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Fine art prints v photo prints - clients printing experiment.

fine art prints comparison

You did it! Your family photoshoot is over. The photos are uploaded to an online gallery and you love them all. At last the whole family is together and kids are all happy in the photos. You want to print a few of them but here is where things can get a little tricky. You can print them yourself at a local McCauley chemists or you can get your photographer to turn your images into fine art prints. Which way is better?

What is a Photographic Print?

Photo prints are the prints you are getting in chemist aka Sam Maccauley’s and other mass printing services. They are cheap and affordable and are great for everyday use. Photo prints are not known for their longevity though. They have a few drowbacks:

  • Cheaper inkjet printers use 4-dye based inks. Dye based inks are dissolved in water. This makes them prone to fading;
  • Fewer colors mean colours may not match exactly. Skin tones can look very different from different printers;
  • The colours of these prints will fade over time;
  • Some acid is used in production of photo paper and this is bad news as acid reacts with light and other elements and over time will make paper to become yellow or even crack;
  • These prints are better kept in albums or dry boxes – making a show of them on your walls will get them to fade over time;
  • In many places this process is fully automatic, meaning you won’t get any help or advice with papers or finishes.

diagram of high stREET DIGITAL PRINT

What is a Fine Art Print?

Fine art printing (also known as giclée) is a process that combines 12 pigment based inks. The word Giclée (pronounced “g-clay”), comes from the French verb gicler meaning “to spray”. The ink is sprayed onto fine art papers. With so many different inks, the colour matching is almost perfect to the original. Skin tones look very real which is crucial for portraits. The pigment ink is suspended (rather than dissolved) in water. This makes it very resistant to fade. Fine art prints can last for up to 100 years without fading.

fine art print

Fine art papers: prints that are made to last.

What makes fine art prints look amazing is the paper itself. Fine art papers are made from 100% cotton and are acid free because the acid content of other photographic print paper can make them brittle and crack over time. They are also heavy (thick) and don’t tend to curl. They come in many finishes from high gloss and metallic to a flat matte finish. There are so many papers that on this subject alone I can talk for hours. Two of my favourite brands are Hahnemuhle and Canson. Both have been founded believe it or not – in 16th century.They must be doing something right to survive on the market that long:) One of the most exciting features of fine art papers is texture. Every paper has its own signature texture: from silky smooth and barely noticeable to a very coarse grain.

My printing experiment.

To really show you what I mean I did an experiment. I took two of my clients digital images and printed them on my favourite fine art matte paper. Then I dropped the same files onto a usb stick and went off to the nearest printing place: Sam MacCauley pharmacy.It was like taking money from the cash machine – I stuck in my USB stick and the machine spat out the photos. No human being in sight!  It saddens me to think that the images that I have spent hours editing get printed with such disrespect and no love. When I send my images to a pro lab for printing every one of them gets checked and then checked again by me before I approve them for my client.

You can see on this images that giclee fine art prints are brighter, hold lots of shadow detail especially in the eyes. They are vibrant, sharp, colour balanced correctly and printed by THE BEST printer in the industry, using the best fine art paper available. But most importantly they look just as I intended them to look. McCauley prints are darker, with muddy colours too much rednes in the skintones.

Being in fine art photography for more than 10 years tought me a lot about printing. Different papers, textures and finishes – I tried them all submitting my work for competitions- and won many awards for my prints. I now deliver only highest quality prints to my clients printed on the best papers such as Hahnemuhle fine art baryta or Canson photo rag.

Giclee prints ireland bottom line.

You get what you pay for. Photographic prints are okay as a low budget everyday alternative but since you have already invested your time and money into a professional photographer it makes sense to order fine art prints that will stand the test of time and will be enjoyed not only by you but your grandchildren too. 

Below is the photographic print that was printed around 40 years ago:

faded photograph of a mother holding baby
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