giclee printing advice



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Giclee printing in house or outsource?

At some point in time every visual artist faces this dilemma; let' s look at the positives of purchasing your own printing equipment.
First, the cost of producing the giclees. All you have to buy is the materials and print. Second, you do not have to wait for someone to get around to doing your work. Third, you can choose whatever material you wish and control your output.


Now, the negatives. The initial cost of the equipment. Scanner, digital camera, computer, printer.....We are looking at tens of thousands of dollars. Second, steep learning curve. I have been doing this professionally for 14 years and I am still learning! Third, it is a time consuming process. Do not believe any salesperson who tells you that color matching software and profiling have made color work easy. It is not easy: color correcting requires skill, advanced Photoshop masking techniques. If you are serious about precise color matching, expect to invest years learning how to. Of course you could hire someone in house. Any way you looked at this, it is not a free ride by any means. Also, make sure you run the printer at least on a daily basis.

As I mentioned throughout the site, these machines are designed to run constantly. If they sit unused even for a few days, they will develop clogging in the nozzles, causing time and ink waste to correct the problem. An extreme example is the Iris, which will clog severely at the drop of a hat and the nozzles will need to be manually flushed (not fun, believe me!) .Here is the scenario you are looking at:

You buy a large format printer with piezo heads. Piezo is a great technology that produces high quality prints. You plan to print a couple of times a week, possibly all day. The days that the printer is not working, the heads are clogging. Once you start the printer and do a nozzle check, one or may be several cycles are needed to unclog. This can run from a minimum of $5 to more than $50 in extreme cases. If you do a power cleaning you will literally see the ink levels dropping in front of your eyes!

All of a sudden, without even producing one print, you already are upside down. Then, after the first year, when the warranty expires, here comes the service agreement. Do not fool yourself: you need one. If anything even minimal goes wrong, it is at least $500 for a tech to come out. Anything major, we are talking 4 figures. A service contract is about $800 a year.

If you own a thermal head printer, the life span is not as long as piezo and in possibly a couple of years you will see nozzle failure. Again, good idea to have a service agreement. In any case, plan to replace that printer, no matter what brand, in 3 or 4 years. Better ones are coming out and you would be making giclees that are not as good as others created with better technology.

You may be asking yourself at this point how a commercial giclee printer can then survive. The answer is simple: volume. By running the printer all day, 5 to 7 days a week, clogging is less frequent, the service agreements are not a huge factor in a per print production costs.

If you are an artist with a lot of time on your hands and willing to invest money and countless hours you may be a candidate. Personally I believe that if I was a painter I would rather paint than fiddle around with a mountain of digital equipment. My clients are all busy artists who wisely chose to invest their time creating art and going out to market their work. How much is your time worth?

Ultimately the decision is yours. There is a lot of hype regarding how the creative world is going digital and how easy it all is. It all comes from people who make and sell this equipment. The most successful artists I have met and worked with are the ones who can wisely manage their time and know what to do themselves and what to outsource. The key is to find a giclee printer who understands and is receptive to your needs.

If you absolutely want to own a giclee printer, please read the giclee printers discussion. There is a cost of ownership factor where it does make sense to own a printer and it has to do with, as I mentioned, the volume of prints expected to be made and the time you have available to make such prints. Considering the fact that other traditional mechanical printing methods are either inferior or going the way of the dinosaur, making the leap to a digital workflow either in house or with a skilled company is a necessity more than a choice.