We reproduce paintings, drawings or other art for people on a regular basis. Sometimes people are simply wanting a quality, high resolution file of their work for archiving purposes while other times people are wanting to make prints so that they can sell their work. In either case there are usually questions when it comes to painting reproduction.
The most common question, and understandably so, that we get about art reproduction is “How does this whole thing work?”.
There are several steps involved in reproducing paintings in order to make sure you get the highest quality file or print possible, and there are also multiple ways that you can go about it. Some people want to take their work to professionals to be reproduced while others want to try to do it themselves. We have a page on our website dedicated to art reproduction, but in this article I’ll tell you more in depth about how art reproduction works and, in particular, about our process.
Before your painting can be reproduced a digital image must be created so that it can be put on a computer. Some people will scan paintings for reproduction and others will photograph them. While there are merits to both approaches, we choose to take the photographing route.
We hang paintings flat on a wall, light them properly (more on that in a moment), and then photograph them. We put our camera on a tripod for stability, which results in clearer images. We also use a high quality lens that does a good job with sharpness and minimizes any distortion that can occur during the photographing process. It is best to shoot at the lowest ISO possible (we shoot at ISO 64) to minimize any quality loss from noise, and to use an aperture that best balances depth of field, sharpness, and diffraction (we usually shoot at f/8). We also dial the color balance of the camera in to a custom color balance made specifically for the lights that are being used. Then, when everything is set, a high resolution photo of your painting is taken.
As a general rule, we feel that paintings which are in the 24x36 range or smaller can be adequately captured in one single photograph and maintain acceptable resolution. If your work is larger than that or if you need to dramatically enlarge your art then we may need to take multiple photographs of your painting in smaller pieces and then stitch those back together in the computer to make a single larger file of your painting.
The cost for photographing paintings is $25 per photograph, which includes photographing, basic color adjusting, and saving a high resolution file for you. If you bring us paintings in batches of 10 or more at a time then we will charge you $100/hour for photographing, which will save you money.
We already mentioned that we photograph art for reproduction purposes, and photography really is all about lighting, so it’s no surprise that lighting is an absolutely crucial part of painting reproduction.
We prefer to use 2 lights set at around 45 degree angles on either side of the work. We use constant lighting (lights that are always on) as opposed to strobes (think flashes) as we feel it helps us best balance glare on paintings. When necessary, either a polarizing filter is put on the lens or polarizing film is put on the lights to combat any excess glare (on that note, photographing a painting before putting any glazing or glossy finish on it makes it much easier).
The light that you put on your painting will determine nearly everything about the quality of the colors later in the reproduction process. Here’s a fun way to think about it:
Imagine a ripe banana. It’s nice and yellow, right? Now, imagine that you and your bright yellow banana are taken into a completely dark room and the door is shut behind you. You feel around the wall and, finding the familiar shape of a light switch, flip on the lights. Immediately you realize that every light in the room has had a blue bulb installed, so there’s only blue light filling the room. You look over to your yellow banana. What color is it? It’s blue. Well, at least it looks blue.
So what does this have to do with art reproduction? Quite a lot actually. Let’s replace the banana with your painting. Imagine that you take your painting out into the sun and you photograph it. Then you take the painting and your camera inside and put the file on your computer. Next, you set your painting up beside your computer monitor, use your lamp or overhead lights to light the painting, and then adjust the colors on your computer. Just like your banana turning blue in different light, your painting will look different in the indoor light than in the natural light you photographed in.
Consistency is key here. We set up our lights, which have a high capacity for showing a wide range of colors, in a room with all the other lights turned off and photograph paintings under just that light so we know exactly what the color temperature is (and as mentioned above we use a custom white balance in our camera created for our lights). Then, when we take the files to the computer to be edited, we will light the painting under the same exact lighting we used for photographing to aid in getting accurate, consistent color each time. Using a mixture of lighting will always give you color consistency headaches!
This is a good time to mention that using a good, calibrated monitor is crucial when it comes to accurately reproducing color. If you use good lighting, make sure your lighting is consistent, but then use an uncalibrated monitor for your adjusting then you will again run into problems. In fact, it works much like our blue banana earlier. If paintings are edited on an a monitor that isn’t showing color properly then you’ll get color shifts.
On that note, if you take your painting files home and open them on your computer, and you have not calibrated your monitor, then it is a safe bet to say that you’re not properly seeing the brightness, color, etc. of your painting files. The same goes for photographing your paintings yourself or having someone else with a nice camera do it. Without these calibrations you are going to run into color and brightness difficulties.
We always make sure to keep our monitor calibration up to date. If you are interested in reading more about how to get more accurate colors from your prints or how to calibrate your monitor, then read our separate post about color consistency here.
We have built a custom color profile specifically for our camera and lighting combination that is used during the editing process which helps in maintaining color from photograph to file. Basically, by having the camera set up to match the color of our studio lights (custom white balance), and then by having the software render the digital file using a color profile set up for that same camera/light combination the result is greater color consistency.
Trust us when we say that this can be very difficult under other circumstances.
Once we have photographed the artwork we then put the file on the computer, crop away any excess area in the image, and make adjustments to get as accurate colors and general brightness as we can. We use either Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop for the color editing process (I really prefer Lightroom for this particular task). While in Lightroom we use a custom camera profiles built specifically for our camera when shooting under our particular lights. This again is a key part of color consistency.
Of course, we are editing on a calibrated monitor and the art is being lit by the same lighting under which they were photographed, as earlier mentioned.
Next we export 3 separate files and give them all to you. The first is a full resolution tiff file. This file is large, well over 100MB, and can be used for anything particularly demanding in the future. The second file is a full resolution jpeg. This file has the same resolution as the tiff but is much smaller and more manageable. This can be used for most of the printing you’re likely to do. The third file is a web resolution jpeg which is already set up for you to put on your website, email to people, or post on social media.
We no longer use CDs or DVDs of any kind so you can either bring us a USB flash drive to transfer the files to or elect to have us send them to you digitally via Dropbox.
If all you wanted was a high resolution digital file then you’re finished at this point. We will save the file and either share it with you via Dropbox or put it on your USB drive. We can save you jpeg or tiff files as long as you let us know your preference. If you are particular about the color space of the files (don’t worry if this doesn’t mean anything to you) then it can be saved as sRGB or whatever you like.
If you want prints then the next step is as simple as deciding upon how you wish to reproduce the work. If you choose to have us do the reproduction then you have a number of options. You can have reproductions made on canvas, on a number of photo or fine art papers, or even metal. Any of those choices will make nice prints, though certain types of images may lend themselves to being reproduced on certain types of paper. For example, paintings on canvas usually make nice canvas, or giclee, reproductions. Watercolor paintings often make particularly nice prints on one of our watercolor papers.
As in the monitor situation earlier, our printers are calibrated and use custom profiles built in house for each paper/canvas we print on. This is another step in the color consistency process. If you take your files home and print them on your printer without using proper profiles then you can again expect to not be accurately seeing your painting files.
Let me take a moment to address the term giclee. I have learned over the years that when someone asks “Do you do giclee printing?” I cannot answer simply yes or no without first asking “What does giclee printing mean to you?”.
For some people giclee printing means reproduction on canvas, for others it means specifically painting reproduction, for some it must be in a limited edition for it to qualify as giclee, and so on. I’ve even had some people tell me that the original painter must also add dabs of paint to the final print themselves in order for it to be a true giclee print.
When we use the term giclee we mean it in it’s most “original” form of high quality reproduction on inkjet printers. So with that in mind, this entire process of art reproduction is the same thing as giclee printing.
A FEW OTHER THINGS
Sometimes people ask us if they can supply us a file either photographed by someone else or that they photographed themselves. The simple answer is yes you can. We can work with just about any file you have.
This must be said with caution however as if a file was created by you or someone else then there’s a real limit as to what we can guarantee when it comes to the color and clarity of the reproduction. We can only be certain that you’ll get the best reproduction if we create the file ourselves. This isn’t to say that other files won’t work of course, we simply suggest that you send them to us so we can have a look and let you know if the quality is where it needs to be, and often times it will be just fine.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that if we do not have the painting here with us then we do not know what the original colors look like. If you send us a file from somewhere else and the painting is not here for us to see then we simply cannot know what the original looks like and we cannot guarantee that the file sent to us matches that painting adequately. Color will always be better when we have the painting here as a guide, whether we create the file or not. Imagine if I sent you a file of one of my photographs, asked you to print it, and then said it’s very important that the colors match the print I have with me. If you don’t have that print there then how do you know what the colors on my end look like?
Finally, there are times were certain colors simply cannot be accurately reproduced. There’s a whole lot to that story, so if you’re interested then have a look at this article.
We hope this has shed some light on the painting reproduction, or giclee, process. It takes a good bit of work, but when done well it only has to be done one time. Once there is a good file to work with then that file can be used over and over again for just about whatever you like.
If you have any questions about giclee printing or are interested in having your work reproduced, then get in touch with us and we’ll guide you through the process.