The Art of Digital Prints

by Thomas Mihal, Positive Imaging

Thomas MihalEver since man has tried to express himself in images and pictures he has used some form of printing-method. There are caves withhandprints in different colours dating back many thousand years. The native Australians decorated their musical instruments and tools with handprints and other images. Later all sorts of engravings and etchings were used to make more prints from one work of art.Blocks were used in the Far East to print textiles.

Henry de Toulouse Lautrec printed posters from stones and long after Gutenberg, artists like Andy Warhol used Silkscreen as an effective art form. Printmaking was always a way to get more than one original out of one design.

When the photocopier was invented, it was meant to be a timesaving office machine but creative spirits, making all sorts of graphic effects immediately, adopted it.

Now we have a new medium to create and play with: Digital Printing.

Photographers and graphic designers are now using a whole range of relatively new tools to work with. There is the digital scanner and the digital camera; there are a number of software programs and finally all sorts of digital printing machines. These machines can print on almost any substrate from paperboardcanvassilk, and vinyl to transparentplastics. The numerous applications are well known in the industry of visual communication.

The methods and skills used in digital printing have two “main roots”: The photographer’s and the printer’s craft. The photographer wants to capture an image in the way he or she perceives it and then make it visible for other people and wants these people to see the image in the same way. The printer wants to reproduce any given image as precisely as possible by applying colour management and gradation control. Conversions and colour profiles are used to suit every method of printing.

Of course, a medium as versatile as digital printing is extremely attractive for all kinds of creative people: to photographers, painters and everybody creating visible art. A special photographic effect that used to take hours and hours of trial and error in the darkroom can now be achieved in a fragment of this time, by using computer software, mouse and screen. The result can then be printed onto high quality photographic paper.

Any artist, who has experienced the frustration of seeing an illustration spoilt by a leaking pen or a sputtering airbrush, will appreciate the possibility to just “undo” the last few steps on the computer and try again. Most importantly when using sophisticated technologies: do not let the machine take over the creative process with the result ending up in a sterile image; the work has to come from your imagination and not from a software program.

For me the most exiting aspect of digital printing is the unlimited potential of combining all sorts of images in multiple ways. A camera can become an artist’s brush because images can be captured, manipulated and included in the artwork as required by the artist. Weather the Image is created by:
Thomas Mihal, Water BirdThomas Mihal, Water

  • Camera
  • Paintbrush
  • Pen
  • Crayon
  • Computer

or a combination of all, digital printing will make it a reality – something you can frame and mount on the wall.

The art of digital printing should be called “Twenty-first Century Printmaking”. Just like a print from an engraving or a print from a photographic negative – a print from a digital file is anoriginal. It can be printed as limited, numbered and signed by the artist.

This fairly new technology has enormous potential to create personalised memorabilia like wedding albums, scrap books, holiday albums, posters e.g. since cameras, computers and printers are becoming more affordable.

Note from the editor: Thomas was born in Vienna and studied at the “Hoeheren Grafischen Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt”. Digital imaging is his dedication and he is exercising it over the last twenty years.

This has been reposted from the OnsetImages website:

Colour Management

By Thomas Mihal, Positive Imaging

Thomas Mihal
Thomas Mihal
Thomas Mihal

One of the terms that popped up during the rapid changes in visual communication is Colour Management. Artists, photographers, publishers, printers anybody who makes or uses pictures and graphics in a digitized format, talks about colour management.

But what is it really?

Some people think immediately of expensive software packages and even more expensive calibration equipment; others of well kept secrets only to be known by the members of an exclusive brotherhood of the initiated few.

We see a confusing variety of colour strips, and wedges, fancy patterns and patches, grey scales and control patterns with even more confusing brand names. They appear next to images on screens, proofs and prints to be evaluated by the matching calibration goodies who either feed the information magically back into some computer who in turn makes the necessary adjustments to the colour and tone values or you will be provided with some figures and data which will allow you to make accurate adjustments to the camera , printing machine, screen or the image itself … as long as you are able to interpret the data correctly and know how to apply it.

To me this is all a bit abstract. Visual communication is a creative field and most involved people are more intuitive then calculating by nature. The whole thing reminds me of the vast range of diets designed to make you loose weight. There are hundreds of different approaches just as many different methods a lot of them contradict each other and very few of them work.

So instead of subscribing to a program that includes a range of products and videos that come with a T-shirt and a membership card , it might be better to just eat less and run twice around the block every day; my point is : We must not loose sight of the actual reason for colour management.

First: What do we want? We want an image that is true in colour, has contrast and density Second: What is true ? The original creation Third: What is the end product ? It could be a · presentation using a digital projector · photographic print · digital image displayed on a screen · digital print · litho print (printed publications) · e.t.c.
The aim of colour management is to make your final product look exactly like the image initially chosen. It starts with the artists choice of colour, the photographers choice of film, aperture and shutter speed. If digital photography is used then the choice of file format comes already into play. Now we have the original creation.

The next step is, to turn the image into digital form (except if a photo has been created using a digital camera). This can be done by scanning or digital photography. Colour management is crucial at that point because any deviation from the original will result in a loss of quality along the way. The digital image can be one of many file formats, the most popular being JPG and TIF.

At that stage the image must be adjusted to counteract the effect of any further processing; for example:

A model on a beach is to appear in a newspaper that is printed on matt, soggy paper: The white sand will have to be made purposely too bright because the paper is not pure white to start of with. The soft shadows on her body will have to be adjusted to a much paler tone to compensate for the spreading of ink during the printing process. A presentation using a digital projector will need a different range of light and colour then the same presentation on a website.

Art reproductions and books have a long established culture of colour management , In the past a large part of the production time and budget was spent on colour correction and retouching. This was done manually with chemicals by etching the plates or films one colour separation at a time. This process is now being done electronically, but it still needs the expertise of someone who knows the printing process. To do all this many programs have been written and every modern printer uses “profiles” which can be applied to proofing devises and print files.

If the artist, the photographer and the designer want to avoid disappointment and see their creations not compromised by technical limitations, there are a few points to be considered:

    Johannes Itten: Colour Table
    Johannes Itten: Colour Table
  1. Don’t trust your computer screen for colour and brightness. Always have a test image resident on your hard drive in digital form, and the same image as a print somewhere where you can se it. This will allow you to evaluate any new images on your screen; even with a calibrated screen.
  2. Make sure your colour proofs are of good quality. A true proof does not mean pretty pictures. If the print is meant to be a proof it has to show the actual tonal and colour values without flattering and enhancing (unless the print is the final product). Some digital printers use additional inks to achieve colour tones that a conventional litho press for example cannot achieve.
  3. When going to litho, print work in CMYK. Some colours (light greens and bright oranges) look brilliant on your screen in RGB but loose a lot of their glow when printed in the process colours ( Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black).
  4. No reproduction can be better than the original. It is quite amazing what can be done to an image using program like Photoshop e.g. but the range of the original will always be compromised by corrective work.
  5. Trust your eyes more then technical data. Keep a colour control strip with your original during photography and proofing. Compare the original control strip with the ones on the subsequent proofs. But look only at the picture at the final stage.
Problems usually come only with corrective actions, more care at the start will prevent disappointment at the end.

This has been reposted from the OnsetImages website: