the same 'life' and 'airiness' as did the blues and magentas. So improvement of those tone green and red portions of the dynamic tone range has been a sought-after change that's welcome.

Here's what Epson® has to say about the new inks:

“The Epson® Stylus Pro 9900 (44-inch) printer incorporates our latest achievements in photographic ink jet technology. By combining the precision of our MicroPiezo TFP™ print head with the extraordinary performance of Epson UltraChrome® HDR ink, our newest generation of Epson® Stylus Pro printers continues to represent a level of technology unprecedented in Epson's history.

Epson® UltraChrome HDR represents our latest generation of pigment ink technology. Now utilizing ten colors - including an all-new Orange and Green - Epson® UltraChrome HDR ink produces the widest color gamut ever from an Epson Stylus Pro printer. Even more remarkable, combining Epson® UltraChrome HDR ink with our new Epson® AccuPhoto™ HDR screening technology dramatically raises the level of print quality and once again sets a new benchmark standard for photographic reproduction.”

The new Epson® 9900 assures our customers that at Vashon Island Imaging we live up to our motto -- 'Best Color In Town'.

Come and see the new Epson® 9900 at Vashon Island Imaging during the upcoming Vashon Island Art Studio Tour in December.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hats Off to JVH Technical

My hat's off to JVH Technical ( Their recent Digital Festival was a not-to-be missed event that I damn nearly missed.

JVH Technical is one of the giclée world's best-kept secrets, if you ask me. Maybe you have heard of John Harrington, but I hadn't until last week when I discovered he and JVH while sourcing an Epson 9890.

During our conversation John invited me to attend the JVH Digital Festival ...and to bring my book, Giclée Prepress - The Art of Giclée. How could I refuse an offer like that? So I attended and boy was I happy that did. This event was totally focused on people like us... giclée printers.

JVH Technical specializes in wide format printing and they have everything for that specialty. You know how it is in this business, usually you source one thing here and other there. Not so with JVH.

Harrington carries everything you need from canvas to coatings, and everything in between. Not only that, they actually know what their products do and dare to recommend things.

Manufacturers attending the Digital Festival included:

● Epson®
● Canon®
● Premier Imaging®
● Chromix®
● Hasselblad®
● Colorbyte®
● Onyx
● Seal/Neschen®
● Microsoft®
● Avery®

On the educational and informational side of the equation attendees included:

● Mark Fitzgerald / Digital Darkroom (instructor and author)
● Ron Martinsen / (relevant photo news & discounts)
● Randy Hufford / master printer and educator
● Douglas Mesney / author Giclée Prepress - The Art of Giclée

The two-day annual JVH Technical event isn't just a bunch of the same ol' guys selling the same ol' stuff. There's a fully packed two-day seminar program with people who really know what they are talking about... talking to an audience that understands what they are talking about. That's a confluence that's all too rare anymore. But wait, there's more...

Prized Event

A highlight of the event is a picture contest...judged by the audience, made up of about 200 loyal Harrington customers (more like fans), all picture professionals.

You couldn't imagine the variety of pictures. There were about 150 entries, from a 5 X 7 printed on an old Epson® 2200 to giant murals printed on the very latest 9900 and 11900 machines. The prints displayed every conceivable level of technical prowess. Some prints were amateurish... those people need my book! However, there's no accounting for people's tastes and possibly what I see, as printing failures, are others' great successes.

The contest prizes were awesome. Folks won iPad®s, Dell® Network Computers, LG® monitors, and so on. There were many smiles as the winners were announced. (Door prizes were of equally high quality.)

Stretching Things

Good trade shows and seminars always stretch one's imagination and this event was no exception. From artwork and advice to technical innovations, the JVH Digital Festival is targeted precisely for printers. Harrington's marketing background serves him well in this enterprise. He has assembled everything a giclée printer needs, and more.

The most interesting new device at the show was, for me, an affordable (about $3K) canvas-stretching machine... the 'Tensador II' invented by John A. Morse, who was there demonstrating it. The compact machine has a very small footprint and handles canvases up to 48-inches wide (another model goes to 60-inches).

If you follow my blog or have read my book you have heard my warnings about what can happen to your thumbs and fingers if you do a lot of stretching. I will be saving my shekels for one of these little sweeties (hmmm, Christmas is coming...).

All In the Family

JVH Technical is a family affair. For example, Ryan Harrington, John's son, does all the install work (which is complimentary) and Kathy Harrington, his wife, was manning the welcome desk (and I suspect a whole lot more).

Although I was in the Embassy Suites hotel, I felt more like I was coming into the Harrington's home and that everyone there was John Harrington's extended family. Even though I didn't know 99% of the folks there, when I walked in I felt like I had joined a circle of friends. Certainly, John Harrington is their guru and they treat him with star-like qualities.

The giclée printing 'industry' needs more people like John Harrington and more events like the JVH Digital Seminar.


If you're like me, events like the Harrington's Digital Festival always touch your life in some meaningful way... helping you to make key decisions. This was one of those.

What I took away from the event was a clearer picture of the people I write for... people like you. I started writing because of the repetitive nature of the prepress work I do at Vashon Island Imaging, my printing company. There I continue to notice people making the same mistakes over and over again.

Most of my customers never heard of prepress before discovering Vashon Island Imaging. Most of them just hear that we do good repro work and bring their stuff to us. Fair enough. They are artists for the most part, not printers. Their naiveté is therefore excusable.

However, what astounded me was that most of the professional image-makers at the JVH Digital Festival didn't know what prepress is either. Huh? These were people who spent thousands of dollars on giclée printing machines. They didn't understand the fundamental concept(s) of prepress -- even though they just came out of an all-day seminar about digital printing!

That is like finishing cooking school without knowing why bread rises.

The Big Disconnect

The 'disconnect' between people and their printers stems from the fact that nobody teaches how to print. They teach about printers... not about printing.

90% of the high-profile giclée printing presenters are talking about 'buttons' 90% of the time. If this happens, push this. If that happens, push that.

You might ask... 'Why?'... or, 'How does that happen?' In that case they will explain in great detail how the result is from the device or algorithm. Well, it is, but....

Never do they explain why you needed to push the button in the first place or what actually happens when you do.

For example, with all those experts present I thought it the perfect time to ask if anybody knew why a 44-inch Epson® printer stops at 84 inches, requiring the purchase of an expensive RIP software package to make prints longer than that.

What defines the limit? Is it a pixel count, RAM, the OS or what? If you Google® that question you will quickly see that not many people out there know the answer. But I figured this crowd would.

Predictably, 90% of the answers had to do with button pushing. However, John Harrington remembered a formula that had to do with the Windows® operating system itself. He called on Brad Gibson ( who works at Microscoft®. Brad confirmed that in some instances (not all) the length limit stems from the OS. What about a Mac? I wanted to ask ...but before I could they moved on to other subjects.

PhotoShop® uses a 16-bit drawing space in which the image to be output is bitmapped and then spooled to the printer. The size of that 16-bit space limits the size of the bitmap. Our 9880 can't print past 84 inches at 240 dpi without the use of a RIP (we use Colorburst®).

Using RIP software solves the problem because the way a RIP processes the image, it is delivered to the printer 'line by line'... not as a giant bitmapped image.

There are a couple of non-RIP alternatives:

1.) Print from Acrobat
2.) Lower the printing res
3.) Select the 'Coarse Rendering' in Epson® software.

Note that 'Print Preview' does NOT show the spooled file. Instead it shows a representation of it based on your printer setting adjustments, like margins, page size, etc…

OK, that was a pretty specific question. Still, 90% of that audience of professional image-makers didn't know the answer. Need I say more about the subject of prepress?

Adobe®, Epson®, Canon®, Nikon® and the rest of them have done such an amazing job automating everything that 90% of the people are completely satisfied 90% of the time. It is only the lunatic fringe who want more than what they deliver so why bother? ...they probably mutter words like that behind our backs... either that or I am paranoid.

It seems that anyone who knows what prepress is must be older than 60, or so it seems... before automatic anything. Back then the only thing automatic was manual. I guess you could say, prepress is manual labor... something most people don't like it.

Prepress is to printing what cooking is to eating. If you don't know how to cook, your limited to what TV Dinners has to offer.

Hunger for Knowledge

Everyone hungers for knowledge. They flock to events like Harrington's to get new solutions for old problems, to find the latest and greatest.

There, they are sold new machines and taught how to use them. But they never learn how to actually print.

That is like a pilot learning about an airplane and how it works, but never learning about flight and how to fly. Or a chef learning about a stove instead of how to bake. 'What's the difference as long as we make bread?', you might ask. Quality would be the answer.

Most people buy packaged bread. Some make their own from scratch. The latter have control and can make choices that the former cannot.

Those that want control of their printing have to learn more than button pushing. As I explain in my book and classes, one file cannot serve all masters. People think that when they have nailed the picture they can go home and have dinner. Quaint concept.

How could only one picture file possibly look good in all media? The simple answer is that it can't. Any printing professional or prepress artist can tell you that. Every type of media and output device will make your picture look a little different. If that is OK then you need read no farther.

Prepress, at very least, is adapting the picture to look the same on any media you select. However, prepress can be much more than that.

Prepress is what makes some prints look luminous compared to others. Good prepress tweaks pictures to take advantage of a particular media-combination's strengths and avoid its weaknesses.

Automatic anything will only take you so far. Do you think precision flight teams like the Blue Angels® or Thunderbirds® are on autopilot?

Control Freak

Call me what you will, I want control. Ever since I was a kid I've pushed to find the limits, then stepped slightly over to see what happens. My need to control extends well into picture making and every aspect of it. Knowing the limits gives you control, and control brings with it the freedom of choice.

Dissatisfied with button pushing, I started diving deeper into digital when I came out of the darkroom back in the 1990's. 2003 was when I went wide. That was the year I dropped commercial audiovisual art in favor of printed fine art. A lot of other stuff was dropped too, but that's another story.

Attending an Epson® Academy in Vancouver, I got sold on the idea of big beautiful prints. I bought a second hand Epson® 7600 from Phil Borges (and in the process visited his fabulous studio on Mercer Island near Seattle). The printer was installed in Vancouver, making prints for sale at the Michael Goddard gallery there. My stuff complemented his and sold well enough to stay on the walls.

I had become a pretty good printer by the time the economy went bust and the gallery drowned in debt. With the market for my own work temporarily washed up, I turned my attention to other people's printing needs and opened Vashon Island Imaging.

Printing a wide range of work for an even wider range of clients, I began to notice common frequent errors made by just about everyone, and started teaching seminars to get to the root of the problems. Then during the seminars I realized that most lacked any knowledge of the fundamental principles of photography, to say nothing of printing photography. There are two sets of 'rules' involved... two different color systems... two different ways of looking at and seeing the world. No wonder folks get confused.

Like PhotoShop®, prepress is a world unto itself. The sophisticated prepress artist understands and takes into consideration things like the spectral behavior of media and coating surfaces... anything and everything that affects the total 'look' of a giclée.

That's when the idea of the book came to mind. Put everything that a giclée printer needs to know into a single book... a giclée bible. That's what I did. It took about a year and we published it last May. Then I immediately started this blog in order to keep the book current between bi-annual major updates and re-publishing.

For the sake of being complete, the book starts from a picture's creation, then explains in detail the processes of execution including capture, prepress, printing, finishing, display, and archiving. It’s an all-in-one kind of book. As I say, it's the 'Bible of Giclée'.

That is why the more I learn about John Harrington and JVH the more I am reminded of myself, Vashon Island Imaging, the book and this blog.

John Harrington and I both aspire to be 'synergists' ...that is, suppliers whose combined services provide a range that has a synergistic effect for customers.

If customers were to get the same services individually from different suppliers, the net effect would not be the same. Why? Because a full-range life involves the kind of gestalt that produces zeitgeist.

If you understand every aspect print creation, production, display, and archiving, then each aspect plays an intertwined role in every decision at every stage in the giclée printing process.

For example, how a print is displayed affects its black point. Is it under glass? ...What kind of lighting? Black point shift affects the overall contrast range of the picture, as perceived by viewers. Knowing those things you can adjust the print to look its best, as it will be seen.

It's like cooking and eating. Grandma's apple pie really did taste better... because she made it totally from scratch and controlled every step of production.

Understanding prepress, you'll turn off auto anything and take control of your printing, making it pixel perfect.Or, I'll eat my hat... (after I take it off for the Harringtons).