Prints from your artwork

Original Sketch

Magnified image after reduction in size for printing

While I wait for the initial stage of my oil painting to dry I will say a little about printing your artwork. Not the art forms of printing like etching or lino block but reproducing a painting or sketch as, for example, greeting cards or notepaper.

As the proprietor of a graphic design and printing business I would like to share the advise I would give an artist wishing to have their artwork reproduced as prints or incorporated into a printed item. The printing industry has undergone a huge change in the last 10 years mostly due to new technology, in particular digital printing. This means it is economical to produce small quantities of high quality prints.

There are 2 forms of printing here. Firstly, reproducing an artwork which will be a picture to be framed for example, and secondly, using an artwork as a stationery item. The former requires a little more effort as accuracy is required in producing a print which will be viewed more critically, especially if it hangs on your living room wall as opposed to a greeting card. I am not talking about ‘high end’ commercial printing, which is an involved process, but an amateur artist wishing to have personalised notepaper, greeting or Christmas cards etc. This is not for the neurotic perfectionist unless the budget is unlimited.

If the artwork is too large to be scanned, or the surface textured, photograph it. Use a digital camera. Lie the artwork flat on the ground outdoors, not in full sunlight. Adjust the quality to the maximum, and adjust the White Balance appropriately. Make sure the camera is ‘square on’ the artwork (the edges of the artwork are parallel to the edges of the camera viewfinder. There are several sites online on this subject. The finished photos, take several, can be checked and the best selected.

This is the tricky bit. Continuous tone and single colour artworks are treated differently. Continuous tone (usually paintings) are better if the photo is reduced in size for printing. The problems are usually in the colours. Your printer hopefully will produce a ‘proof’ or one-off print for checking colours and if the colour balance is way-off adjustments can be made. Although the photo supplied should be a guide for the printer. These prints are produced by mixing millions of dots of colours of basic inks. When you consider that the photographs are produced by mixing red, green and blue and the prints by mixing cyan, yellow, magenta and black no wonder colour balance is problematic.

Single colour work, as in the sketch above, are better made at the size they will be printed. As in the sketch, the thickness of the lines are critical. Obviously, enlarging the sketch makes the fine lines look more like brush strokes than pen lines. Reducing the sketch size reduces the thickness of the lines and below a certain threshold these lines don’t print (the second image above).

There are printers online specialising in this kind of work but the format is rigid and picked from a menu. Finding a sympathetic printing house can, by making minor adjustments, produce an unique printed item. For example, if the artwork is not a regular shape the online printer would just crop the image whereas your local printer could change the shape of the print to accommodate the artwork or fit a particular envelope size.

N.B.: Now is the time to think about Christmas cards and calendars for next year. Tempus fugit.


10 thoughts on “Prints from your artwork

  1. Pingback: Christmas Card Update « PictureS

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  3. Good advice, i’m currently going through the process of replicating my artwork for prints and trying to find suppliers. Not many available in Basingstoke, England – looks like I am going to have to suffer postage costs 😦

    Are there any generic settings you would advise when taking pictures of your artwork to produce the correct colours? Also, how do you get around the problem of sheen showing up on the photo’s – the only way around this i have found is to take it at a different angle, but then the final print will be wonky…?

    • I will tell you what I do and you can decide if the process suits you. Firstly you are right about photographing the artwork. The recommended practise is to have the camera directly above the surface with two light sources at 45 deg. angles each side. The problem is the texture of the surface. Each raised bit of paint or canvas has a highlight which gives a glare on the surface. What I do is take the photo at an angle, either in overcast daylight or florescent daylight. At an angle because I move the camera around until the glare is at a minimum. My paintings always have a white border. The White Balance on the camera is important. I manually set this based on a white surface similar to the painting surface. The exposure is set based on a mid grey card. These settings are taken just before the photo is taken. I usually take a few photos, either side of correct exposure. Here’s the tricky bit, I use Photoshop to view the photos and pick which looks the best. Because of the angle of the camera the shape will be ‘wonky’. In Photoshop there is a ‘Distort’ setting which allows me to pull the corners back into a rectangular shape. I then make the height or width the same relative size as the original. Remember the white border, in Photoshop there is a way of correcting white balance based on a white part of the artwork (the border). This white should always be white, regardless of what might happen in the camera or computer. I then crop the photo back to the edge of the painting. Even after all this, I sometimes have to ‘twiddle’ with the settings as I compare the painting with what is on the screen. There it is, you asked for it. I know, it sounds very technical and I don’t know any easier way. But remember it is the most critical part of the printing process. I won’t even touch on what the pre-press people have to do when you hand over your JPG file, but they can at least see what the final print should look like, that’s your photo you took.
      I hope this helps you. It all boils down to what you think is acceptable. My printing company always gives proofs (actual prints of the final product) and will try and make the print ‘acceptable’ to the customer before continuing. Most of the time the photos are so bad I will take the photo myself and save the customer, and myself, all the grief.

  4. Many thanks for your advice – I will try and give that all a go. I think I need to dig out the instruction manual for my camera! I have been dubious about using Photoshop to manipulate photos of my artwork before, as I wasn’t sure whether when I save the file it will save it smaller that the original photo file therefore affecting the final resolution of the print?

    • Don’t worry about file size. There is a setting (Image Size) which allows you to decide which size you would like and also the file format (JPG, TIF, PNG, PSD, etc).

  5. Thank you for the “like” on my post! As you know, it means so much to receive positive feedback when you are alone in your studio. Also, it has led me to your site which I am delighted to have found! Wonderful artwork, wonderful technical information. Just what I needed this morning.


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