Digital Fine Art Reproduction: A Medium Comes of Age
Some History—

In England in the early 1990’s Graham Nash, of Crosby, Stills & Nash, purchased the ownership rights of the IRIS Graphics Printer. This purchase marked the end of Graham’s long search for the highest quality digital color printer ever made. As a photographer, Graham Nash was then one step closer to creating the highest quality, digitally produced and manipulated black & white photographs possible.

With control of the IRIS technology, Graham Nash with a team of artists and photographers rewrote the existing software enabling the Iris to print on a variety of museum quality papers. With this feature a new vision for Fine Art Digital Printmaking became a reality.

Other developments in the industry followed the IRIS technology. The Epson Stylus Color Printer 9000 was one of them. The "Epson 9000" is a superior Photo Quality Ink-Jet printer capable of printing on either coated or uncoated fine-art print and watercolor papers up to 42 inches in width. Initially the "Epson 9000" was limited by non-museum quality inferior dye inks. With the recent development of Lysonic E Digital Archival Inks that changed forever. The "Epson 9000" now has museum quality inks like the IRIS. These pigmented inks are of the same quality as those used in traditional Stone Lithography and Intaglio (etchings etc).

Fine Art paper makers--Somerset, Arches, and Waterford —are noted for fabulous 100% Archival Cotton Rag papers are also some very high-end ‘coated’ papers of near archival quality. All of these papers can be used in the either the IRIS or the Epson 9000.


The Printing Process—
The process of making a Limited Edition Digital Print is very similar to the traditional printing processes—Intaglio (etching/engraving) and Stone Lithography. The image is first conceptualized and the subject matter developed frequently through a series of drawings and color studies. Composition and content are considered. Today, with my digital prints, the preliminary work is a completed watercolor, charcoal/graphite drawing, or oil painting. This image is then digitally mastered and saved in a digital format. After digitizing the artwork, "Artist Proofing"2 begins. The image is critically studied. Changes are made to improve the image. Refinement, even a ‘roughening’ of the image, or redesigning can take place to achieve the desired finished image. The best features of the original (technical, emotional or philosophic) can brought forward and areas that detract can be altered or removed. The artistic goal is to make the newly emerging art print the best piece of art work that it can be. These prints are not copies the original artwork, but are a new creation.

Off-set Lithography (the standard printing press), has been the most popular form of fine-art reproduction for many years. This technology evolved almost unchanged from its onset as poster printing for advertising to the current genre of the "Limited Edition" print market. This technology has been solely responsible for the print market as we know it in this country until recent improvements and advancements. Some interesting basics that are fortunately not found in the new technology of Digital Printmaking (or Giclee Printmaking, as it is sometimes referred to) is the limited involvement of the artist in the process. Remember that Off-set Lithography grew out of advertising and is virtually unchanged. At best, the artist doing an Off-set Litho will showed up for "press check" to see the first few images pulled and say, "Yea, nay, darker or lighter." The artist is then out the door. The artist returns at some later date to pick up the packaged items and run home to sign them. Usually a certain percentage of the prints are destined to be called "Artist Proofs." The remaining prints (identical in everyway to the proofs) are then signed by the artist and numbered, and become the body of a "Limited Edition" fine art reproduction. They are not original works, as are digital prints, and the artist is not part of the process of Off-set lithography to any significant degree after delivering the original artwork to the to the print shop. These Off-set lithographic editions are almost always numbered in the tens of thousands. You may end up with number 5,782 out of 10,250.

With Digital Printmaking, the artist is part of the entire process from the original artwork to "pulling the print" off of the print machine. "Artist’s Proofs" in digital printing really are "Artist’s Proofs." They are the most valuable prints in the edition because they are each unique, and there are often many of them—each a little different. They are the wonderful working drafts that are too good to toss out, but not what the artist feels is the final vision for that piece. Once the artist resolves the issues of composition, content and color the piece is then, and only then, "Editioned." These prints are then signed by the artist and numbered. They become the a true Limited Edition Fine Art Print. Edition sizes are often from between 200 to1000 prints. You may end up with number 120 out of 600.

The IRIS printer at 40,000 dollars is the industry gold standard. The Epson 9000 is the closest rival and is a remarkable machine retailing at 9000 dollars. Is there a difference? Yes, there is. This difference however would most likely only be seen with the closet scrutiny by a trained eye. Are there any other differences? You Bet! The "Epson 9000" and its little brother the "Epson 3000" are showing up in artists studios. This has enabled working artists to control the process of making multiple images and to be able to share these works in cost affordable ways with friends and collectors. The artist is empowered to make amn artistic contribution, in appropriate numbers, with an art that remains both faithful to the art spirit and archival (professionally collectable). The creative struggle lives on and the traditions of printmaking are honored. More importantly—the artist is freed from the "One painting-One sale" reality that makes it almost impossible to live with dignity and peace as an artist.

We, as artists and as collectors, can say "Thank you" to Graham Nash and his friends for their efforts. The traditional spirit of printmaking has been saved from the insult of Offset Lithography. Once again the artist is part of the product. A new medium in fine art is born. Museum quality prints can be made that are affordable. The Digital Printmaking Studio also allows the artist to benefit more than once from an initial idea and creation. A new medium with the potential to change the course of 21st Century fine art printmaking has emerged. Humanization the art world is one step closer for the artist. The concept of "Great Art Out of Total Despair" is finally delivered the slap in the face it has long deserved. True art can be made available for more people to enjoy, study and learn from.

Thank you Graham. Your music has been and also continues to be great, and your lead in visual arts is well appreciated.


Digitally Mastered---Artwork is converted from the original painting or drawing to a digital format by one of two methods. A digital camera (the type used for the highest end pre-production services in the graphic arts world), or a Drum Scanner. These technologies enable you to put together a digitally captured file of 45 to 112 million bits of visual information per image. This information is then manipulated on a computer screen one pixel (or one bit of information) at a time as needed to achieve the desired visual content of the piece to be printed.

2 Merriam Webster Dictionary defines "Artist Proof" as proof : a copy (as of typeset text) made for examination or correction b : a test impression of an engraving, etching, or lithograph.