Issue date: 06 February 2002

In recent years artists making images on paper have turned more and more to digital methods using computers to make artwork and ink jet printers to print the image. Compared to traditional methods of generating images, there is no body of knowledge that is universally considered to be reliable for the artist to use. The Centre for Fine Print Research at the University of the West of England (UWE) recognised this and is working closely with Hewlett-Packard and John Purcell Paper on a major research project which they believe will influence the development of printers, software and paper.

In general, artists generate their work from scanned images, digital cameras or directly on the computer, which are then digitally printed onto standard printers using standard papers. The resulting images often do not come up to expectations. Carinna Parraman, research fellow at the CFPR said, “There are two key facts, which have an impact on print quality. One is the type of the paper; the other is how the ink sits in the paper. For example heavyweight handmade paper may need more ink than a delicate rice paper because it is more absorbent.

“Artists want to be able to harness digital technology to produce artworks which can then be printed onto good quality artist’s paper, which have archival properties in that they are less likely to degenerate or chemically react to the ink. These archival papers often have a better surface quality, which is an important subjective consideration for an artist.”

In consultation with John Purcell Paper, a paper merchant specialising in artists’ papers, Carinna has taken a sample of 30 different printmaker’s papers and tested each using the same colour. The knowledge gained from these tasks is being used to look at the complete picture – the relationship between the software, the ink and the paper – especially in coated archival papers. Carinna commented; “We have noticed a very big difference in the quality of colour on the different papers. The composition of papers has an impact on how the print looks – whether it is gelatine sized for example, or has a starch coating; others have variations in surface texture – this is especially the case with some handmade papers.”

An additional challenge is the fact that printers are designed to be fed with lightweight paper so some artists papers over 300gsm can’t be used for digital artworks.

Carinna said, “This project will also help inform print manufacturers like HP on how to develop printers for artists’ use. In some cases the adaptation is just a simple matter of raising the gap between the inkjet head and the paper roller to allow some of the heavier papers to feed through. Many artists take images and manipulate these on screen to produce artworks but have been disappointed with the results when the artwork is printed onto to inferior papers to those used for traditional printmaking methods.”

Complimenting this research is work looking at rewriting colour profiles in inkjet printers for a range of papers. Working closely with John Purcell Paper, the Centre, will be looking at identifying bespoke colour profiles for commonly used artists’ papers. This will mean that by writing a programme into the printer the artist will be able to select the paper they want to print on and the programme will control the ink flow to suit the selected paper. This will mean that whatever paper is chosen consistency of image will be maintained.

Carinna concluded, “At the moment there are limitations for artists wanting to use digital printers for the production of artworks. We believe that by helping to improve understanding of the needs of artists we can work with innovative companies like HP to produce printers that will benefit all users.”


Editors Notes

Hewlett-Packard Company -- a leading global provider of computing and imaging solutions and services -- is focused on making technology and its benefits accessible to all. HP had total revenue of $45.2 billion in its 2001 fiscal year. Information about HP and its products can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www.hp.com.

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