Professional Photographer Magazine Web Exclusives

Product Closeup: HP Artist Solution for Digital Fine Art Reproduction

By David Saffir

If anyone had asked me a few years ago if we would ever see a user-friendly system that enabled photographers to add profitable digital fine art reproduction to their business I might have said “not likely.” That’s changed.

I had the privilege of helping HP introduce its new end-to-end solution for digital fine art reproduction at Photokina 2008, and PhotoPlus Expo in New York. HP Artist makes it possible for photographers to accurately photograph watercolors, acrylics, oils, and other flat art, and produce very high quality prints—and requires only a fraction of the labor and technical expertise of other, older methods.

HP Artist combines camera characterization, artwork imaging and measurement, lighting characterization, and color controls into an integrated system. Working in collaboration with Nikon, HP has developed a system which uses the Nikon D3 camera, the new Designjet Z3200 printer, and a special edition of Ergosoft StudioPrint RIP.


The HP Designjet Z3200 Photo Printer comes in 24-inch and 44-inch models

Workflow Summary

HP Artist, which is embedded in the Ergosoft StudioPrint RIP, provides a single, straightforward dialogue box which guides the process for you. Open StudioPrint, and open the HP Artist application inside it.

    - Camera information for the Nikon D3 is provided with HP Artist
    - Set up and measure your lights with an X-Rite iOne
    - Measure the artwork with the iOne
    - Measure the white matte board with the iOne
    - Photograph the artwork (RAW)
    - Photograph the white matte board

Click “process,” and the application will develop a 16-bit TIFF file and a custom ICC profile for that individual image. The process is also outlined in Figure One.


Figure One (click image for large view)

Note that the lighting shown here is made by Solux—I purchased a D50-rated (daylight) setup of six lights for just over $300. Of course, strobe units can be used if desired.

It is necessary to create the images with correct exposure. I recommend using a hand-held meter for this. Once the camera is focused, set it for manual operation and dial in the exposure.

One interesting aspect of this process is that the artwork can be illuminated using a standard copy setup, or with lighting on one side of the artwork. The HP Artist software will automatically adjust luminance to an even level. If lit from one side, textures and brush strokes will be accentuated. This provides enormous time savings over older methods.

The image file is processed and created in about a minute on my (very average) PC. It can then be printed directly from StudioPrint, or imported into an application like Photoshop for tweaking and/or printing. Generally speaking, the file created is much, much closer to a printable, sellable image than is usually possible using older reproduction methods.

Printing on the new HP Designjet Z3200 is quick and easy. The printer includes on-board color management (including a full-featured spectrophotometer). Color accuracy is excellent, and the range of available media is virtually unlimited—you can profile and print to almost any inkjet paper.

Business Contribution

In my opinion, digital fine art reproduction is an underserved and underdeveloped market. Many artists have great talent, but can’t afford the costs of a traditional limited edition, in which all the prints are made in one run.

The workflow described here is a summary of the actual process. Actual practice involves a bit more detail. I have found that HP Artist reduces the time to finish a job by about 70-80 percent, in other words, 1 hour instead of 4-5 hours. Much of the time savings I calculated is in setup, color correction, and Photoshop editing. Of course, making reprints is much less time consuming. Your mileage may vary.

This is a print-on-demand business model. One doesn’t make money on the first print, but on re-orders. Most artists will want two prints initially, one to show and one to sell. When they sell an image, they should place an order for a replacement. With this technology, the reprints should be indistinguishable from the first print.

Many photographers will already own some of the equipment described here. In a pro-forma P&L worksheet I developed, I calculated the time and the amount of business it takes to pay for the initial investment. You can request a PDF of the complete model from my Web site: www.davidsaffir.com.

The model includes initial costs, and assumes the investor/photographer has a computer, but none of the other components. Some people, will of course, have some portion of what is needed.


Figure Two (click image for large view)


A photographer has to make only five prints a week by month five or six to break even. If this increases to ten/week, cumulative revenue far exceeds cumulative costs by a factor of almost three to one.

Conclusion

This is an investment that is well worth considering. One one level, a photographer can get involved in doing fine art reproduction and pursue their photography business at the same time.

Adding a large format printer (24-inch or 44-inch) can enable a photographer to increase revenue by selling larger prints on canvas or other premium media. The photographer has increased control over quality and color and reduced cost/print. Depending on media type, cost of inkjet printing is now down to $1.50 to $2.00/sq foot. Not a bad deal.

The HP Artist Software solution offers a truly unique alternative to traditional methods of fine art reproduction. It offers end-to-end production integration, color and quality controls, and automation of time-consuming elements of the production process. The printed result is remarkable in its fidelity to the original in color, details, and density.

David Saffir will be teaching one-day workshops on use of the HP Artist system in a number of venues in  2009.