the digital print

paul d hunt's picture

i'm a big fan of etsy.com for advocating the handmade aesthetic, but i'm always a bit perplexed at the sale of 'digital prints'. it seems like an easy way out to me, i mean, i want something with more of a tactile presence: screen printed at least. can anyone give me some good reasons at why i shouldn't be such a snob about printing process and help me make peace with purchasing mass-produced, completely computer generated art? (not completely, you know what i mean!)

ebensorkin's picture

Maybe having a unique object is not so very important. If you are buying something from Etsy then surely ( the dominant aesthetic aside for 2 seconds ) the reason you are getting it is 1) you can afford it 2) you like it. Those are good reasons - surely. That may not be the fine art market uses, but it is the model used by the record collector. Is that so bad?

But even as I say these things I admit that it is not very often that I look at something that came out of a digital device and think... "oh that's nice" from the point of view of it's "object" values. Eg the texture, weight, kind of color it has and so on. But if it was a nice big poster, or an illustration that I loved - I feel like I could be cool with it's digital-ness.

blank's picture

I have mixed feelings about digital prints. There are some really incredible artists out there working in digital—even guys like Jim Dine—who produce stellar digital prints with the assistance of exceptional printers who work with great printers and materials. And I do like the unpretentious, no-art-world-bullshit nature of people running off unlimited editions for sale online, or selling limited editions at low-prices by cutting out the galleries.

But some of these people just don’t know what they’re doing. Many of them don’t list the materials used to make the prints. Inkjet prints are a total crapshot; AFAIK only Epson is really trying to make good pigmented inks that won’t fade. Other inks might fade in only months, the chemicals in some inkjet papers can also do weird things over time. The worst prints are shot out of a laser printer on heavy office paper that will yellow and become brittle.

So I guess you really just have to be a snob, do your homework, and ask questions before you buy.

pattyfab's picture

Paul, a tremendous amount of work goes into making digital prints sing. If you've ever messed around with an Epson inkjet, you'll know that. To me the difference has more to do with whether it's archival or not - the type of ink, the type of paper - than the method.

Quincunx's picture

> Inkjet prints are a total crapshot; AFAIK only Epson is really trying to make good pigmented inks that won’t fade. Other inks might fade in only months, the chemicals in some inkjet papers can also do weird things over time.

While this is somewhat true, there are -- and have been for quite some years -- UV-resistant inks available for pretty much every brand. Those are usually pretty longlasting.

You can also cover prints with UV-blocking laminate. I have one huge inkjet print that I covered with such laminate (we could do that where I worked at the time) and it hasn't faded at all in 4 or 5 years. Although I must add that I remember that the laminate used was quite expensive, something like 80 euros per meter square. But it really makes the prints last long, and gives it a nice finish.

paul d hunt's picture

still not exactly convinced. will have to think on it longer.

AGL's picture

A digitally created image is as hand made as any other thing. After all it takes a lot of hand work at it. It can be output to canvas using a ink jet printer. Assuming it is really art and not a “giglé” out of a famous painting. You may be surprise at the quality.

Digital is cheaper!

You would never get the same feel as if it was printed with litographic stone or fancy copper or brass plates; those are awesomely expensive. Silkscreen can do a good job but also costs more then the ink jet.

I suppose it is a budget question.

pattyfab's picture

Silkscreen is also very toxic to make.

paul d hunt's picture

patty, can you tell me more about the green angle, this would actually turn out to be a selling point for me if it turns out that digital prints are actually 'greener' than other processes, such as silk screen...

Quincunx's picture

Paul, go do some screenprinting yourself, and see what a mess it is. ;)

Emulsions, inks (although those are usually waterbased these days), sodium hydroxide/lye/caustic soda (whatever it's called) to clean the screens of ink, etc. Printing usually also wastes alot of paper (adjusting trapping, etc.) So in that sense inkjets are probably greener.

On the other hand, inkjet printers have to be made, cartridges and ink have to be made and the plastics end up in the environment, etc. So all in all it probably doesn't really matter. ;)

pattyfab's picture

Paul, I don't know anything really about commercial silkscreening but I do know that hand silkscreening uses hideous chemicals and needs to be done in a very well-ventilated space, such as outside. That is about the sum total of my knowledge on the subject, sorry! Photo darkroom chemicals are not so great either. The photography teacher in my high school (who smoked in the darkroom, everyone did) died at 40 of lung cancer. Obviously the smoking didn't help, but I'm just sayin...

I think your prejudice against digital prints - while understandable - is something you'll just need to get over. You see them in museums and galleries all the time now. It's just a different technique but as AGL (and I) said, it takes just as much skill to coax a beautiful print out of your inkjet printer than to screen it or print it in a darkroom.

Quincunx's picture

> but I do know that hand silkscreening uses hideous chemicals and needs to be done in a very well-ventilated space, such as outside.

Yep, thats true. We have a rather well equipped screenprinting workshop at my art academy. So I occasionally do some printing there. The workshop is completely ventilated.
But it isn't as bad as it used to be; the only chemicals that are somewhat nasty are lye (to clean ink off screens), which is slightly corrosive, and some other solvents. So it's smart to wear goggles when applying lye and blasting the screen clean with a pressure washer afterwards. The photo emulsions and such are probably also not the most healthy substances, but they aren't particularly irritating. They do not sting on your skin or throat and such.

But most inks are water based these days. Back in the day especially the inks were quite nasty. So you don't really need very strong solvents anymore. We only use those old inks for printing on surfaces that repel water, like highly reflective plastics or something like that.

But if we're talking green... tons of paper towels, masking tape, testing paper for aligning the printing surface, leftover ink you can't keep for long, water, etc.

Jonathan Clede's picture

To me, buying a digital print is kind of like buying a poster or a bumper sticker. It's not the classiest presentation in the world, but it's a perfect way to display certain content.

Also, as others have mentioned, the cost plays a significant role here too. Depending on what art we're talking about, I would guess that most of the market for digital prints is people who couldn't afford a comparable piece of original art (or a print using a more expensive process).

pattyfab's picture

>>To me, buying a digital print is kind of like buying a poster or a bumper sticker. It’s not the classiest presentation in the world, but it’s a perfect way to display certain content.

There is a huge range in quality for digital prints. There are the ones I print off my Epson using toner and paper I buy at Staples. Then there are museum-quality digital prints on acid-free paper, using archival ink. It really isn't fair to lump them all together.

bojev's picture

Patty is correct - it is not the basic process but what is done with it - done in the right way a digital print can be as valid as a hand pulled etching or lithograph. On the right paper even a laser printer can produce a great "wood engraving".

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