Fine Art Printing
Fine Art Prints made to archival art papers are commonly referred to as 'giclée prints' (pronounced ‘zhee-clay’). Giclée prints are created by propelling minute droplets of ink onto paper or other substrates. During the late 1970s inkjet printers were developed that could reproduce digital prints generated by computers. Today giclée prints are highly regarded in museums and galleries throughout the world. Fine art print paper selection is a highly subjective process. The aesthetics of the print and what you feel is important may be different to what appeals to others based on perhaps your own experiences in photography and/or traditional fine art.
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Artwork by © Bec Crocket
Giclée Paper Types
We now have a range of paper choices beyond the dreams of a previous generation of artists and photographers. The two major groupings are matte papers and photo papers (resin coated). Matte papers are based on either alpha-cellulose (wood fibers) or cotton rag fibre. Their appeal lies in their ‘look’ and ‘feel’. These papers have been developed to closely imitate papers used for various non-photographic fine art processes. Matte giclee paper types often have a texture – a look and tactile experience that is simply lacking in photo papers, which are constructed on a plastic base. These resin coated papers have the advantage of much higher reflectivity, generally producing blacker blacks and therefore more contrast.
Fine Art Giclée Papers
Matte or fine art giclée papers provide a more traditional surface and offer a unique, beautiful surface for your prints with superb longevity, detail, resistance to fading and a look and feel factor that screams high quality. However, they are quite expensive, and for at least some printing needs, alpha cellulose papers may be an acceptable alternative. In fact, whenever permanence and/or tactile quality isn’t a necessity for your printing there are papers that will deliver the excellent quality of output for less money than true fine art cotton rag.
Artwork by © Jaimee Paul
Resin Coated Papers
The finish of resin coated papers are semi-matte through to glossy – what most of us picture when we think of a photographic print. This type of print media consists of a paper base sealed by two layers of polyethylene (the resin) making it water-proof and fairly resistant to scratches and scuffing. What makes resin coated papers such a popular choice is their ability to deliver an outstanding print quality for a relatively low cost. The variations on the finish type for resin coated papers are still derived from their light sensitive “wet process” counterparts. The main classifications are semi-matte, semi-gloss or lustre, and glossy. In terms of inkjet printing, lustre is more commonly referred to by names such as semi-gloss, satin and pearl.
It's important to allow resin coated prints to properly 'dry' before framing. Following printing the print may appear dry by sight and touch however it won't be fully dry. Outgassing refers to the release of any trapped gasses in the print and Epson recommends prints be allowed to outgas uncovered for 15 minutes after ejecting from the printer and then leaving the prints for 24 hours before framing. Failure to follow this procedure may create what looks like condensation on the glass in front of the print.
For the past 10 years we have had the choice of matte papers with their appealing tactile feel but subdued look and reduced colour gamut, and resin coated photo papers with their higher Dmax and more saturated palette but less appealing tactility. Now baryta (pronounced ‘ba-ry-tah’) papers offer the weight and feel of fine art stock while enjoying the colour gamut and density of resin coated photo prints.
While it may be new to the 21st century digital printing world it actually has its roots in high quality black and white printing papers from the past. Baryta is barium-sulphate, a clay-like material that is applied to a fibre paper substrate. On traditional papers with light sensitive emulsions it acts to whiten the paper, produces a high degree of reflectivity, and as well provides a base for the emulsion. Now, on a new breed of papers designed for inkjet printing baryta is being used not to hold a chemical emulsion but to provide a smooth reflective coating. A highly refined barite powder is applied to the paper board to improve whiteness and coverage. Paper manufacturers sometimes add tints to the barite coating to alter the final tone of the print.
The significance of Baryta papers comes down to look and feel. Baryta papers, since they are fibre paper based, are heavier and more textured than resin coated papers while managing to duplicate much of that paper type’s biggest strength: density. Baryta papers offer considerable weight and thickness for that fine art feel and they achieve greater colour density and gamut limits than cotton based fine art papers. This is especially important when printing in black and white — that extra density is vital to fully realise the detail in the shadows without losing the overall 'punch' of deep black.