The Madness of Limited Editions

Over the years I have lost more than a few handfuls of print sales to the uneducated buyer who insist on buying only limited edition inkjet prints. I can recall with clarity the day I realized that inkjet prints should be part of my of my portfolio. I was showing my platinum palladium work at a gallery in the fall of 2010. Off the to side was a display table. I placed some of the working platinum palladium prints on the table to showcase the printing process that I use. One of the guests viewing the prints fell in love with a smaller panoramic platinum palladium print. The young woman very much wanted to buy the print. She was a college student and couldn’t afford a platinum palladium print. Had I been thinking fast enough, I could have offered her a digital copy of the print. The potential sale of the inkjet print was not motivated by profit. My motivation to sell a more affordable inkjet print was very simplistic in nature. Keep the customer happy. The platinum palladium print is more of an investment for the serious art lover and collector. The inkjet print is great for visual appeal at a more affordable cost. Some buyers will ultimately decide to buy an inkjet print. The highest compliment that I can achieve is to have a paying customer hang one of my prints on their wall. Inkjet or platinum palladium is not the issue. This is about showcasing art.

After that art show I decided to pursue the sale of my images as inkjet prints. What I found was far beyond what I could have imagined. The next potential sale came a few months after that art show. I was showing my portfolio to a potential customer. He wanted to hang some black and white prints in his new multi-million dollar home. We spent about an hour looking at images. He picked out a total of nine images. Then he dropped the bombshell. He would only buy “limited edition prints”. His financial advisor had indicated that the only print worth buying were limited edition prints. I stated that my inkjet prints are not limited and he should consider investing in some of my platinum palladium prints. I’ll cut to the chase and say that he told me “a simple photograph” was not worth the prices I was asking. He further indicated that I should lower my prices. I attempted to explain the pricing structure for my platinum palladium prints. The words coming out my mouth fell straight to the floor, thus bypassing his ears. My prices for platinum palladium prints are well within reason and are not overpriced. I thanked him for his time and made the one hour drive home back home pondering what had just happened. I did further research on limited edition inkjet prints. What follows could only be described as some of the highlights of what I found.

When Is Limited Really Limited?

The practice of limited edition prints in the art world is perhaps one of the most mystical areas that can be touched upon. The origins of the limited edition print dates back to the nineteenth century. Limiting the amount of prints made was a common practice for most forms of print making. The etchings and plates used for print making would deteriorate with each print made. The earlier prints made were the most sought after and often would fetch the most amount of money. That makes perfect sense. The best quality print should cost the most. Now we fast forward to the present.

The practice of limiting prints has taken a rather questionable turn down the dark path of marketing. This would exclude the modern-day traditional print makers and the practitioners of historical photography processes. The questionable area that I am talking would be the limited editioning of inkjet prints. This is where clarification is in order. The inkjet print has undergone a change in terminology. Regardless of the terms, the inkjet print is still an inkjet print. Here are some common names for inkjet prints. These terns are explained to further understand the mystery of the limited edition inkjet print.

Giclée Print – The origins of this term dates back to 1991. The Giclée (Zhee-Clay) print was made on a special high-end printer. The printer was manufactured by the Iris Graphics Company. Iris printers were expensive, temperamental and used a specific ink set and workflow. Over time the Iris printer gave way to inkjet printers. The Giclée process is no longer used, yet the term has stuck for any print made digitally. I suspect the use of the term Giclée sounds more fancy pants for some. The reality is an inkjet print is an inkjet print and not a Giclée print, no matter the claims of the artist producing the print.

Carbon Print – The carbon print is named for the carbon based black and white inks used to produce the inkjet print. This term can be confused with the nineteenth century carbon transfer process. The carbon transfer process is a very moody and temperamental process that can produce a very real three-dimensional print. Carbon transfer prints are hand crafted and are entirely different from carbon inkjet prints. The perceived value of a digital carbon print comes in terms of archival stability. Carbon based inks are very stable and relatively archival. That same statement is not true for the pigment inkjet print. Carbon inks can extend the life of a properly maintained inkjet print. The jury is still out on the longevity of carbon based inks used to produce an inkjet print. Carbon prints are limited to black and white. There is not such animal as a color carbon print.

Pigment Print – Another confusing term. The more appropriate term would be digital pigment print. The images are printed with pigment based inks. Welcome to the world of the modern inkjet printer. I use an Epson SureColor P7000 24” professional photo printer. The P7000 uses pigment inks. I have yet to find a paying client that cares what type of inks are used to print my images on inkjet media. This is simply another misleading buzzword overused by the marketing folks to hype the inkjet prints.

Now we can proceed to the heart of the matter. The use of limited edition inkjet prints. Historically the use of limited edition prints was twofold. The first reason has already been touched upon. The fragile nature and life expectancy of hand etched plates was limited. The plates could only last so long. The second reason for limited editions is related to a more complex reality of the hand crafted artistic process. Sooner or later the artist will decide that enough is enough. I limit my platinum palladium prints for this very reason. The platinum palladium process is very slow and labor intensive. Cranking out hundreds of platinum palladium prints in an edition is not very practical. The hybrid approach I use for printing my images involves a digital negative. The in-camera negatives I expose are scanned on a high-resolution drum scanner. The high resolution file is then adjusted for contrast and printed onto a special material for producing digital negatives. I could easily print negative after negative to replace the damaged and worn out negatives. This would allow me to print hundreds if not thousands of the same image. That might sound like a profitable idea, yet I can promise you the opposite is true. The serious collector would look at the bloated edition size as a means of profiting at the expense of the buyer. And that is exactly the problem. Limited edition platinum palladium prints are in every sense of the word limited to a small number of finely produced prints. To go beyond the reasonable amount of prints would be diving into the world of the inkjet print.

I often laugh inside when I see an inkjet edition of 300 prints for each size offered. The math works out to around 1,200 to 1,800 prints per image. I am at a serious loss as to how this is truly a limited edition. The math gets worse when you factor in all of the different images offered by the particular photographer. I have seen some of these photographers that have a hundred or so different images for sale as limited edition. This is counter intuitive toward the concept of selling limited editions prints. I wish that was the end of the madness, yet we are not even close yet.

The limited editions typically increase in the selling price as the edition sells out. The most employed method of the edition comes in the tiered level system. There are typically three or four tiers. A tier is simply a number or set of prints. Prints one through one hundred could be one tier. The next tier could be the next hundred and so on. The selling prices increases as the edition sells out. This is yet another accepted marketing practice. I don’t necessarily agree with that strategy, yet it is the standard for limited edition print pricing. The tiered approach will almost always have the last several images held back at an unspecified dollar amount. This is useful for the artist that wants to price the last few prints as high as the amount required for the down payment on house. Again this is a practice that I see as unfair and a slap in the face to the buyer.

Now we get to my personal favorite misconception. The misconception that a digital print will gain value when limited to the number of prints offered. Sorry ladies and gentlemen. This is not the case. A digital print will never increase in actual monetary value. Allow me to further explain. The artists that sells limited edition inkjet prints will mislead customers into believing that an inkjet print will gain in value. This is not true. The handmade print is the only type of print that will in fact increase in value. The tiered pricing structure for digital prints is what we call an artificially inflated value. The value of the inkjet print is based upon the initial selling price of the first print in the edition. That does not mean the actual value will increase. This might sound crazy, yet a machine-made print will never gain in value. All of this is academic if you see a print you like that is in the last tier of an edition.

This is where we part the sea of artistic politics. There are those that will disagree. Some might even get angry. That is perfectly understandable. The photographer selling the limited editions will inevitably use the artificially inflated value as a selling point. Do yourself a favor and don’t buy into it. A digital inkjet print is worth today what was paid for the print 10 years ago. Just because a buyer paid more for a print in the higher tier, does not make the print any more valuable than a print in the first tier. This is simply the economics of art. One must factor in the inevitable rule of inflation and reputation of the artist. In time the pricing structure will increase at a steady rate. Anything other than a gradual 10 -15% every three or four years is suspect. The rules for the historic photographic processes are much different.

Consider the platinum palladium limited edition. Each one of the prints is handmade and will have subtle differences that will make every print unique. I use the term handmade in every sense of the meaning. So often I hear inkjet prints as being handmade. Perhaps one must factor in the index finger of the right hand used to press the print button as handmade. Personally I find the term handmade offensive when used to describe an inkjet print. I for one could care less if the artist or his assistant printed the image. The real work is done prior to the stress of printing the image to the printer. The term handmade has been twisted so far that it is high time to return to the traditional meaning of the word.

Now you know why I refuse to edition my Inkjet prints. The open edition approach allows me to keep the price of my inkjet prints affordable to the art lover. Perhaps I just made a convincing argument in regards to the pricing structure of inkjet prints. Maybe the educated art buyer will stop buying into the marketing hype. In the end, all I can do is state the facts and let common sense prevail.

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Washi Digital Printing – Part I

Eldridge Cleaver pinned this one. “There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.”

That is one quote I seem to ponder on a daily basis. To ignore any problem and do nothing is much like being part of the problem. Over the past several years I have been having some serious moral heartburn over printing inkjet prints on traditional photographic paper. The more images I print, the more trees get harvested to make the paper. This creates a catch 22 of sorts. Print the images and slowly watch the trees die, or don’t print the images and stare at the blank walls. To call me a tree hugger would be exaggerated. I do love the trees, yet trees are engrained upon our society as a much needed resource. My moral compass is spinning out of control here. If we continue to whack enough trees, there will serious consequences. For me to sit around and watch those gentle giants fall for the sake of an inkjet print is not an option. Thus the phrase, you are either part of the solution, or part of the problem. I have decided it is high time for me to be part of the solution. Lucky for me I found the answer. Paper making companies have responded with very creative solutions. One of those solutions turned out to be right in front of my nose.

My platinum palladium took on new meaning many years ago with my discovery of washi. Washi is the Japanese word for the traditional papers made from the long inner fibers of the three most popular plants. The term washi comes from wa meaning Japanese and shi meaning paper. The history of washi dates back to the 8th Century. Washi is far too delicate and thin to be used on an inkjet printer. The inks would bleed right through the paper. The Awagami company decided to challenge that problem and make a washi that can tolerate an inkjet printer. Awagami makes both handmade and machine made washi. Handmade washi is the best, yet machine made is more appropriate for digital printing.

Both handmade and machine made washi fall into three main types.

kozo
Kozo Plant

Kozo – (plant) The inner bark of the kozo mulberry plant is beaten and mixed with water to produce a paste. That paste is then further refined and poured onto screens to dry.

gampi
Gampi Bush

Gampi – (bush) The gampi bush is commonly known as the king of fibers. I use Sekishu (sah-key-shoe) Toriniko Gampi to print my platinum palladium images. There are currently no variations of gampi that are coated for digital printing. Perhaps in the future that will change.

mitsumata
Mitsumata Plant

Mitsumata – (plant) The bark is beaten and reduced to a pulp like paste. The paste is then refined and poured onto a screen to dry.

 

bamboo
Bamboo

I did say there were three plants. A more recent entry into the washi family is bamboo. The main ecological benefit of bamboo is the sustainability. Bamboo tends to grow at very fast rate. All things being considered, bamboo is one of the best papers for digital printing on the market. The use of bamboo for digital printing has exploded over the past several years. The Agawami paper company arguably makes the best digital bamboo paper. There are only a few handful of companies even making washi anymore. The recent trend to print images digitally has driven a huge demand for exotic papers. Every year there are more variations of machine made washi introduced. There is even a handmade digital washi paper being made. More on that in a few.

 

awagami
Awagami Washi

I ordered a sample pack of Awagami digital washi. There is only one distributor in the United States. Perhaps that will change with more demand for the paper. The sample pack contained 18 sheets of different washi. For testing purposes I printed a 5”x7” image on one half of the paper. The other half will have another image printed later. The image of the tree detail was chosen for the test. This image has some good tonality and depth. Before I talk about the results of the testing, I want to cover more of the details of the paper tested.

Tree Details
Dead Tree Details

 

Points to ponder

Deckled Edges – The traditional process of making paper by hand involves using a wooden fence called a deckle. The deckle is used to hold back the wet paper pulp (slury) as it is poured into a wooden frame. The deckle is then removed and the slurry is shaken inside the mould to reduce excess water. This action allows the slury to creep to the edges of the mould in an uneven fashion. A deckled edge is that classic torn paper look. A true deckled edge can only be made during the paper making process.

European Sheet Paper Sizes – The washi is only available in European paper sizes.

A4 – 8.3” x 11.7”

A3 – 11.7” x 16.5”

A2 – 16.5” x 23.4”

A1 – 23.4” x 33.1

Grams per square meter (gsm) – This is by far the most confusing measurement of paper. The average weight of paper used in an inkjet printer is around 75-85 grams per square meter.

Washi Tested

Bamboo – The bamboo paper came in three different weights.

  • 170 gsm
  • 220 gsm
  • 250 gsm

There are really only two noticeable differences between the variations. The 220 gsm weight is available only in an A4 size. All of the four edges are deckled. The 170 gsm is available in roll paper for larger prints. The image quality for all weights is identical. The weight of the paper is of little concern when placed into a frame. Bamboo has a subtle textured feel with a matte surface. The paper really comes to life with black and white images.

Inbe – There were three very scientific weights of this white kozo paper.

  • Thin
  • Thick
  • Extra thick

No need to measure this paper. This paper is very organic in nature and will vary slightly in thickness. The thin version is so thin that a backing sheet of some sort is required. The backing sheet will dictate the overall color of the paper.

Mitsumata Double Layered– An off white paper so thin that two pieces are bonded together to produce a double layered washi. The texture is very subtle, yet effective as to not overpower the image.

Murakumo Kozo Select- Thin is the slice of bologna that has only one side. Murakumo kozo is so thin it appears to have only one side. The delicacy of this paper shows through as the fibers give that traditional antique look of washi. This washi comes in white and natural color.

Traditional Kozo – This is by far the most popular flavor of washi. There were four variations of the traditional Kozo. The thin kozo is slightly transparent and has that classic organic look of the plant fibers showing in the lightest areas. The looks is still subtle and does not distract from the image. The double layered kozo is still thinner than most of the washi tested.

  • White Thin
  • Natural Thin
  • Natural Thick
  • Double Layered

 

Premio Washi – The Premio series of washi is made by laminating two thin sheets of Kozo together.

  • Premio Kozo- A heavier kozo fiber paper with a smooth and subtle surface.
  • Premio Inbe – Heavier washi with a slight cream tint. Smooth surface with little fibers showing.
  • Premio Unryu – This is perhaps the most unique washi. The long fibers of the Kozo plant are embedded into the paper resulting in a visible random pattern. Very appropriate for the right image. The wrong image could be overwhelmed by the pattern of the kozo fibers.

Bizan – This is the finest handmade washi available. Each sheet is made one at a time by master craftsmen. The finished sheet has a textured look similar to watercolor paper. This is truly a classic washi. The thick Bizan is by far the best. This is also the most expensive washi for digital use. The larger sheets of Bizan also have deckled edges for that fine art look.

  • Medium – 200 gsm
  • Thick -300 gsm

For now it is time for an intermission. The foundation is now set for the testing to take place. In the second post I will share the results including how the image looks on a few of the best sheets of washi. Stayed tuned for more.

It’s In The Bag

So goes the saying. It’s in the bag. I thought I would expand upon one of the questions I am asked most often. It seems that every Tom, Dick and Jasper is interested in how I carry my camera. For many years I used a common beer cooler. I still use that cooler from time to time. Just stop to think about it. Pound for pound, the garden variety cooler provides the maximum protection for the view camera. That tends to work for roadside shots. Take the cooler for a stroll and the journey gets old very fast. Enter the modern day back pack. Lightweight and custom tailored for comfort when schlepping camera gear. The problem with most camera backpacks is that they are designed for a much smaller camera. For years I searched high and low for a pack that would fit the size, shape and design of my panoramic camera. That search ended in the spring of this year. Enter the Langly Company. I tripped over the Langly camera bag while trolling Pinterest one night. I found a pin of a hard core wax coated canvas bag. My interest was now officially peaked.

Bag

The Langly website was punched into Firefox. The measurements of the bag proved to be on the edge of perfect. The interior was the usual mess designed for the Digital SLR camera. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed. There was only one option left. The color. Black is great for a gas grill or an oven. Not for a camera bag in the hot sun. The drab olive was just that. Drab. Ah….the natural color. Sweet. Best of luck keeping it clean, yet I accept the challenge. Natural it is. The bag was ordered in the nick of time. The natural color went out of stock as soon as I hit the add to cart button. Anticipation set in as I waited the seven to ten business days. I know what your thinking. Getting excited over a backpack to carry a wooden camera sounds rather sad and pathetic. Guilty as charged. My passion to get the shot starts to fade after the fourth visit to the chiropractor. A comfortable fit goes a long way into the golden years of retirement One must think of these things when planning for the future.

bag-open

The bag arrived in about a week. I tore open the box with a savage passion not seen in years. I unzipped main compartment and set about the task of removing those pesky dividers. That was not as easy as it sounds. Imagine a cloth covered leach and you get the visual of how the dividers latched back onto the bag when removed. Pruning shears took care of that little problem. The Ebony 4”x10” panoramic camera was then placed into a horizontal configuration. The fit was like that of a glove. Pack in some film holders, a few lenses, a dark cloth and a bologna sandwich and we’re there. The real test was the fit. I give it a solid 4 out of 5 stars. The best part is that I can fit everything I need in one bag. The bottom loops will even hold my new lightweight German state of the art tripod. That’s another story.

 

Bag-Camera

Here is the pack loaded and ready to go. The 4″x10″ view camera is resting comfortably on top of focusing cloth. There are two additional lenses in cloth wraps above the camera. The film holders, light meter cable release and other accessories are  tucked safely away in the various compartments. Th total weight of the loaded bag is around 18 pounds (minus the tripod). I can also swap the 4″x10″ for my 8″x10″ if the need arises. I am now heading out to field test the setup. The summer road tripping season has been a disappointing time due to excessive heat and humidity. I am now holding out for cooler fall weather. The Appalachian Mountains are particularly spectacular in the fall. More on that later. For now I will sign off and head for the solitude of the foothills of western New England.

contents
Packing it all in. These are the major elements required to get the shot.

 

 

Kennedy Hilton Outhouse

Kennedy Hilton – Retro Style Hand Coloring

The Kennedy Hilton Outhouse was a classic single seater outhouse. The outhouse was located on the grounds of the Kennedy Hilton Estate along the banks of Lake Chapman in northern Indiana. The reality of the situation was that of a very small cabin with a huge shared front lawn. The lake was a stone’s throw from the front porch. I managed to snag this image in the spring of 1987. How I did that is another story. The hand coloring is what we are here to talk about now.

The decision to hand color a black and white photograph is not one I take lightly. Each image is selected based upon the final outcome. The process to hand color can be very labor intensive. This image was no exception. The first task when hand coloring is to select a color scheme. The colors don’t need to match the original scene. This is what I like to refer to as the “artistic license”. Selecting the colors is not an easy process. The colors you see in the image were pushed, pulled, tweaked and otherwise fine-tuned to get the final color. Applying the initial colors to a black and white photograph will always end up with a result that is very fake looking. The real artistry comes with refining the color to get that classic retro look. The description that follows is simply a brief overview and is in no way intended to be a tutorial.

Once the colors are selected, the real work begins. Each major element that is colored requires some type of mask. There are various ways to create a mask. In this case I used a channel in Photoshop as a mask for each element that was hand colored. The channel allowed me to see the area to be masked. The mask starts out as a solid black fill. I worked backwards by cutting the mask away from the area to be colored. I did this by using a combination of the airbrush tool and the Bezier (pronounced Bez ee a) curve. The term Bezier curve roughly translates from French as “pen that draws crazy curves”. The origins and use of the Bezier curve are beyond the scope of this article. Using the Bezier curve allows placing various points along any shape. The approach is much like connecting the dots. The points of the curve are closed allowing the shape to be filled with a solid color to create the mask. More on that in a minute.

OuthouseHC1
This is the preview of the mask. The areas in red are protected.

This image shows the mask I used for the leaves. The mask is the red portion. Every element that shows as red is masked out and isolated from the green color I used for the leaves. Here is the process to get the masked area colored.

  • A new channel is created in Photoshop. That takes a few clicks of the mouse.
  • The mask is created in the new channel by hand using the Bezier curve tool. This is the most time consuming part of the process. The mask starts as a black channel and is filled with a white. The white portion on the completed mask is actually transparent and will allow elements under the white portion to be colored. Easier to see then explain.
  • The completed mask is loaded as a selection in Photoshop. A selection is simply the area that is to be affected. This is another few clicks of the mouse to load the selection.
  • The color is then selected in the Photoshop color pallet. I typically select the colors prior to starting any masking work.
  • The masked area is then filled with the desired color. Typically the fill color is a weaker percentage of the selected color. Filling the mask with the color is another few clicks of the mouse.
  • The color is now adjusted for hue, saturation, brightness and contrast. This is by far the most critical portion of the process. The best mask is worthless when a poor color selection is applied.
LeafMask
This is how the mask looks in edit view.

 

mask-detail
This is the detailed view of the mask.

The masking technique worked for about 80% of this image. The real business end turned out to be the Photoshop airbrush. The first step is to load the airbrush with the desired color and opacity. This is where the coloring can get to be very tricky. The color must be applied to each portion of the image without stopping. This is not like applying a few coats of house paint. Only one pass with the airbrush will work. A second pass can and will often change the color where the first and second pass of color meet. I have given up on trying to figure out the specifics of why, how and when this happens. Over time the ability to keep the airbrush moving does get easier. I can also fade the percentage of color if I use one pass. Trust me when I say that the entire process of using the airbrush gets very complicated. There were areas on the outhouse that needed a very fine brush. These areas were done without a mask so the brush was at times on the anorexic side. The negative was scanned at 5,000 pixels per inch. I was using a brush as thin as 9 pixels. Think of how small that really is on a 5k ppi image. That’s 1/18th of one percent. Forget the needle in the haystack comparison. More like the human hair in the hay stack. Mind boggling that technology will allow such precision.

brushes

Photoshop Airbrush Tool Options

 

Over a period of 36 hours I worked to apply refine and tweak the colors and tint’s used. The door alone took me around 8 hours to keep the subtle details from being washed away. You won’t catch me straining my arm from patting myself on the back, yet I am very pleased with the outcome. I find myself even liking the hand colored version more than the black and white (gasp)…. Perhaps there will be more images to color in time. I am also pondering a video that shows a time lapsed slice of how this is done. Comments are always welcome.

 

OuthouseCombo
Here is the comparison of the original black and white to the hand colored version.