with images removed from Chapter 1 of Harald Johnson's book, Mastering
Digital Printing, Second Edition, Thomson Course Technology PTR,
2005, ISBN: 1592004318.)
Digital Fine-Art Printing
Comes of Age
While artists have been using computers to create and even output images
for decades, and the roots of digital printing stretch way back in time
through multiple lines of development, things didn't really take off until
two groups on opposite sides of the U.S. started to put their attentions
on a new way of imagemaking and printing.
Jon Cone's Computer-Assisted
In 1980, Jon Cone, who was educated and trained as a traditional fine-art
printmaker and who owned an art gallery in New York City's SoHo district,
founded an experimental and collaborative printmaking studio in the
waterfront town of Port Chester, New York. There, from 1980 to 1984,
printmaker Cone worked with artists in the media of silkscreen, intaglio,
relief, monoprint, and photogravure.
Sensing, however, that the computer could be an advantageous tool for
experimental printmaking and wanting to break away from the pack of other
printmakers, many of whom were horrified by what he was doing, Cone
started experimenting with scanners and learning computer programming.
Combining his skills as a master printmaker and a recent computer geek (he
was mesmerized by the 1984 Apple Macintosh TV commercial), he started to
shift into a hybrid approach, combining traditional printmaking with a
digital component to create what could be best described as
computer-assisted original prints and multiples.
This was nothing like the push-button inkjet printing that we know today.
Cone's collaborative artists would create a digital master either with
computer software, by placing objects on the scanner's glass, by painting
onto separation mylars--whatever it took to create an image and turn it
into a digital state. Cone would then often output the digital files to
negative or positive film on a Linotronic imagesetter, and, in turn, those
films would be used to burn silkscreen, photogravure, and etching plates
for the final printing on a traditional etching press. An alternative
technique was to use a digital Canon copier to create outputs that were
used to transfer the image under pressure and with the help of acetone
onto printmaking paper.
All this was very technical and time-consuming work, but the results were
stunning, and Cone's innovative digital editions were shown and sold in
New York until 1990 when Cone and his studio relocated to a small, rural
village in Vermont to continue with digital-printmaking experiments.
By 1992, Cone had added inkjet printing to his repertoire, but the story
now backs up a little and shifts to the West Coast.
Graham Nash and Digital Fine-Art
The photographic side of the equation didn't gel until the paths of six
people--a rock star and his best friend, an art publicist, a sales rep, a
computer wizard, and a silkscreen printer--unexpectedly intersected in
early 1989 in California. Rock musician Graham Nash (of the legendary
group Crosby, Stills, and Nash) had been quietly collecting photographs
for years. On the road with the band, Nash and his best friend Mac Holbert,
who was also CSN's tour manager, would always hit the local galleries and
swap meets looking for visual treasures. In the process, Nash amassed a
world-class collection of vintage and contemporary photographs.
Nash also took photographs every chance he got, and it was only a matter
of time before he caught the computer bug and started scanning and
manipulating his images on the computer screen. Now, this was in the early
days (mid '80s), when the scanning was crude and the printing not much
Holbert, who had computerized the band's accounting process early on, was
soon helping Nash with his digital experiments. The two could see the
potential of working digitally, but a decent print of what they were
viewing on the monitor had so far eluded them. Outside of the commercial
design world and other specialized applications, there were few options
for Nash and Holbert to output their digital files in high resolution onto
If Nash wanted to start printing and showing his digitally processed black
and white images, he was going to have to change gears and move to a new
level. He decided to invent a way to do it himself, and to do that, he
needed to raise some money, and he needed some help.
Enter Charles Wehrenberg, a San Francisco art publicist and writer.
Wehrenberg was a friend of Nash's and a well-known figure in New York and
West Coast high-art circles. Once he understood that Nash wanted to sell
his photo collection to raise the money to invest in a way to print his
photo art, Wehrenberg came up with a plan. He arranged for the
collection's sale through New York's venerable auction house, Sotheby's.
Their PR machine would beat the drum, and Nash would handle the media like
the pro he was.
However, Wehrenberg added a twist to the idea. To increase the buzz for
the event and for what Nash was trying to do, Wehrenberg orchestrated a
concurrent art show of Nash's own photography at the Simon Lowinsky
gallery, to be held in New York the day before the Sotheby's sale.
The exhibition was scheduled for the following spring (1990), and Nash
began pulling together 16 unique portraits taken over many years of
touring with the band. But, there was a major problem. Most of the
original negatives (and even the prints) had disappeared when Nash sent
them to an art director, and they never returned. All he had were the
contact sheet proofs to work from, and these were much too small for
making the large display prints the gallery wanted--at least using
standard photographic methods.
During his search for high-quality digital output, Nash had discovered
Jetgraphix, a design research lab affiliated with UCLA across town from
his Encino (Los Angeles) home. Run by former ad agency art director John
Bilotta, the studio was a test site for Fuji's experimental, large-format
inkjet printers of the same name (Jetgraphix). Nash was intrigued by the
prints Bilotta could make, but the resolution was so low ("dots as
big as your head") that when Nash asked if he knew of anything
better, Bilotta handed him a sales brochure for something called an IRIS
printer. (Another person who received a Bilotta brochure was a silkscreen
printer named Jack Duganne; more about him shortly.)
Steve Boulter, the West Coast sales rep for Boston-based IRIS Graphics,
had been showing test samples and passing out brochures for their new
graphic arts, pre-press proofing machine to anyone he could. Boulter was
pushing his company to get the IRIS into the hands of more photographers
and artists, but the company didn't see much point to it--they were in the
commercial graphics business, not the fine-art business. Boulter, however,
believed in his idea and continued to make the rounds of art studios and
businesses involved with art production. One of his big sales at the end
of 1988 was to The Walt Disney Company in Burbank, which was using the
machine to output hardcopy color prints in conjunction with their top
secret, computer animation process.
Wehrenberg was already familiar with the IRIS. Artist Richard Lowenberg
had shown him some early sample prints, and Wehrenberg liked what he saw.
A lot. He called the IRIS company for more information, and they relayed
the call to Steve Boulter who happened to be visiting San Francisco. Soon,
Boulter was standing at Wehrenberg's dining room table showing off more
samples. Impressed all over again, Wehrenberg picked up the phone to call
Graham Nash, and he put Boulter on the line to set up a meeting.
Boulter flew to L.A. the following week (in April, 1989), and Nash was
equally amazed at the quality of the IRIS prints. He instantly realized
that this was the solution to his two-part problem of getting images out
of his computer and also making the prints for the Lowinsky show.
However, there was a remaining glitch: how to get the images into the IRIS
printer. The machine was meant to be hooked up only to large, proprietary,
pre-press systems, not home scanners or Macintosh computers. Boulter knew
just the person to solve the problem: David Coons. Coons was a color
engineer for Disney, and he was helping the company make the transition
from analog to digital animation. (Coons would receive an Academy Award in
1992 for co-developing Disney's ground-breaking, computer animation
production system.) Coons was also the one in charge of running the new
IRIS 3024 printer that Boulter had sold them. Boulter introduced Coons to
Nash, and soon, Coons was on the team.
Working off-hours at Disney and using custom software programs that he
wrote specifically for the project, Coons scanned and retouched Nash's
proof prints, downloaded them to the IRIS, and printed the edition of
images onto thick, Arches watercolor paper.
Nash ultimately met his April 24, 1990 Lowinsky exhibition deadline, and
the following day's sale at Sotheby's brought in $2.17 million, a record
for a private photographic collection. The world's first series of
all-digitally printed, photographic fine art drew crowds and raves in New
York and, as the show traveled, in Tokyo and Los Angeles. (A set of those
prints later sold at auction at Christie's for $19,500.)
The plan had worked perfectly; digital prints were on the art map.
Even before the show, while Coons was moonlighting at Disney to output the
print portfolios, Nash, Boulter, Wehrenberg, Coons, and eventually Holbert
were kicking around the idea of setting up a shop to produce these new
digital prints on a commercial basis. Coons was already experimenting with
non-Nash images including several for artist Sally Larsen, who was
Graham Nash soon bought one of the $126,000 IRIS machines and installed it
in July 1990 in the small garage of an old house he owned in nearby
Manhattan Beach, a suburb of Los Angeles. By August, Steve Boulter had
moved into the top floor of the garage, and David Coons was making the
long commute from Burbank each day with nine-track computer tapes of
images that needed printing for a new edition of Nash portraits to be
shown in Tokyo in November, 1990.
Remember our friend, serigrapher Jack Duganne? He soon found out about
what was going on in Manhattan Beach. It wasn't far from his studio in
Santa Monica, so Duganne, who could see the digital writing on the wall,
started bringing digital tapes of his art clients' scanned images over for
printing. By February, 1991, he was printing on the IRIS himself as a Nash
Editions' employee. Duganne took to the IRIS quickly, developing new
printing procedures and in the process becoming Nash's master printmaker.
While there, Duganne also came up with the term "giclée",
but more about that later.
The work for outside clients continued to grow, and as Coons and Boulter
began to spend less time at the Manhattan Beach studio, it became clear
that someone would need to manage this new business enterprise if it were
going to succeed. Coons had been running things while Nash and Holbert
were on the road with CSN, but when the last tour ended in June, 1991,
Holbert moved down from his home in Santa Cruz and took over the managing
of the shop. On July 1, 1991, Graham Nash and Mac Holbert officially
opened Nash Editions, the world's first professional, all-digital
The Revolution Takes Off
By 1993, a mere handful of digital printmaking studios--including Nash
Editions (L.A.), Harvest
Productions (Anaheim, California), Cone
Editions (Vermont), Adamson
Editions (Washington, D.C.), Digital
Pond (San Francisco), and Thunderbird
Editions (Clearwater, Florida)--were busy on both U.S. coasts. All
were using IRIS inkjet technology to make fine-art prints for
photographers and artists. Soon, there were a dozen similar shops (many
set up by Jon Cone), then many dozen, then scores. Today, there are
anywhere from 2,500 to 5,000 professional or commercial printmakers making
digital prints for artists the world over.
However, just as important, and the reason many of you are reading this,
is the fact that there are now many tens of thousands of individual
photographers and artists, from amateurs to pros, who are able to print
high-quality images in their own studios, homes, and offices. No longer
constrained by the high costs of traditional printing methods, the
production of "artistic" prints has been put in the hands of the
greatest number of people--the artists and the imagemakers themselves.
This democratization of digital printing took a parallel path of
development after the introduction by Epson in 1994 of the first,
high-quality, desktop inkjet printer: the Epson Stylus Color. Spurred on
by the attention and pushing of dedicated experimenter/artists, Epson and
the other manufacturers eventually evolved the technology we enjoy today.
All of these art revolutionaries provided the essential "proof of
concept" that the new process needed before it could blossom. They
deserve the credit for opening the door to the promise of digital
printing, and the early adopting photographers and artists walked right
in. And that door is swinging wider all the time.
Where Are They Now?
Jon Cone would go on to many other milestones, and he remains a key player
in the digital printing world. Graham Nash still takes photographs and is
the figurehead of Nash Editions, while Mac Holbert continues to run the
day-to-day operations. David Coons and his first wife, Susan, opened their
own fine-art scanning service (ArtScans)
two doors down from Nash Editions in 1993. Steve Boulter is a consultant
to the digital imaging industry. Charlie Wehrenberg still lives in San
Francisco and continues to work in the art world. Jack Duganne opened his
own digital printmaking studio (Duganne
Ateliers) in Santa Monica in 1996.
All seven remain actively involved with art in general and with digital
printmaking in particular.
The term giclée is tossed around rather freely
when it comes to digital fine art prints, which simply adds to your
confusion when someone trying to sell you art by the next Picasso
launches into art-speak. Originally, giclée applied to output on an
Iris inkjet printer, specifically the Iris 3024, 3047, or the 3047G
(renamed the Iris GPRINT in 1998).
Jack Duganne, who was
the first printmaker (after David Coons) at Nash Editions. They wanted
to draw a distinction between the beautiful prints they were laboring
over and the utilitarian proofs the commercial printers were cranking
out. Just like artist Robert Rauschenberg did when he came up with the
term "combines" for his new assemblage art, they needed a new
label, or, in marketing terms, a "brand identity." The makers
of digital art needed a word of their own.________________________________________________________
And, in 1991, they got it. Duganne had to come up with a print-medium
description for a mailer announcing California artist Diane Bartz'
upcoming show. He wanted to stay away from words like
"computer" or "digital" because of the negative
connotations the art world attached to the new medium. Taking a cue from
the French word for inkjet (jet d'encre), Duganne opened his
pocket Larousse and searched for a word that was generic enough to cover
most inkjet technologies at the time and hopefully into the future. He
focused on the nozzle, which most printers used. In French, that was le
gicleur. What inkjet nozzles do is spray ink, so looking up French
verbs for "to spray," he found gicler, which literally
means "to squirt, spurt, or spray." The feminine noun version
of the verb is (la) giclée, (pronounced "zhee-clay")
or "that which is sprayed or squirted." An industry moniker
However, the controversy started immediately. Graham Nash and Mac
Holbert had come up with "digigraph," which was close to
"serigraph" and "photograph." The photographers
liked that. But, the artists and printmakers doing reproductions had
adopted "giclée," and the term soon became a synonym for
"an art print made on an IRIS inkjet printer."
Today, "giclée" has become established with traditional media
artists, and some photographers. But many photographers and other
digital artists have not accepted it, using, instead, labels such as
"original digital prints," "inkjet prints,"
"pigment prints," or "(substitute the name of your print
For many artists, the debate over "giclée" continues. Some
object to its suggestive, French slang meaning ("spurt").
Others believe it is still too closely linked to the IRIS printer or to
the reproduction market. And some feel that it is just too pretentious.
But, for many, the term "giclée" has become part of the
printmaking landscape; a generic word, like Kleenex, that has evolved
into a broader term that describes any high-quality, digitally produced,
One problem, of course, is that when a term becomes too broad, it loses
its ability to describe a specific thing. At that point, it stops being
a good marketing label--and make no mistake about it, "giclée"
is a marketing term. When everything is a giclée, the art world gets
confused, and the process starts all over again with people coming up
with new labels.
This is exactly what happened when a new group formed in 2001--the Giclée
Printers Association (GPA)--and came up with its own standards and its
own term: "Tru Giclée." The GPA is concerned with
reproduction printing only, and its printmaker members must meet nine
standards or principles in order for them (and their customers) to
display the Tru Giclée logo.
In 2003, recognizing that only a small number of printmakers could meet
the requirements of Tru Giclée, the GPA instituted a lower-threshold
standard, "Tru Décor," which applies to the much larger
Others have also climbed onto the giclée bandwagon with
such variations as "Platinum Giclée" (Jonathan Penney's term
for his black-and-white printmaking process), "Canvas Photo Giclée"
(a California photo printmaking shop), and "Heritage Giclée"
(Staples Fine Art's trademarked term for its brand of giclée
printmaking, which actually preceded Tru Giclée by
18 months). And now Epson itself has coined "UltraGiclée" in
2005 to designate prints made with its printers, UltraChrome inks, and
giclée (zhee-clay) n. 1. a type of digital fine-art
print. 2. Most often associated with reproductions; a giclée is a
multiple print or exact copy of an original work of art that was created
by conventional means (painting, drawing, etc.) and then reproduced
digitally, typically via inkjet printing. First use in this context by
Jack Duganne in 1991, Los Angeles, California.
2002-2006 Harald Johnson. All rights reserved