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Converting Art into a Digital File

This post is presented courtesy Giclée Yoshimatsu at Giclée Yoshimatsu.

The Science of Digitizing Art

The two main processes for converting your 2D art into a digital file are photographing and scanning. In reality, they’re just two sides of the same coin. A scanner is simply a large, slow, bulky camera. In the old days (5 years ago,) dedicated, special purpose scanners costing $10,000 or more were the norm. They were old and outdated even then but shops kept using them because they had so much invested. The best known of these systems was Better Light. Their claim to fame was a scanning back (digital camera) that didn’t require or use a Bayer Filter meaning each pixel represented an uninterpolated color. The trade-off was that each scan took much longer to complete and it had to be attached to a computer to check framing and focus. Bottom line, it was a tedious, expensive and labor intensive process to digitize each piece of art.

Today, digital camera technology has advanced by leaps and bounds. Yet, many cameras still use Bayer filters, producing interpolated (less accurate) colors and AA (anti-aliasing) filters that induce slight blurriness to suppress moire.

pixel shift

The Pentax K-1 used in our studio incorporates Pixel Shift Technology to improve the color fidelity and sharpness of images. First, it has no AA filter so there’s no induced softness. If an AA filter is needed, it can be switched on electronically. This might be desirable for art on canvas with a distinct weave pattern and a light paint load that results in moire.

Secondly, for improved color fidelity, Pixel Shift Technology shifts the sensor below the Bayer Filter so that each photosite (light sensor) captures four pure color samples per image. The illustration above shows the sensor (gray base ) covered by a Bayer Filter. In a conventional camera, each photosite captures the light passed through one filter lens, Red, Green or Blue. These samples are then interpolated (fancy term for “mixed”) with surrounding photosites to create a single pixel.

Unfortunately, in electronics, noise is a fact of life. Think of noise as bits of contaminants on your palette. This noise alters the final color and creates problems in recreating light, dark, shadows, highlights and colors. To defeat this problem, Pixel Shift Technology takes a red image (1 above) then shifts the sensor down (2 above) to capture a green image with a green lens over each photosite. Then it shifts the sensor to the right (3 above) for a blue image and finally up (4 above) to capture a second green. In the end, it has four frames of  pure red, green, blue and green color data. There are two green frames because human vision is optimized for green, probably to distinguish predators that might be lurking in green fields or forests. These four frames are then combined to create a much more pure color rendition of the original color.

As you might image, moving a sensor by the width of one photosite (~4.88 μm) is an incredible feat of engineering precision. To do so 4 times in less than a second is beyond incredible.

But you’re asking WIIFM (what’s in it for me.) Bottom line, it’s less expensive to convert your art into a digital file because the colors are cleaner and purer from the get-go which means less photo editing time. The final image is also sharper and has better shadow and light details which give it depth. It also means less time to set up the capture because the camera is small and easy to position, manage and focus. It’s a win-win-win for your budget, your clients’ pocketbook and my sanity.

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Printer Profiles: Key to Accurate Colors

This post is presented courtesy Giclée Yoshimatsu at Giclée Yoshimatsu.

Monitors can display ~16.7 million colors (~1 billion for wide gamut displays) but inkjet printers use 6 to 10 discrete colors and print dots so close to each other that the human eye sees them as a continuous tone. Due to inherent limitations, inkjet printers can’t reproduce all 16.7 million colors of a monitor.

ProPhoto vs IJP

Wireframe is ProPhoto RGB color space, gray solid is typical inkjet printer color gamut.

The graph (left) compares ProPhoto RGB color space (wireframe) to a typical printer gamut (gray). ProPhoto is the largest common space used in digital photography and actually encompasses a bit more than the human eye can see. The gray shape inside depicts the gamut of a typical IJP. As you can see, the printer can’t reproduce huge swaths of color visible to the human eye.

Display vs ijp

Display color space (wireframe) versus IJP space

This next graph compares ~16.7 million colors of a monitor (wireframe) to the colors available on an IJP (gray). Although the number of colors appears roughly equal, there are large sections that don’t intersect. The black outline at the bottom shows IJP color boundary while the color outline shows the edges of the monitor color space. Notice how the spaces are mismatched.

When the computer tells the IJP to print a blue color outside the monitor space but inside the IJP space, all is well because the print will more closely match the original. The colors just weren’t visible on the monitor but the final print will be correct. However, when the IJP is sent commands to print dark blue to magenta tints outside the black IJP outline, the final print will not match what was seen on the monitor because the IJP can’t reproduce those colors. So, what to do?

This is where printer profiles come to the rescue. Profiles “map” colors so the printer knows when a color is outside it’s gamut (range) and what to do with it. “What to do” is determined by “rendering intent.” For fine art purposes, “perceptual” and “relative” are generally the most useful intents.

relative colorimetric

Relative Colorimetric rendering intent compress all out-of-gamut colors to the closest in-gamut point.

Relative Colorimetric “clips” the colors so all colors outside the gamut are mapped to the closest color in gamut. This preserves all the in-gamut colors relative to other colors but compresses all out-of-gamut colors. The result is loss of details in shadows, an issue for photographs but, usually, not so much in paintings.

 

perceptualPerceptual rendering intent maps all colors so that, while individual colors may have shifted slightly, the overall visual effect is retained. This works well for most photographs as shadow details are preserved while slight color shifts aren’t usually noticeable. It can work well for paintings as long as the artist understands colors may have shifted in order to preserve shadow details.

The closest analogy to illustrate the concept of printer profiles is crayons. If an artist uses a box of 128 crayons and then asks her printer to replicate the painting using a box of 24 crayons, some colors will have to be mixed using two or more crayons to approximate the original color. That, in a nutshell, is what printer profiles do.

 

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Lighting for Art Reproduction

This post is presented courtesy Giclée Yoshimatsu at Giclée Yoshimatsu.

All artists know that light is the key. Chiaroscuro is a known, understood, thoroughly documented and well accepted school of art that depends on light and dark. Indeed, without light, art would be as bland and boring as medical illustrations. Although chiaroscuro was known before the Renaissance, it came into its own during that period. Chiaroscuro enabled artists to depict volume, three dimensionality and realism.

In order to faithfully depict fine art for reproduction, light is the key to capturing the texture and realism of the art. Be it canvas, paper, wood, metal or other exotic surfaces, the texture adds to the original. There’s also the matter of the media ranging from acrylic to oil to watercolor to ink sketches to etchings and more. Adding volume, dimensionality and realism to reproductions enhances appeal and value.

The simplest, least expensive light is hazy sunlight that’s been filtered through a soft, even cloud layer or large diffuser. When such conditions are available, take your art outside and either lay it flat on the ground or hang it perpendicular against a neutral color wall. Of course, it’s also helpful if the weather cooperates by not being too hot or cold or windy or dusty. If such conditions are regularly present in your area, please let me know because I want to move there.

Most artists depend on a studio or home office to make photos of their art which can be a hassle of its own. If you have the budget, a large light panel mounted to the ceiling can emulate the sun but it needs several features. First, it should be dimmable and soft. A huge, bright light on a typical 8′ to 10′ home ceiling will be difficult to control. Second, it needs to be reasonably well color managed. The simplest color temperature is between 5000 Kelvin to 6500 Kelvin but, even more important is CRI or color rendering index. This tells you how faithfully color is seen compared to natural light. The best possible CRI is 100 and the lowest score for art reproduction is about 85. As a general rule, stay away from fluorescent lights. LEDs are pretty much the best choice today.

IMG_20200701_102017

LED light, adjustable from 2700 Kelvin to 5500 Kelvin with 2280 lumen output

Two inexpensive (~$73 ea) lights like the Yongnuo YN300 III (left) is all that’s needed for an indoor shoot. Position the lights on either side of your art at about 45 degrees and adjust the intensity so your exposure is good at about f/5.6 at whatever speed your camera requires in aperture or manual mode. Of course, this assumes your camera is mounted on a tripod to eliminate shake.

For about the same price, you might opt for an LED shop light like this Ryobi battery operated model at Home Depot. The downside is that it requires a battery or extension cord and isn’t dimmable. Also, CRI might not be as high as a light designed for photography. Whatever you use, always keep in mind, “Inverse square law” and  “Angle of incidence equals angle of reflection.”

One last word of advice. Don’t use flash, especially not the anemic camera top mounted flash found on many point & shoot and consumer dSLR cameras. Without going into a lot of detail, just trust me that it will be an exercise in frustration.

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Inkjet Technologies

This post is presented courtesy Giclée Yoshimatsu at Giclée Yoshimatsu.

For fine art reproduction purposes, there are just two major inkjet technologies. Both are known as drop-on-demand but differ significantly in design. Before we go there, let’s first examine basic inkjet technology.

Inkjet printers (ijp) work by spraying tiny droplets of ink through a nozzle onto media, aka substrate. By tiny, we are talking in terms of 3-5 picoliters. A picoliter is 1 trillionth or 1/1000000000000 of a liter. As you might imagine, a single picoliter by itself would barely be visible on a sheet of paper but, when combined with millions or billions of picoliter size dots, the result is a visible image.

IJPs combine these droplets in many ways including layers, side-by-side, overlap, random and other proprietary patterns as seen below to create a visible image. The dots are not arranged in neat rows and columns or some other discernible pattern.

 

Northlight_P7000 head

Each white pad has nozzles for two colors. This head had 10 colors.

Northlight_dot pattern

Not every nozzle fires every time so the dot pattern appears random.

Of course, there is a method to this seemingly random placement once the final image is visible. Also, no one except geeks views prints at this distance.

Now that you have an idea of the precision we’re dealing with, the monumental task of ejecting a 3 to 5 picoliter droplet at the exact moment to land at a precise location becomes clearer.

To add to the complexity, printers capable of creating fine art reproductions usually use between 6 to 10 inks. It’s not just one nozzle firing at a time. Depending on the printer’s native resolution, the head can have anywhere from ~3000 to ~6000 nozzles and fire up to 50,000 droplets per second. Finally, keep in mind, the paper is being advanced as the drops are deposited so it’s a moving target, if you will.

This is where the two major brands diverge. Canon uses a thermal process while Epson uses a piezoelectric mechanism. Whether one is better than the other is a matter of debate and preference.

Canon’s FINE (Full-photolithography Inkjet Nozzle Engineering) print heads use heat to propel ink droplets out of the nozzle. A chamber above the nozzle fills with ink. At the precise moment, a heating element above the chamber heats the ink causing it to rapidly expand and shoot out of the nozzle. Think about that for a moment. Six thousand chambers full of ink being heated to a precise temperature that causes the ink to expand and jet out of six thousand nozzles to place ink at precisely the desired location then refills with more ink to prepare for the next droplet. This cycle repeats as much as 50,000 times per second.

Epson TFP print heads, on the other hand, uses a proprietary piezoelectric system for ejecting ink at about the same rate. In Epson’s system a piezo element flexes when an electrical charge is applied. Based on this phenomenon, a tiny ink chamber is fitted with a piezo element. With the chamber full of ink, an electrical charge causes the piezo element to flex which, in turn, forces a droplet of ink out the nozzle. As the piezo element returns to its original state, it creates a vacuum that sucks more ink into the chamber.

Photos in this article are ©Keith Cooper, Northlight-Images.co.uk, a commercial photographer and printing expert based in Leicester, UK and used with permission.

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Fine Art Reproduction Inkjet Paper

This post is presented courtesy Giclée Yoshimatsu at Giclée Yoshimatsu.

There are literally hundreds of different media types (paper, canvas, poster board, metal & vinyl) in many surface textures (matte, satin matte, smooth matte, glossy, high gloss, linen, etc.) Many are available in both cut sheets as well as rolls. Some printers pride themselves in being media mavens, always ready to suggest a different paper or canvas. Giclee Yoshimatsu specializes in reproducing fine art that closely matches the original. Since most paintings and drawings are produced on paper or canvas, this is what we focus on. At a client’s requests, we can produce prints on other media but that may delay the process while printer profiles are created, tested and verified.

Paper for fine art reproduction generally has a matte surface but, even among matte media, there are significant differences. Matte smooth is different from matte textured and different still from matte velvet. In canvas media, there are matte, satin and, even, glossy surfaces. That doesn’t mean the canvas is smooth and slick like a photographic paper, just that the ink-receptive coating is satiny or glossy. The underlying canvas is still textured, just like canvas used for paintings.

Another criteria of critical importance to fine art reproductions is the inclusion or absence of OBAs (optical brightening agents,) chemical additives used to create an appearance of a brighter, whiter finish to the media. Since most media are produced from wood pulp, the natural color tends to age toward yellow/orange. OBAs are added to make the media appear whiter and brighter. The downside of OBAs is that they comprise unstable molecules that can yellow over time, leading to discoloration. For this reason, we recommend that only non-OBA papers be used for fine art reproductions you plan to sell.

Canvas can also have the same issue as most are made from natural products such as cotton, linen and flax. The same cautions apply to canvas prints containing OBAs, even when the print is coated and displayed under UV glass. To avoid OBAs, we recommend Epson Exhibition Canvas Natural (Matte, Satin or Gloss.) Below are two prints on Epson Exhibition Canvas Matte with OBAs. The one on the right is straight out of the printer with no protection while the one on the left has been sprayed with two coats of different varnishes. They’ve been left out in bright, hot summer sun for several weeks for an accelerated aging process. (These photos are simulations. I’ll post the true images in a few weeks.)

   

This is a good point to address varnishes. There many types of coatings and varnishes for fine art reproductions. I’ve tried about a dozen but, at this time, have reduced my choices to PremierArt Print Shield ($15 at ITSupplies,) PrintGuard ($18.95 at Dick Blick) and Krylon Conservation Varnish ($10.50 at Jerry’s Art-A-Rama.) I don’t yet have a favorite and am waiting for the results of long-term testing. Regardless, almost every print, paper or canvas, can benefit from a varnish coat. Many varnishes claim to make the print waterproof but, in general, a better term would “water resistant.”

Having said all this, keep in mind not all OBAs are the same and not all prints require the same longevity. If print permanence is not a primary concern, this may all be moot in your circumstances. To quote Prof. Walter Kotschnig from a speech at Holyoke College, 1937, …keep your minds open—“but not so open that your brains fall out.” Also, new OBAs from reputable companies are much better than older chemicals so it’s possible the OBA issue will fall by the wayside in the future.

Bottom line, we recommend heavy matte papers and natural canvas media without OBA from the company that produced the printer. Epson printers should use Epson media and Canon printers should use Canon media. As always, there are exceptions such as Hahnemuhle, Canson, Moab and a some others but their higher quality may not always justify their higher costs. The bottom line will almost always dictate the best cost/quality equation.

 

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