The Difference Between Pigment Prints and LightJet Digital C-Prints

Q: What is the difference between lightjet digital c-print and Giclee? Which is better quality? Thanks! ~ A. A.

LightJet uses laser light to expose chromogenic photographic paper, which is then chemically developed and fully cleansed to create the archival dyes that render the fine-art image.

Giclee printing uses electrical impulses to deposit archival pigments onto fine art substrates such as canvas or watercolor papers, similar in the way a home ink-jet sprays inks.

As for your question about which has better quality: Though you will find fans on both sides of the fence, neither is really lesser to the other for “quality” but they each have their differences that can be appreciated. Fine art photographers tend to prefer the LightJet Digital C-Print because the photographic print has a certain look and feel that works very well with the art-form and the color tends to be less artificially saturated and thus feels natural. Giclee Pigment Prints are often favored by fine artists due to the substrate selections of watercolor paper or canvas being closer to that of their original artwork. They both posses extremely high sharpness and wonderful color, contrast and detail. The Lightjet is continuous-tone and does not use dots, allowing for smoother tones and detail in highlights with richer saturation in the shadows. The Giclee Pigments allow for more mid-tone color saturation, especially in the yellows and magentas.

Lightjet and Giclee Pigment are both for reproduction of fine art, and exceed the quality of consumer level printing by significant margins. When combined with professional archival fine art substrates and the skills of a master printer the result is a genuine fine art print. Both prints are museum quality and as such, certificates of authenticity may be used with integrity.

Our LightJet and Giclee Pigment prints have been hung in fine art museums and the Smithsonian, so rest assured you are getting the “real deal’ in a fine art grade print regardless of your choice.

Image courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/47/Lens6a.svg/200px-Lens6a.svg.png

Giclee Fine Art Printing – Getting a Great Print Part 1 – Photography of Artwork

A Pigment print is a bit more than just an inkjet print. So what makes it fine art worthy? To qualify, the print must be achieved using archival grade pigmented inks on archival grade fine-art paper or canvas. While we love the look of the watercolor papers and canvas papers we don’t suggest using Giclee “photo papers”. For aesthetic reasons, we recommend that the artist get a fine art photographic print for that. But the quality of the fine art pigment print is not limited to the inks and papers you use. There is quite a bit more that goes into the craftsmanship than just the print alone.

There is a great many details that should be tended to, but the major areas can be broken down like this:

Photography of your artwork
Working the file before testing
Generating a worthy test print
Working the file again to refine the proof
Printing the final units or series

Each of these is important to understand so they may become an effective part of your workflow. Since there is a great deal of information to pass along,  I’ll split the content into a multi-part series.

Photography of art work

Every step in the production chain of your fine art edition is critical, but some steps, if improperly done, can be disastrous to the final viewer experience. The first step, photography of your artwork, is an excellent example. This step is the largest determining factor to the faithful reproduction of your original art. To create a great pigment print, the photography of the artwork should be:

  • Focused properly using high-end lenses
  • shot using a strudy tripod in a vibration free environment
  • photographed using the sweet-spot of the lens
  • in some cases, polarized light and or special lens filters may be required
  • exposed correctly with a critical attention to detail
  • evenly lit using the proper lights
  • correctly white balanced
  • shot in the proper file format and with sufficient resolution
  • shot in a colorspace that is large enough to capture the full range of the painting and supports the full range of the Pigment print

The right glass

Shooting with inferior lenses may result in various distortions, such as smearing around the edges, chromatic aberrations – where some colors focus differently than others, barrel or pin-cushion distortion, lens flares and overall lack of saturation and/or contrast.  Shooting with prime lenses and pro-level equipment will provide the highest possible image integrity and result in a file that achieves the closest honesty to the original.

Image courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/47/Lens6a.svg/200px-Lens6a.svg.png

Chromatic aberrations of cheaper lenses result in out of focus images with color fringing.

Image courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/91/Apochromat.svg/200px-Apochromat.svg.png

Proper apo-chromatic focus results in all wavelengths (colors) focusing on the same plane for maximum sharpness and detail.

 

Image courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/66/Chromatic_aberration_%28comparison%29.jpg

Bottom photo clearly shows effect of apo-chromatic aberrations.

Distortions, or bending of the image are another issue with lesser quality lenses with “pincushion” and “barrel” being the most common. Pincushion distortion has the effect of the center of the image being further away than the edges while barrel distortion is just the opposite. With barrel distortion, the center of the image appears closer to the viewer than the edges.

Image courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5b/Pincushion_distortion.svg/200px-Pincushion_distortion.svg.png

Pincushion distortion created converging lines towards the center of the image

Image courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/63/Barrel_distortion.svg/200px-Barrel_distortion.svg.png

Barrel distortion creates diverging line near the center of the image

 

A quality image capture is not dependent exclusively on a good camera/lens combination.

A high quality pro level tripod is a must for the artist who is serious about photography of art

A high quality pro level tripod is a must for the artist who is serious about photography of art, and they are expensive.

All elements in the photographic process are important. For example: how the camera and art work are handled during the exposure process will add a measurable difference to the final product.

A good solid vibration free tripod is a must-have if you are serious about photographing your own work.  Any vibration in the camera or the original artwork during exposure will result in “motion-blur” that will visibly carry over to your reproduction prints. While lesser tripods may be appealing just because of their price, they are susceptible to vibration, “ringing”, sagging and slipping during exposure. Think of it this way, if cheapo gear would lead to professional results, then why would there be a need for “pro” gear, and why would the pros invest the top grade gear?

If you want to get the best looking print, and your are committed to doing your own photography of your art do yourself and your art buyers a big favor and use the gear that will get you fine art quality instead of drugstore quality.

A stable support for your artwork is equally important. Any movement in your art during exposure will result in motion blur issues that will leave the image looking out of focus or double-exposed. While it may be tempting to take your art outdoors for the photo session, keep in mind that your painting is much like a sail in the wind. The slightest breeze will result in movement in the artwork. Heavier breezes or gusts may damage your art. And shooting with only one light-source, such as the sun, does not provide even lighting across the entire painting. I know this sounds crazy, but it has to do with what is called “angle of reflection” This is basically a measurement of the angle the light-path takes as it reflects away from the subject towards the viewer or camera and it is always equal to the angle of incidence (the angle the light path takes to get to the subject).

The propensity of light falling on a subject will reflect away at an angle equal to that of it's source.

The propensity of light falling on a subject will reflect away at an angle equal to that of it’s source.

Light falling on your canvas is more likely to scatter in a direction away from the light source. So let’s take the example to the right. The light source, in this case the sun, is to the left of the painting and the camera is directly in front of it. As we move across the canvas from left to right, we have less light reflecting in the direction of the camera lens. This results in the right side appearing darker than the left. This is called “fall-off”. Our eyes and brains adjust for fall-off for us, so we tend not to see it with the naked eye. While much of the light will “scatter” off in multitudes of directions, it is not enough to eliminate fall-off.

Since our light source is high and to the left of the subject, the brightest area will also be high and to the left.

Since our light source is high and to the left of the subject, the brightest area will also be high and to the left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shooting indoors gives you the greatest control over your environment for lighting and stability. When possible, setup your tripod on a concrete floor. Wood floors have flex and tend to amplify vibrations like a spring-board. If you must setup on a wooden floor, try to locate the load bearing supports under the floor and set your tripod in that area to minimize vibration. The farther you are away from the supports, the more amplified the vibrations.

Stay tuned for the next post in the series on Proper Lighting and Exposure. You can subscribe to our newsletter or via RSS to be notified automatically.

 

 

 

 

Getting the Best Possible Print from Your Fine Art Lab. Part 1 of 5

The end result of a great print is always the sum of it’s parts.

Every step along the way, from the click of the shutter through file preparation, all the way to print presentation choices, affect the visual appeal of the print. This author/artist believes that a fine art print does not lie strictly in the quality of composition and subject and use of light all brought together by the skill and talent of the artist, but also in a higher level of reproduction print quality.

Any factors that diminish the color fidelity and detail of an image, in my opinion, risk pushing the print away from fine art grade into Just Another Print. In other words, A fine image needs a fine print to qualify as fine art. Selling cheap, or poor prints as fine art is to me, analogous to selling posters as fine art.  The phrase “best possible” is a bit elusive, as “best” is often subjective. Meaning that you and I may have differing opinions of what an optimum print looks like. So knowing that the target may be moving subjectively, let’s look at what can be controlled to yield YOUR ideal of the perfect print.

Get the exposure right.

Proper exposure leads to the highest possible color fidelity with the greatest number of available levels of density. Under exposure leads to noise and grain in the image, while overexposure leads to loss of highlight information. Often we hear the cry of “I’ll just fix it in Photoshop!” While software offers us access to many tools that allow the user to attempt compensation for exposure issues, they will not fix the loss of fidelity or restore detail that is lost during improper exposure. The bulk of the density and color can be brought around from poor exposure to acceptable ranges, but the finer levels of information are lost forever. Use a quality calibrated hand-held meter or carefully watch your in-camera histograms to ensure your highlights, assuming your image is supposed to have them, fall below 100% white and you should be good to go.

Part 2: Is file format – tiff or jpeg –  important?

Leave me your comments. I would love to hear from you.

medium resolution

How big can I print my file?

Here is another great question we hear quite often. Sometimes more than once a day. So it seems low resolution file showing pixelsa relative bit of information to pass along here to our blog reader friends.

There are two valid answers to this, depending on whether we look at this as a relative issue or a subjective one. As a relative issue, we use math to compare number of file pixels versus output resolution. Subjectively we look at quality as simply a matter of personal taste – what I like to call “The quality to pain threshold”. Or how big can we go before the quality drops to where it becomes painful to look at or pay for.

First, in either point of view, image quality is more than just the number of pixels contained in the medium resolutionfile. For a simple example; a modern 24 mega-pixel file shot out-of-focus will be of lesser quality than a properly focused 4 mega-pixel file.

Let’s look at the relative approach first, since most folks like easy and firm answers, such as 2+2 always = 4, and George Washington was the first US prez.

The easy answer is achieved with simple math:

File pixel dimension ÷ minimum input resolution = output dimension.

Consider this:
The example camera has a pixel dimensions of 2000×3000 (6 mega-pixel)
and the example device wants a minimum of 300 ppi (pixel per inch) file resolution.Full resolution file uncropped

2000÷300 = 6.66″
3000÷300 = 10.00″
The largest maximum quality print size would be: 6.67″ x 10.0″

If your printer recommends a minimum of 150 ppi:

2000÷150 = 13.33″
3000÷150 = 20.00″
The largest minimum quality print size is 13.33″ x 20″

If your file is from a 24 mega-pixel camera with dimensions of 4000×6000:

4000÷150 = 26.66″
6000÷150 = 40.00″
The largest minimum quality print size would be 26.66″ x 40.00″

With the subjective approach, there are limited fixed answers. The size of output is usually limited by one or more of the following factors:

* The physical limitations of the printing device.
* Your budget.
* How ugly you are willing to accept it.

At some point the cost of the print will break your budget. That is a hard and fast limitation. So that’s easy – you can print as big as you want to go as long as you can afford the print.
The printing device or medium will support a maximum specific size. For instance, some ink jets will not print any larger than 40″ wide, but they will go several hundred inches long. You can’t go any larger unless you pick a different printing device or you print in multiple tiles and deal with matching the seams. If you are willing to do the latter, then your budget is again your limit.

The subjectivity comes in with your opinion. How big is too big before the quality drops below your level of acceptance – your threshold of pain. Or you might call it the “Yuck factor”. When you get to a level of enlargement that degrades the quality to a point where you don’t like the results, you have hit your threshold of pain. In essence, you see the print and say “Yuck! That’s one ugly print and I’m not willing to pay money for it”

What does the yuck point look like? I can’t answer that for you, only you can. My level of acceptability may be different than yours. A professional’s need for quality is likely higher than that of the average consumer due to experience and training. Because of this experience, the professional will usually hit his/her level of pain sooner than the consumer.

Black and White Chromagenic Prints

Black & White Chromagenics Offer Stunning Tonal Range and Detail.

Using a chromagenic process to printBlack and White Chromagenic Prints Black & White on canvas offers visually stunning B&W Prints in the same sizes and pricing as we offer in all of our Gicleé Pigment Prints. You will be amazed at the beauty of the expanded tonal range and clarity of detail in these exhibition quality fine art  pigment prints. The standard features include continuous-tone like look, image permanence, tonal control and exquisite appearance while offering the unique advantage of greater dynamic range over conventional wet process printing.