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Digital printing: the next generation of innovation: new technologies and developments have led to the introduction of several new fine art products. (Special Report).

"Digital printing has grown in leaps and bounds," asserted Dan Fletcher, a representative of Top Art in San Diego. As a result, today's publishers are presented with a dizzying array of choices--which inks to use? which substrates? which technologies? The decisions have to be based not only on artistic grounds but on commercial ones, as well. You can create a better product, but unless it is properly marketed, you can be left with crates and crates of unsold merchandise. (Remember Betamax video cassettes?)

To offer a snapshot of the digital printing industry as it stands today, three companies and one outside observer have been polled: Top Art, Rosentiel's, Qoro and Harald Johnson of www.dpandi.com.

The Digital Fresco

How can you make a 500-pound chunk of plaster disappear? That has been the goal of Top Art in their creation of the Fresco Art Collection. Their newly copyrighted printing process creates an ink-on-canvas which looks strikingly like a fresco on plaster. According to Fletcher, "it required a lot of tinkering" with the printers, substrates, and more to yield images "with the look and feel of frescos." He said "doing it as a print and adding texture was not working;' so the company settled on applying "a sandstone-like material," to the canvas prior to printing the image. The resulting piece "looks much like a stone tablet when it's hanging on the wall," he observed.

Of course, perfecting the technology was only half the battle. Top Art also needed to decide what images to print with it. Clearly, not all scenes would benefit from the effect. Fletcher said they are printing "traditional images contracted exclusively for Top Art. Our feeling is that this process was meant to have a certain kind of subject matter."

In making this observation, he is tacitly acknowledging this is a niche market.

Yet, in pursuing this route, Top Art is clearly part of a larger trend to print images on novel materials. As he said, "where all the experimentation is now, is on the substrate."

The Gouttelette Is Born

At Rosentiel's in London, company officials evidently agree. They have just introduced the "gouttelette," which, according to David Roe, managing director, is a digital image which can be printed "in any size and on virtually any substrate." He said it is versatile and "the highest quality of facsimile reproduction that we have seen."

No details were provided on how this is done with the gouttelette, but Roe clearly stated that when it comes to enlarging art, the company "can take it to any size with no noticeable loss."

As far as Rosentiel's ability to print on a broad range of substrates, the company has stated that the image can be applied to acetate, silk, leather and even steel. Furthermore, they have found that the image, regardless of the substrate on which they have printed it, should be lightfast for 90 years. There is, though, a small catch: it is not water resistant. Thus, most gouttelettes will have to be either mounted in glazed frames or varnished/coated.

As for the fidelity of the reproductions, Roe said the prints have even fooled auction house experts. Evidently, a museum has even ordered a gouttelette of an unborrowable painting "to fill out an exhibition."

Perhaps surprisingly, such a revolutionary (and patented) product will not be prohibitively costly. According to Roe, "gouttelettes can be reproduced economically in any quantity;" be it one, 10 or 100. He confidently asserted that the process "will knock lesser products from the market," since it offers "better quality for the same money."

The Creation of the Qorograph

Hoping that it will not be considered one of those "lesser products" is the Qorograph. Although the name Qoro might not sound familiar, there is a very recognizable corporate identity lurking behind it. We are "forging this market with Dupont; most of our people come from Dupont backgrounds," confided Leela Moore, Qoro's vice president of marketing.

Qoro has pioneered two technical innovations. The first is the invention of Nano-pigments, and the second is what is called the NoUVIR system. No significant details on the technology of nano-pigments, which offer vivid true-to-original color, could be provided; (it could well be a jealously guarded industrial secret). AS for NoUVIR, this system allows for an original image to be scanned without the use of high-intensity Ultra Violet/Infrared radiation. The goal, said Moore, is to "protect the art at all costs." Thus, while other publishers might inadvertently damage a painting in the course of "digitally capturing the image," Qoro can scan the piece without risking its safety.

This concern for the safety of the original work has perhaps allowed Qoro to make inroads into the more conservative reaches of the art world. "We're working with very traditional artists and museums," said Moore. Who could be more traditional than Andrew Wyeth, for whom they just printed a series of images, or the notoriously staid Barnes Foundation? The goal is to "be able to satisfy the highest level," said Moore, and they certainly have aimed high.

The State of Digital Art

These have been three case studies in how individual companies are pushing the envelope of digital printing technology. What, then, is the industry-wide state of the art?

One man prepared to offer an answer is Harald Johnson, author of Mastering Digital Printing, a book he describes as the "first in-depth reference guide to digital printing." His self-appointed task is to stay on top of new digital printing technologies. Here are his observations.

For new developments in the realm of paper, Johnson believes a dramatically different printing paper has been invented: Bockingford Inkjet. Until now, ink-jet papers have been coated with a special ink-jet receptor so they properly absorb the colors. According to Johnson, "the inks won't look right otherwise; they will be dull-looking or muted." He said Bockingford has developed a patented infusion process whereby the ink-jet receptor solution is mixed into the paper during the manufacturing process. According to Legion Paper, the product's distributor, the result is a print with the look and feel of an original watercolor.

Moving from paper to ink, Johnson sees a steady shift away from dyes and towards pigments. Despite the fact that dyes have frequently been deemed brighter, they are evanescent--barely lasting 20 years. Pigments, by contrast, can last four times longer, but they have traditionally been deemed duller. According to Johnson, Epson's new Ultra Chrome pigments are the best attempt yet at making a bright and long-lasting ink. For reference, these are third-generation pigmented inks, which evidently do not suffer from a green-shift which plagued the first two.

On a side note, Johnson said he sees increased interest in the development of specialty inks, i.e., ones that are designed to meet a specific need. For example, he is particularly impressed with what are known as multi-toned monochromatic inks. Black-and-white photographers have been keen on replacing the three primary colors in a standard printer with these black inks, since, according to Johnson, they generate images which "rival the best silver prints."

Johnson also raved about the new Epson 9600 printer. It is not that it prints so much better than all of the others, but that it prints as well as it does for so little money. At $4,995, he said that it generates images that are "comparable in quality" to those produced by the first generation Iris printer (which cost $120,000 at its inception) and the newly introduced descendant of that machine, the $45,000 IXIA. He noted that "there are more and more artists doing self printing," and this puts cutting-edge technology within their reach.

As Rosenstiel's Roe observed, the technology is changing rapidly. Indeed, by the time you read this, there may even be some new revolutionary product on the market. Not even Johnson can envision what lies ahead. "We're in the stone age for this stuff," he concluded. "It will be totally different, 10, 20 and 50 years from now."

SOURCES

* Harald Johnson, (434) 974-4952

* Legion Paper, 800-278-4478

* Qoro Inc., (302) 322-5900

* Rosentiel's, 44 020 7352 3551

* Top Art, 800-253-0102
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Author:Prisant, Barden
Publication:Art Business News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2003
Words:1350
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