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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: Incorporating Fine Art into Print Design

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A colleague of mine designs print books for governmental and non-governmental organizations. At present, she is working on a 7” x 10” perfect-bound book. She has subcontracted a painting she plans to use for the book cover. To make sure the artwork reproduces well, she asked me to discuss the project with the fine artist.

Art Reproduction Issues

Most of what I noted had to do with three things: the size of the artwork, the effect of the commercial printing paper substrate on the final art, and the effect of any cover treatment such as UV coating or laminates on the final art.

We also discussed the color gamut of offset commercial printing vs. the color gamut of both the original art and the image on the computer screen (once the artist had photographed the final painting to create a TIFF or JPEG for my client to use).

Then we discussed best practices for photographing the final artwork and identified the best resolution and final format the artist should use for the digitized image of the painting.

Finally, we discussed the need to review the composite image of the painting blended with the cover designer’s type treatment for the print book cover. I said this might require some back and forth interaction and revision on the part of both the fine artist and the book designer to ensure the congruence of the painting and the type.

All of These Potential Concerns in More Detail

The first thing I mentioned was the size of the original art. I noted that it could be larger than the final reproduction size of 7” x 10” but not smaller. I told the fine artist that any flaws in the art would be magnified with enlargement, but more importantly, there would most probably be visible pixellation upon enlargement (the square pixels would be noticeable).

I suggested that she make the final painting larger than the 7” x 10” size but not by a lot. Too large, and any details she would include might become invisible (or at least might be below the threshold of visibility) once the art had been reduced to the final size.

I noted that the color of the cover printing stock would affect the colors of the painting. I assumed the cover paper choice would be out of the artist’s control, but I thought she should know this anyway. I said that white paper tones could vary from a blue-white to a yellow-white shade, and that this could affect the perceived hues of the acrylic or watercolor paints she would be using.

Moreover, I noted that uncoated stock would give the painting a softer feel, more organic and earthy, whereas gloss coated stock (at the other extreme), and particularly gloss coated stock with an additional gloss UV coating or laminate, would make the final painting appear crisper and perhaps harsher and more clinical. Again, I did not expect her to have control over the final print book production, but I thought she should know all of this before starting the painting. This awareness might inform her style and approach to the final painting (particularly since I knew the subject matter would include buildings, potentially a rather impersonal subject).

I told the fine artist that the art she produced would include a wider color gamut than the final offset printed image could match because it would only include the process colors of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. I said the secondary colors of orange, purple, and green within her painting might shift a little. Moreover, I mentioned that once she had photographed the final painting and had uploaded the image to her computer, it would appear to have a much larger color gamut because it would then be in the RGB (red/green/blue) color space.

Moreover, I said she should be mindful that the colors on screen (composed of back-lit, highly saturated hues) would make the image look brighter and fuller than the image she would see on the final print book. Again, I said this need not be a problem; she just might want to be aware of the limitations when creating the art.

Digitizing the Painting

The spring and summer before college I worked at the National Collection of Fine Arts, a Smithsonian art museum. I befriended an art conservator, and she showed me the conservation lab where paintings were cleaned and repaired. In this same studio, conservators photographed the art (for analysis and also for reproduction in the museum’s coffee-table print books). Understandably, these photos had to be of the highest possible quality.

One of the things I saw was that the art was mounted on a large, rigid, wood easel, and the lighting was bright, diffused, and completely even, being cast from spotlights positioned at a 45 degree angle on either side of the easel.

So I suggested that the artist for the book cover painting use good, even lighting and a tripod to keep the camera rigid, and capture the image at a resolution of at least 300 dpi (assuming double the 150 lpi printer’s halftone screen and with the art presented at the final 7” x 10” size). I asked her to provide both a TIFF and a JPEG, so the print book designer and the printer would have options.

Proofing the Artwork

I encouraged the artist to print a hard-copy proof on an inkjet printer. I said that such a print would be closer to the actual coloration of the final print book since it would be created with ink rather than light (i.e., it would not be artificially enhanced by the back-lit computer monitor or the larger RGB color gamut).

I also suggested that the artist work closely with the cover designer to ensure a congruence of mood or tone between the cover type treatment and her painting. Moreover, I said the type might inadvertently obscure some element(s) of importance in the subject matter of the painting, so I wanted to make sure the artist would know this and/or be able to adjust the artwork as needed.

I noted that the artist’s starting with more, rather than less, saturated colors would yield a more dramatic and immediately recognizable cover picture. I said that the reader would have a shorter attention span looking at the print book cover than looking at the original painting, since the image would be competing with the type on the book cover. I said the artist might want to make some areas more intense or more subdued depending on the type treatment.

Finally, I asked the painter to consider how the artwork would fit on the cover (accounting for the aspect ratio–height to width–plus 1/8″ bleeds). Would the image bleed onto the spine? Or would it even bleed onto the back cover?

I noted that being mindful in this way as she created the painting would ensure that nothing would be inadvertently cropped out.

The Takeaway

Using a painting as a cover image is similar to basing a cover design on a large color photograph. That said, you may also need to consider such things as visible brush strokes in the art, or the ability of the offset printing process to capture certain colors faithfully.

It’s helpful to digitize the image once it is complete and then check it in a number of ways: definitely at 100 percent size on the computer but also at higher magnification to judge its resolution and review any brush strokes or even flaws, and then as a 100-percent-size physical proof, so you won’t be inadvertently misled by the image on the computer screen.

In fact, if you haven’t color calibrated your monitor and printer, you might want to have the offset printing supplier provide an interim color-correct proof produced on his inkjet equipment.

The more different ways you can view the final digitized painting, both with and without the type treatment with which it is paired, the more nuanced your judgment can be, and the less likelihood there will be that you will be surprised or displeased with the final print book cover.

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