Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Clear Look at Varnishes

Varnish has one basic job: to protect your paintings from taking a beating. And it takes this mission seriously, shielding the surface of a painting from such external dangers as fingerprints, small scrapes and scratches, and hazardous atmospheric conditions including moisture and pollution. Some varnishes are also UV-absorbent, which means they filter out the devastating ultraviolet rays in sunlight. It’s an important job, and as long as the varnish is applied correctly, it’s up to the task. Varnishes are typically thick, heavy fluids made from natural and/or synthetic resins that have been thinned with a solvent. Solubility is one of the characteristics that distinguishes a varnish from a medium.

Beyond Protection

Varnishes can also affect the appearance of your painting. Among other things, a varnish will determine how much the surface of a painting will reflect light. You may have noticed that, before varnishing, the sheen across the surface of a finished painting can vary considerably. An application of varnish will make the sheen consistent throughout the picture. A gloss varnish will deflect much of the light that strikes the surface, thereby giving it a high sheen. A matte varnish, on the other hand, deflects considerably less light, while a satin finish falls somewhere in between. Colors tend to look deeper and richer behind a gloss. (When a glossy painting is properly lighted, you can avoid the glare that disrupts your viewing of the picture.) Matte varnishes push colors back, and so heavily accumulated applications of it can de-intensify your colors considerably. The choice of finish is strictly a matter of preference and depends upon the effect you want.

Tips for Application

There are a few precautions to take before applying a varnish. First of all, don’t be overanxious to varnish a work. You may wish to delay this step until you’ve had time to resolve any second thoughts about your painting. Touch-up painting on top of a varnish can be quite problematic because of weak paint film adherence. It can also be a problem should a future conservator need to replace the varnish: You don’t want anything that’s integral to the painting to be accidentally removed.

Oil paintings have particular considerations. First, make sure the painting is sufficiently dry before applying the finish. Feeling dry to the touch isn’t enough, it can take as long as a year for an oil painting to dry completely, and if you apply the varnish too soon, it could result in cracking somewhere down the line. Second, be certain that your painting is totally free of moisture, including humidity, before you varnish it. If moisture gets trapped beneath the varnish, you can later have a problem with bloom (a cloudlike discoloration), which can ruin a painting. And take care to use the right kind of varnish for your medium. I once inadvertently applied the wrong kind of varnish to a heat-set oil painting that was almost a year ago, and the varnish still hasn’t dried completely.

No matter what medium you paint in, remember that varnishes can vary from one brand to the next. One manufacturer’s satin, for instance, may look much like another’s matte. Don’t ever try to varnish a work of art if you haven’t tried the product first. Varnishing is like any other skill: It takes practice. Perform your experiments on test samples before you apply the varnish to an actual painting.

Start with a gloss finish and then, if that’s too shiny for you, work your way toward a matte finish until you find the look you want. (The two kinds of varnish are mixable at any ratio you please.) Do your testing over dark colors the darker, the better where the results will be most evident. Once you're certain that you're using the right varnish in the right way, you’ll be able to preserve your works of art for generations to come.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Brief Introduction to Giclée Printing Part 1


The word giclée (pronounced zhee-clay) is surprisingly unfamiliar to customers and artists alike. Loosely interpreted, it means “that which is sprayed or squirted.” The term "giclee print" connotes an elevation in printmaking technology. Images are generated from high resolution digital scans and printed with archival quality inks onto various substrates including canvas, fine art paper such as Velvet Rag, which is 100% cotton, and photo-based papers such as resin coated (RC) that are generally 10.4mil in thickness. The giclee printing process provides better color accuracy than other means of reproduction. In order to produce your own giclée prints, some initial investment in basic equipment is necessary.

Tools of the trade

  • Computer
    At a minimum, a computer that supports a Windows or Macintosh operating system compatible with Adobe Photoshop software.
    Here, at our shop, we use Mac Pro's 1,1 with a 32-bit 2.66 GHz Dual-core Intel Xeon processor and 18 Gb's of ram along with a dozen or so other Macs and Windows machines.

  • Large format scanner
    For small prints, where high resolution is not so critical, or if you just want a few copies and need to keep costs down, you can create a print using your own digital file or desktop scanner. Scan your image at as high a resolution as possible - for best results you'll want 300 dpi output at the size you want to print. If you use an existing digital file, keep in mind that re-sampling a lower resolution file seldom renders good results – the saying in the industry is, Garbage in, garbage out!” A common mistake is to think that scanning at 3,000dpi is plenty of resolution. What's important is size and resolution. If you have 3,000dpi at 1”x1,” you can only print a 10”x10” print at 300dpi. So, select 300dpi and the print dimensions to create the best scan.
    In our studio we use a “Better Light” scanning back on a 4x5 view camera along with infrared and a polarized filter and state-of-the-art, high-intensity discharge (HID) lights with polarized filters to create what is called “cross polarization” that greatly reduces glare or reflection.

  • High-Quality printer
    There are a bunch of mid to high quality printers available today from standard manufactures such at Epson and Cannon. Price ranges will run you somewhere between $500-$28,000 depending on quality and production needs.
    Our shop has utilized many printer models from both Cannon. Epson and Mimaki over the years.

  • Adobe Photoshop software
    A essential graphics editing program developed and published by Adobe Systems. Unfortunately a rather expensive piece of software the latest version (CS6) costs $615.95.
    Over the years (and computers) we've ran many different versions of the software. Photoshop CS3 has been a very reliable version for us

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Choosing the Right Wide Format Printer

            All of the canvas and paper rolls we sell are designed to be used by a high quality printer, to create the highest quality photos and prints and the right printer can make a huge difference in the success of your business. There is no ‘best’ printer in the industry and choosing the right one is due to a variety of considerations. These range from the type of ink, the dots per inch, output size, etc.

Type of Ink:

Aqueous: This type of ink uses water as a solute and there are two types, dye and pigment. Dye inks are basically dissolved color in water and when the water dries it creates the stable image. It fades in the presence of UV light and is not waterproof. Pigment inks are more like very small particles that are in the water and when the water dissolves the color is left. They have higher levels of both UV and water resistance then dye based aqueous inks, but the particles have slightly lower levels of resolution. Aqueous inks tend to offer a high level of color and high image qualities, but the inks are not as durable as other types.

Solvent: Solvent inks have a non-water base, such as a petroleum-based substance, and are used to print on a wide variety of materials. The inks are usually, UV resistant and have a long outdoor life. However, they require ventilation and safety equipment, as the fumes can be toxic.

UV Cured: UV cured inks dry when they are ‘cured’ by an exposure to a strong UV light. They are used because they can be easily applied to a wide range of surfaces and produce a very robust image. The ink dries with a somewhat thick coating and is subject to cracking if printed on a flexible substrate, so it is typically used on surfaces such as hard plastic or metal.

Image Quality:

Image quality is an important decision when purchasing your printer and is directly related to the intended use of the product. For uses such as diagrams or charts, a printer that does not have many passes or dot-per-inch is perfectly fine. If you are primarily using the printer for high quality printing, such as giclee, then it is necessary to find a printer with a high number of passes per line and dots per inch. For applications such as these look for a minimum of 600 x 1200 dpi.


Speed and image quality are inversely related, by printing more quickly you reduce the image resolution. However, for some commercial uses it is the quantity and not quality of the prints that matters. Two more factors that affect speed are the warm up time of the printer and how long the paper handling takes after it prints.

The Truth About Optical Brightening Agents

Optical brighteners are organic compounds that by themselves are colorless, but when added to a substrate (such as canvas and paper) they make colors appear brighter and give them a pop. The way they do this is that they change the visible wavelength of the light being reflected off the surface and this makes it appear brighter.
        Visible colors are determined by the wavelength of light that is reemitted from the canvas after it is absorbed and OBA’s alter the natural refractive properties of a canvas.Adding OBA’s can enhance the colors visible on a surface by making more of ultraviolet (UV) light is reflected in a visible color spectrum. When invisible ultraviolet light hits a substrate it has a wavelength of 300-400 nm and when it leaves a canvas enhanced with OBA’s it leaves in the visible spectrum of 400-500 nm.
This means to a printer that the inks they use will have more of a pop and vibrance then the canvas or paper would naturally have. Altering canvases in this way means that you can use a canvas that does not have great reflective properties and enhance them, instead of using a high quality canvas that does. This makes cheaper canvas’s that can rival or even exceed the color qualities of more expensive, well-designed substrates.
While this sounds like a great advancement in the field of printing, OBA’s tend to fade from a substrate over the years and lead to yellowing. After the fading there is a much poorer quality paper or canvas that has lost the chemicals that made it appear so good. Instead of having your original high quality print, with great colors, instead you have a poor quality print with incorrect color composition and a yellowed surface.
This is why one should look for rolls made with little or no OBA’s, although they generally carry a much higher price tag, they keep their appearance through the years. In addition, advancements in the industry have led to canvas and papers that look almost as good as OBA enhanced papers. Your prized photos will keep their great colors and remain as they are for years to come.  
Our Eco-Solvent/Solvent is OBA free and can be viewed here, Eco-Solvent Canvas . The vast majority of products that are sold contain some OBA brightening agents, however, as that is what the industry usually uses. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Inkjet Canvas Evolution and Coatings

Inkjet Canvas Evolution and Coatings

As a giclee printer with Giclee By The Bay, I have experienced quite a change in the quality and stability of substrates in the past dozen years or so. I recall one ancient event, when our best customer said he was coming over and would explain his concern when he arrived. He really didn't need to explain, a thousand pictures was worth a single word. (An expletive, that is.) He filled my sofa system with roll upon roll of canvasses with the surface cracking and peeling off!

It took a while to figure out what was going on, but we finally pinpointed the problem, that lead back to faulty coating on the canvas. Despite that, the dealer/manufacturer wouldn't warranty the product. They would rather we go out of business than them. We made good on our promise of quality with our client and used a different supplier, eventually replacing the giclee canvasses and moving on with the same understanding client.

Thankfully, we've progressed from the dark ages and most products are stable. What I find most encouraging is that inkjet canvas coatings are now profiling out to be remarkably similar to one another. Indistinguishable is probably more accurate. Somehow, the industry figured out that having a unique profile wasn't to their benefit, since a new customer would need to re-profile all their legacied images which would be a significant burden. Considering the time and materials needed, it wasn't worth it. So, the industry fell in line and switching from one canvas to a similar product sold by another distributor or retailer, is without generally without worries.

Interestingly, even when switching from one surface finish, such as matte to satin or gloss requires only a minor, universal change in Brightness/Contrast or a slight adjustment in the midtones and blacks using Selective Color in PhotoShop.

If you're looking for more info, give us a call or write to Canvas and Paper Warehouse and we'll be happy to fill you in on the straight scoop. We will tell you the background of products rather than telling you it's proprietary. No nonsense here, just friendly advice.

By Jim Kosvanec