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  • Giclee Printing and Pricing for Artist Limited Editions



    The giclee-- also known as an inkjet or digital print-- offers artists boatloads of new ways to make and sell art at reasonable prices, but seeing as digital printing hasn't been around all that long, the evolution of the medium is still in progress, and the market for giclee limited edition prints and other forms of digital art is still relatively disorganized. In addition, digital prints are not all that well understood by your average everyday art buyer, so in the interest of clarity, perhaps a few guidelines and ground rules are in order.

    Even though the terms giclee, digital print, and inkjet print all mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably (and will be in this article), artists, publishers and galleries currently represent digital art in so many different ways that unless you know your printers and printing processes, figuring out what you're looking at can often be confusing. And when potential buyers get confused, especially if whatever they're looking at is priced more expensively, they tend not to buy. Or when they do buy and what they get turns out to be something other than what they thought it was, that can be problematic as well. So being clear and direct about what you're selling and how it's priced is an important part of making the digital print selling process work.

    Digital, inkjet or giclee prints can be divided into five basic categories:

    (1) Images conceived and created entirely on a computer that exist only as digital files until they're printed out. These are generally referred to as original digital works of art.

    (2) Photographs that are taken with a camera and printed out directly from the original digital file or original negative. These are generally referred to as original digital photographs.

    (3) Images of existing works of art like paintings, photographs, watercolors, screen prints, etc. that are either photographed or scanned and uploaded into a computer, and then printed out to look exactly the same as the originals. These are generally referred to as digital reproductions or copies of original works of art.

    (4) Digital photographs or images that are uploaded or scanned into a computer and then manipulated, enhanced, reworked or otherwise altered by digital processes (using programs like Photoshop, for example) BEFORE they're printed out. These can sometimes be more like reproductions and sometimes more like original digital works of art, depending on the extent and degree of the manipulation.

    (5) Giclee or digital images of any kind that are enhanced, reworked, or altered AFTER they're printed out-- like hand-embellished with paint, watercolor, collage or some other medium. These can sometimes be more like reproductions and sometimes more like original digital works of art, depending on the extent and degree of the manipulation.

    Digital art of all types is rapidly increasing in popularity, regardless of whether the finished products are reproductions, originals, or some combination of the two. Whatever you want to make is fine because as with all art, there are no rules governing what artists can or cannot make. However, artists, galleries and others who offer digital works of art do have a responsibility to accurately describe and represent what they're offering... and that's when things can sometimes get a little sticky.

    Most giclee prints are reproductions or copies of works of art in other mediums (like paintings, watercolors or drawings) that are either photographed or scanned into computers and then printed out to look exactly the same as the originals. If you decide to produce digital copies of your art, remember that no matter what you call them, they are NOT original works of art. They are digital COPIES of original works of art and should always be represented as such. Even signing or limiting them does not change this fact. Signing an inkjet reproduction is no different than signing an invitation to one of your openings-- it's your signature on a copy of something that was printed by mechanical means; you had nothing to do with creating that copy other than printing it out from a digital file (or having a company print it for you).

    Having said that, producing giclee limited edition reproduction prints is a great way for artists to make images of their art more widely available at lower prices, and increasing their collector bases by offering affordable alternatives to more expensive originals. If someone loves a particular image, and the only way they can own it is by buying it in the form of a signed limited inkject print, that's absolutely OK. You can also sell your images as unsigned unlimited editions at even lower prices if you want to make them more affordable yet. Artists can sign or limit digital images of their art in a variety of ways in order to market them at different price points. Signing, numbering, adding small drawings in the margins, highlighting them with brush strokes of acrylic or watercolor, or whatever else you want to do to personalize or individualize your digital images, make them more attractive to buyers, as well as allow you to price them higher than those without any handwork. The extras or options or variations you offer and how much you decide to charge for them are entirely up to you.

    Now for some guidelines. If you're printing limited editions, set edition sizes in advance, make them public and NEVER change them because people who buy limited edition prints often buy, at least in part, based on the size of the edition. In other words, if you state up front that a print is being published in an edition of ten, keep it that way no matter how much people love it or how fast it sells out. If you sell out a limited edition and then decide to print more because it sold so well, you can be pretty sure the people who bought the first printing will never buy art from you again (nor will their friends). Why? Because they believed that they were buying an image with a set edition size, and that turned out not to be true. In other words, you violated their trust.

    Always be true to your collector base; don't ever say one thing and then do another no matter how profitable it may be for you in the short term, because you'll only be hurting yourself and your reputation in the long term. And don't fudge around when somebody asks you about an edition size just to leave all your options open. As the great infomercial sage Ron Popiel once said, "Set it, and forget it." You don't have to print the entire run at once; one of the great advantages of giclee printing is that you only have to print as many prints as people order, thereby saving ink, paper and storage costs. But once you come to the end of the edition, that's it. No more.

    With signed limited editions, document every print you sell. This is a great way to make buyers feel confident about what they're buying. Include a detailed original invoice or certificate of authenticity with each image-- not a photocopy-- with the print's title, paper type, printer type, ink type, date printed, edition size, and other particulars. Then personally sign and date it. Not only do buyers appreciate the documentation, but good documentation also tends to increase a work of art's value over time (even an inkjet reproduction or copy of a work of art). Given the choice between two identical works of art, one with documentation and one without, knowledgeable buyers will choose the one with documentation over the one without approximately 100% of the time.

    Dating digital images is particularly important. Since a digital file prints out exactly the same way every time you print it, no matter when you print it, the quickest and simplest way to differentiate one image from the next is by the date it was printed. Even though a print may be one of a larger edition, a date individualizes it, and makes it just a little bit more unique. And buyers like that. In fact, buyers generally like dated art, especially when their dates precede other buyers' dates.

    Many artists don't pay enough attention to dating their work, digital or otherwise, but the more art you make and the longer you make it for, the more important dates become-- especially on your early work, especially if you have a long and productive career. Dates come in mighty handy when retrospective time rolls around too. And once again, given the choice between two identical works of art, one that's dated and one that's not, knowledgeable buyers will choose the dated one over the undated one approximately 100% of the time. Keep in mind that you don't necessarily have to date the art on the front if you don't want to, but date it somewhere, either on the art itself or on the documentation that you provide with it.

    Those of you who create original digital works of art on a computer and then print them out in editions should follow the same basic procedures as artists making digital reproduction prints of their art. Set edition sizes as applicable and never change them once they're set, include documentation, state whether the art is entirely digitally created or some combination of digital and original work (like hand-embellished with paint, for example), and briefly describe your medium and/or production techniques. The ratio of digital to original content in your art is up to you; everything is OK. The important thing is that you state that ratio with some degree of accuracy so that anyone interested in buying, showing or representing your work has an accurate idea of what they're getting ahead of time. For example, if you add ten brush strokes to a digital print of one of your paintings, you're basically offering a reproduction; if you add hundreds of brush strokes, your giclee becomes progressively more like an original work of art. Whatever you do, make sure interested buyers understand exactly what you do.

    Never try to obscure the fact that your art has digital components (as some galleries and artists are occasionally tempted to do). For example, if you print a digital print and then paint over it in any way, call it "acrylic paint on a giclee image," "hand-enhanced giclee print," "hand-embellished inkjet print," "giclee print with hand highlighting," "hand painted digital print," or "inkjet and acrylic." Don't simply call it "mixed-media." Not only does that term confuse buyers, but it's also disingenuous because mixed-media traditionally refers to a work of art that is 100% original and created entirely by hand. Digital art is either in whole or in part created with computers, printers, scanners and/or cameras; no handwork is involved in certain stages of the process. You don't want someone to buy your "mixed media" art believing that you made it entirely by hand, only to find out later that you didn't.

    Artists sometimes think about keeping all of their originals and selling only digital reproductions, publishing them as signed limited editions. Maybe this is OK if you're as popular as Thomas Kinkade, and you sell tens of thousands of prints of every work of art you create, but when you're just starting out or you make significantly more art than you sell, be generous. Don't hoard all the originals and sell only copies. Short-sheeting collectors is not a good habit to get into. Make sure your buyers get their money's worth; happy buyers buy more art. Artists who sell more original works of art and by doing so become increasingly popular with collectors, eventually have more opportunities to produce and sell more giclees editions of their originals.

    For those of you who plan on producing lots of inkjet prints, think seriously about buying your own equipment rather than hiring fine art printers to do the job, or perhaps buying equipment together with several other artists. Printer prices have plummeted in recent years to the point where they can pay for themselves in relatively short periods of time. As equipment becomes more affordable, hiring publishers or fine art printers to print your prints is becoming les and less cost-effective and is gradually becoming a thing of the past (except for specialized high-end fine art printers or print publishing companies known for producing images of exceptionally quality). Keep in mind though that if you do decide to you buy your own equipment, you have to learn to use it.

    Additional pointers:

    ► Shop around and compare prices between printing companies before contracting work out. Get references from other artists who use the same publishers to be sure you get good value, good service, and quality images for your money.

    ► Make sure your image files are large enough to produce superior quality prints, and use printers capable of printing in high resolution (high dpi). You don't want dot matrix patterns to be visible on your prints (unless showing dot patterns is an intended characteristic of your art). Color fields should be crisp and clean with no overlap or fuzzy edges.

    ► Know the characteristics of your inks. Under what conditions will they fade? Are they water-resistant? Should they be protected with finishes? Should they be displayed only in low light? If you want your art to last, it's important to use the best inks, papers, and protective coatings available.

    ► Use pigmented inks only. Dye-based inks fade substantially over time.

    ► Make sure you know what specific printers are being used to print your images, as well as what inks, papers, and dpi (resolution) are being used. See samples of exactly what you're contracting for before you sign any dotted lines, and be sure the quality of those samples meets with your approval.

    ► Think about offering a little extra to early buyers of newly released editions-- maybe first pick at of images with lower edition numbers, a personal note on the receipt or certificate of authenticity, or other bonuses. Showing consideration to your first few buyers encourages them to buy first again, and might encourage other buyers to get in line quicker the next time as well.

    ► The nature of digital art is such that even though you print the same file over and over again, you can make each image unique with relatively minor changes. So experiment with different options-- you may end up pioneering techniques that digital artists will follow for years to come.

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