If you’re looking to book a newborn or family photography session chances are you’ve heard a photographer mention fine art printing, and you may be wondering what that means. Is fine art printing different from the prints you can get on the high street? And does it matter where you have your photographs printed?
I adore fine art prints – the colour and quality is fantastic, and incredibly beautiful. But if you haven’t seen a fine art print in the flesh it can be difficult to understand what all the hype is about, and why it’s worth spending more on these prints than you would with a high street printer. In this post I’ll be explaining what a fine art print is, the materials that go into creating fine art prints, and the difference this makes.
What Makes A Fine Art Print?
“Fine art”, “museum-quality”, “archival-quality”….these are all terms you may come across as you explore the world of photography and see photographers talk about their prints. But what does this really mean? In short a fine art print is a very high quality print – of the same quality that a museum or gallery would print work at for display. In short there are two things that make a print a fine art one:
- The paper it’s printed on
- The inks used to print it
Paper for Fine Art Prints
The paper used for fine art prints is acid-free. It’s the acid in photographic papers that causes photographs to discolour and crack over time, so using acid-free papers helps to ensure your print lasts a lifetime.
Interestingly, the same goes for the mats that your photographs are mounted on to – if these contain acid they will yellow much more quickly.
Inks for Fine Art Prints
Just as photographic papers are not all created equal, nor are the printers used to make prints. Fine art prints are printed using very high end printers, which have a much broader colour spectrum than standard printers. These printers will have 8-12 different coloured inks, which they can mix together to create millions of different colours. The result is that the colours in your print will be much more accurate, and true to the original image than if you had printed it with a standard printer.
Not all Fine Art Prints Are Created Equal
So as we have learned so far, the difference between a fine art print, and one you may order from a high street or online printer is that the colour reproduction is much more accurate, and the paper will hold that colour, and it’s form for many years. With the right care, this can be for more than 60, or even 100 years.
But there is more to the printing process than this. The type of fine art paper you choose for your print will also make a difference to the appearance of your print.
Fine art papers are often made from cotton fibres, but can also be made from other materials such as bamboo, or have a special coating. The different characteristics of these papers will have an impact on the appearance of your print – some papers are good for printing vivid colours, others will make your black and white photographs pop. Others are better for softer, muted tones. In short, choosing the right paper for your print will impact it’s appearance.
How to Care For Your Fine Art Prints
So now that you have some gorgeous fine art prints, what can you do to ensure they last a lifetime?
The main thing you can do is consider how they are exposed to light. Over time, it is light exposure that will lead to damage of your photographs – not just causing colours to fade, but UV light can also cause weakening and bleaching of the paper. Extremes of temperature can also damage the print too.
To care for your prints, you can do a few things to limit their light, heat and cold exposure:
- Avoid hanging your prints in a place where they will be in direct sunlight for all or part of the day.
- If your prints are displayed in direct sunlight, try to limit their exposure by closing blinds or curtains when the room is not in use.
- Leave lights switched off when the room is not occupied
- Be aware that if you hang your prints over a fire that is used often the heat may cause your print to age more quickly.
(Sources: https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/2.-the-environment/2.4-protection-from-light-damage and http://www.artuner.com/insight/caring-for-fine-art-photography/)
Over to you
I hope this guide gives you a good overview of fine art printing, and why it makes such a difference to your photographs. What other questions do you have about printing your photographs? I’d love to hear. Let me know in the comments below.