What are the types of printing on paper used today?
Know Your Methods:
Printmaking has a long history and while modern technology has brought new innovations to the way we create our work, many of the more traditional methods are still being used today. Each style is suited for different purposes and will achieve different results, so as collectors, it’s important you understand how each type of print will affect the quality and longevity of your wall hangings.
These are a few of the common printing methods you’ll find:
• Offset and standard lithography
• Screen printing
• LED UV
Also known as archival, giclee printing can transform a high-resolution image into a museum grade work. The process uses specialist inkjet printers to spray the paper with small jets of pigment ink. Pigment inks are known for their longevity, and can match the colours of the digital image exactly. And when paired with archival quality paper, the result is a long-lasting print that can last generations.
As a printing process, lithography is an art in itself and has been around for more than 200 years. It involves the process of adding greasy crayon or pencil to a plate (stone or aluminium) that ink will bond to, to create the print. These days, commercial applications of lithography are more likely to use the process known as offset lithography (aka offset printing). Rather than printing the image directly from the aluminium plate onto the paper, the image is printed onto an intermediate surface first, (like a rubber blanket or roller) before it’s transferred to the plate. This extra step means the print media doesn’t come into direct contact with the plates, prolonging their life, and allows them to be used on rough surfaces such as wood, canvas or cloth. It’s versatile and once set up, is ideal for high-quality, large volume print jobs.
The art of screen printing as we know it today originates from China during the Song Dynasty, but you might recognise it best from the work of artists like Andy Warhol and Banksy. It involves forcing ink through a mesh screen onto a surface through a stencil. Traditionally, the printing screen was made of silk, but modern screens are often synthetic, and the stencil can also be made from a wide variety of materials – each yielding slightly different results. Print work can be made onto paper, fabric and even wood, one colour at a time.
Chances are you’re familiar with this method, but the term ‘digital printing’ covers a variety of techniques, using a wide range of printing presses, such as:
• sheet-fed production printers
• cut-sheet digit presses
• production inkjet printers, and
• continuous feed printers.
This print on demand technology provides a cost-effective way of producing low-volume, high-quality without the need for a printing plate (like that required in offset printing). Images can be sent digitally and delivered quickly, making it ideal for commercial use. However, the inks used in many commercial printing presses aren’t designed with longevity in mind, so it’s best to ask what equipment and inks will be used to create your art print before sending it to your standard press.
Innovations in digital printing technology have developed a technique called LED UV printing. This method uses ultraviolet (UV) light to dry the ink as it’s being printed, preventing the ink from sinking into materials. Like standard digital printing, it can be used for a variety of commercial applications (like newsletters, posters, magazines, brochures and stationery). It also gets bonus points for being eco-friendly, because they use less power than standard print machines. It’s no wonder it’s becoming more and more popular.
Questions to Ask Your Printer
As you can see, each method has its own benefits and best uses, so if you’re in the market for a quality print that will stand the test of time, we recommend you ask about the:
• Resolution of original image: Is it 300 DPI (dots per inch)? Ours are 400 DPI.
• What kind of ink is used? Is it pigment based ink? How is it applied and how long is the print expected to be colourfast?
• Paper quality: Is the paper archival quality? (more on this below) If you’re buying an art print from a well-known artist, we recommend you ask about its history and condition.
• Is it an original piece designed by the artist as a standalone work?
• Or is it part of a series?
• Who were the previous owners? (if any)
• What condition is it in?
Look for acid damage and damage from framing or poor storage where the print was potentially exposed to fluctuations in temperature and humidity. The paper might be warped, yellowing or torn. For example, all my work comes on acid and lignin-free Hahnemühle 308g rag paper, using only durable archival pigment inks.
Selecting the Right Paper Quality
The paper your artwork is printed on is more than just the surface for your artwork – it’s an integral part of the art. It can affect the look, feel and character of the work, but also how well it resists tears, fading and general ageing over time. Quality archival paper can last generations. While it might not feel important to have your print outlive you, if you’re buying a print that you intend to keep as an heirloom then knowing what paper your print is on, will make a difference to its longevity and value.
What’s the Difference Between Archival Paper and Other Paper?
For a paper type to be classed as archival quality, it needs to be made up of a pure cellulose (plant tissue and fibre). This paper has low acid content and a PH of approx. 7.5 – 8.5. The higher the acid content in the paper, the faster it will break down and yellow.
There are two types of high-quality paper used for fine art prints:
• High alpha cellulose paper is considered conservation-grade — acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp. Processed to remove acid and lignin.
• Cotton rag paper is considered to be archival-grade (also Museum-grade) — 100 per cent cotton rag, acid & lignin free, paper made from cotton pulp.
Weight and Finish
The weight and finish you look for in a print will depend on the artwork itself, and your personal preference. The weight (aka the paper thickness) is measured in grams per square metre (GSM) and the higher the number, the thicker and stiffer your paper is. If you’re selecting paper for an archival grade print (such as a giclee print), we recommend a paper that is 300GSM or higher to support your artwork, and are less likely to tear or wrinkle. Also, the larger your image the thicker the paper ought to be to prevent sagging over time. The finish of your paper refers to how it looks and feels. A course, matte paper is more suited to canvas reproductions, whereas photos are usually finished with a glossy or satin sheen. If you’re unsure, a quality printmaker should be able to guide you.
The brightness of your paper refers to the colour or shade of your sheets. Your choice comes down to personal preference, but some artworks are more suited to natural, warmer coloured paper and some a better suited to bright, bluer whites. So how do you decide? Lower or natural paper absorbs blue light. If your print has yellow-based or lighter, natural tones or features natural settings, this warmer paper choice can make the colours feel more natural. Higher or brighter paper is more vibrant, giving richer depth and contrast in colours. Softer, lighter tones may be washed out by this paper. For this reason, brighter papers are often favoured by photographers because of the papers ability to portray a large dynamic range and highlight intense black pigments.