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Although the "Digital" category is gaining more widespread acceptance in the art world (and the art fair circuit), as a digital artist, I continue to battle misconceptions in the public eye. I thought I'd share a "handout" I use to describe this relatively new way to make art.


Digital Printmaking:

How An Exciting New Medium Earned the Art World's Respect


Throughout history, new fine art printmaking techniques have initially been introduced in commercial and mass-production applications.  Etching, lithography and serigraphy, all accepted media of the fine art printmaker today, were all used commercially at their introduction, and they all have their commercial/industrial counterparts in the mass production printing business today. It is only through the insistent efforts of forward-thinking, creative artists looking for exciting new tools for image-making that these technologies have been adapted and accepted for fine art use.

Digital printmaking is no exception. Today, commercial artists do their layouts and their illustrations almost exclusively on the computer for everything from books and magazines to billboards and cereal packages. To service these commercial artists, manufacturers came out with large format ink jet printers which would print proofs and mock-ups of their layouts for client approvals before turning them over to mass production printers for the final product. These color printers, relatively slow but capable of printing brilliant colors in high resolution, have evolved into the inkjet printers most computer users have on their desktops today.

Artists soon saw the creative possibilities of inkjet technology for reproducing their own work, but there was a catch. The printers originally made for commercial artists and desktop computer users initially used dye-based inks that passed easily through the needle-thin ink nozzles of the printers, but unfortunately these brilliant dye-based inks began to fade after only a few months… especially if exposed to light.

Manufacturers with an eye to the fine art market began to adapt their printers to use more permanent inks and to print in extra-wide formats. The term “giclee” print, meaning “spray of ink” was coined to help market these prints to the art-buying public.


But, early fine art printers still had a problem with permanence even though they were using additives to extend the fade-resistance of the dye-based inks. Also, the great expense of these “giclee” printers put them beyond the reach of the individual artist. Giclees were produced by service bureaus that could amortize the cost of the equipment with fees charged to dozens of artists.

Digital prints got a bad name in those early days because of a number of reasons. The printing process was out of the hands of individual artists who lost control of their images. Some artists simply photographed their best paintings and had them digitally reproduced, marketing them as giclee prints. Also, early service bureau-produced giclee prints still had a problem with fading. To regain control, many artists bought desktop inkjet printers only to see their prints fading in the hands of their clients.

Today, digital printmaking has finally brightened its faded image. Although many commercially used inkjet printers and desktop inkjet printers still use dye-based inks which will fade with time, most artists who are serious about producing permanent digital prints for the fine art market, use a new generation of inkjet printers that use pigment-based inks instead of dye-based inks. Pigment-based inks have a fade-resistance of 200-plus years, rivaling the best fine art lithographs and serigraphs. These responsible artists have also learned that their use of high quality, acid-free papers and canvas will extend the life of their prints. 

The computer is a wonderful image-making tool with almost unlimited capabilities for creative expression. Digital artists are finding their way into the artistic mainstream bringing a fresh voice and a new sensibility to their imagery. Today, digital prints are fully accepted by the art-buying public and take a well-earned place beside etchings, lithographs and serigraphs as a respected art medium.

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There is nothing wrong with Digital art. It can be a legitimate art form.

Unfortunately, I often find it being marketed or passed off as photography.

Some shows have rules about it however it is, often, abused even then.

It is difficult to explain to a customer why a photograph, done as photography, does not have that extreme saturation, pop etc, as the "photographs" he saw elsewhere.

Some shows state Photography category may be done with digital process as long as it does not exceed what can be done in a darkroom. This is constantly abused.

Nothing wrong with the art form. Plenty wrong with some who market it.

Good article but you got a couple of important facts wrong.   Yes, pigment based ink lasts a long time; however, there is no evidence that they will last 200 years(those are marketing claims by mfrs),  Dye based inks are now claimed to be 100 year fade free...same sources. 

Also that longevity of the pigment based inks is due entirely to a coating that is applied during printing that blocks UV.  The same is accomplished by simply spraying a dye based print with natural lacquers commonly available in all hardware stores.  For well informed and non-biased evaluations and reviews by real experts I recommend going to the Red River PAper website.  There you will find reliable information on inks and printers as well as papers (although there is a bit of bias shown towards there own papers)  ;)

...and yes I do print my own stuff upto 13x19 including canvas.  Larger I job out.

I work entirely on the computer to create my images.  Myself and several others that make similar works (digital aviation art) have debated if it's art or not 'til we are blue in the face and never came to a conclusion. 

I purchase models of aircraft from the web and use them in my images.  Several of these model makers make tremendous, very detailed models.  But, when they try and use the model to create an artistic image they just can't do it.  They have a great eye for modeling, but can't pull off a cohesive, fluid illustration.  Where I have difficulty with a 3D model, but can take that model and turn it into a creative and inventive piece (I think).  The concept and visual work are all mine, not taking anyone else's work and manipulating, terrible that others do that and sell it as there own.

I do not pretend that my pieces are one of a kind and am pricing them accordingly, at least trying to.  This was my biggest problem with the digital medium is how to sell it.  Limited editions, lower priced multiple quantity images.  I have my first show in May, and we'll see how it goes.  But just getting accepted is a huge step for me and an acceptance of the medium.

Matt, What category did you apply in? Did you apply in the 2D art / Digital art, category? If so that is good. did you enter in the photography category? If so...

Take a look at the artists in the Digital category at Main Street Fort Worth happening next weekend. You'll find a few that even discuss how they combine their photographs to make their art. I'd say there's still a large group of folks who don't know the difference between digital art and photography. So the confusion is ever present, even at the big shows.

The cool thing about the Main Street Fort Worth website is that we can see the four images entered for the jury by each artist. Helps us by seeing how others present themselves to shows. Too bad the booth shots aren't also included.

Application had a strait up "2D Digital Art", category so that's what I went with.

I've started doing some work that combines photography and poetry, and found that to be a hard sell to some of the jurors. At the St. Louis mock jury, I was told by the jurors that they didn't feel qualified to comment on the work but did say the pieces would take too long to evaluate in the normal fast paced jury format.

I've found the graphics category to be the best one to enter those pieces in, with 2D digital a distant second. All I know is that the work gets slaughtered in the photography category. I'm doing the work as a diptych with sloppy borders around the photo, the text, then another framing in the entire piece. My thinking on this is that the words are just as important as the image, so that pulls it out of the photo category. It's gotten me into one major show so far that rejected me on my straight photography.

I'm delighted that my post about digital art, which was first posted in 2011, has suddenly generated so much interest. There are a lot of facets to this discussion, and everyone has an opinion. I continue to be a digital artist and I've been having success on the art fair circuit. I'm also opening a gallery in Douglas, Michigan called the LebenArt Gallery. It will be a gallery of digital art, and a home to many digital artists who are now exhibiting at art fairs. Digital art has arrived. My exhibit at the Great Lakes Art Fair in Novi, Michigan last weekend won best of show, something that never would have happened five years ago. I'm hoping (and praying) that the public that frequents galleries also responds positively to digital art. I think it will.


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