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The Art of Fine Art Printing

Sleepy Hollow Studio's soft proofing & color management with MonacoEZcolor By Bob McIntosh
If you want to pay anywhere from $500 to $5,000 for a painting of rural Cullowhee, North Carolina, Craig Forrest, owner of Sleepy Hollow Studio, will oblige?but with some reluctance. The thing about Forrest is that he becomes attached to his work, as most painters probably do. His philosophy is that a painter must paint about what he/she is familiar with and because of this, the painter and subject become intimate.

Most times he stumbles across his subjects because, as he says, "If you go out and try to find a subject, youre destined to fail. When you have a bond with the subject, youre going to produce a stronger painting." Furthermore, the artist believes that the ideal community in which to paint is one with familiar people and familiar stories. He works hard at his occupation. He does some work on commission, selling others to collectors and banks, so if he doesnt sell a painting or print, he doesnt get paid. He has a degree in fine arts with a concentration in studio painting. Painting is what he loves.

Forrest is also a realist. He realizes that the people in his community cant always afford a $500 painting, not to mention a $5,000 one. Maybe a bank or collector will buy his work, but the average citizen must have a good reason to purchase a Forrest original. Realizing this, he decided it would be more feasible to sell prints of his artwork for a fraction of the cost. Not only can people afford his prints, more importantly he gets to keep the originals with which hes developed bonds. Besides, he admits hes not a prolific painter, so any painting he produces is all that more valuable. A reproduction of a painting cost the citizens of Cullowhee anywhere from $35 to $50. Thats money in the bank for Forrest.

But a painter who wants to be successful cant produce shoddy reproductions of his/her work?the reproductions must be of the highest quality. The colors must be crisp, bright, dull, dark or whatever the scene and mood call for. For color management, he chose MonacoEZcolor and an Epson printer.

The problem before
Back in 1996, when Forrest started Sleepy Hollow Studio, reproduction of watercolor painting was extremely expensive for him. Typically, the painter shipped a painting off to the printer. The printer shipped back a proof, which the painter either approved or not. This could go on for a number of proofs. In some cases, the painter and printer tried to adjust colors over the telephone. This method was expensive, not to mention impractical. "Matching an original painting with the printer is very demanding," states Forrest, "because the colors have to come darn close."

When this method of trial and error became too expensive, Forrest thought of shipping paintings to a photographer who could produce a digital image of the painting and put it on a CD. But there were problems there as well. The photographer was unwilling to send a raw Photoshop image but rather wanted to tweak the image. Forrest wanted control over the image; he wanted to tweak it himself. He also worried that shipping the disc off to a service bureau would run into insurance problems, particularly with paintings valued at up to $5,000. There was only one solution. He had to invest in a workflow system that would allow him to scan a painting, modify it in Photoshop and print a proof with little cost or time. This meant he had to be able to profile his input and output devices to guarantee consistent colors across the workflow. In other words, he had to be able to see on the screen exactly what would be printed in order to save valuable time and money.

Forrest was presented with another problem when trying to match colors with the generic profiler that came with his printer. Most of the supplied profiles were not adequate for what he was trying to do. He was trying to make color adjustments in Photoshop 5.5, but he lacked the solution to create profiles for all of his devices. Finally, a friend, who was using MonacoEZcolor for his photography, told Forrest about the color management tool. Forrest purchased MonacoEZcolor based on his friends recommendation and was hooked?or as he says, "was knocked out of his chair."

Forrest says he still thinks that many painters would rather outsource their printing jobs to printers who will charge a lot of money. He says, "If the artists realize how easy the learning curve MonacoEZcolor is, they might change their mind."

How MonacoEZcolor solved the problem
How does Forrest take a painting larger than his Umax scanner surface and convert it to a digital file for print? Through list servers, he learned that he could scan a given painting in sections and then stitch the images together in Photoshop. Its not easy, he admits; the first time he did it, one could easily tell it was scanned in sections. There were seams everywhere. In Photoshop, he works with the individual sections pixel by pixel at 600 percent, so he can virtually mend the sections so that they fit seamlessly into a complete image. The secret is to crop the individual scans to eliminate the distortion created by the edge of the scanner bed. This was extremely tedious and time consuming at first, but eventually he mastered the procedure.

Perhaps the biggest help MonacoEZcolor has been to Forrest is that the workflow system allows him to produce his professional prints in his own house. "I use MonacoEZcolor with my G3 Mac, a UMAX 1220S flatbed scanner and an EPSON 2000P printer to do productions of my watercolor paintings. The resulting images are, in my view, as close to perfect as you could want," says Forrest. The first print was terrible, but after implementing MonacoEZcolor, he saw an immediate improvement. The solution: "I followed the instructions that came with the software. My first print knocked me out of my chair. The colors were just great?you had to see what I had created to begin with to appreciate it."

MonacoEZcolor also takes away the guesswork required when Forrest had used a commercial printer. According to him, the total cost of a print can run to about $5 an image in materials alone. With a large number of trial and error prints, mistakes are costly. And the time it takes when dealing with a commercial printer is frustrating, especially if you have clients who want prints of your originals immediately. Says Forrest, "Without MonacoEZcolor, youre shooting in the dark. You might as well go out the back porch in the full of the night and fire a gun, hoping to hit some game."

MonacoEZcolor offered Forrest some add-on bonuses that some may take for granted, such as well-written manuals. "The manual that comes with the program even tells you how to adjust Photoshop settings," says Forrest. He also appreciates the separate scanner and printer profile features. With MonacoEZcolor, he has the option to profile the printer and scanner in one step, but if he wants to profile the scanner and not the printer, he has that option. That feature, in fact, was a selling point for him, because he feels that the ability to profile the scanner is very important for what he is doing.

The workflow
Forrest knew that matching the colors between his originals, his monitor and his printer was critical. The artists workflow begins with using MonacoEZcolor to build a monitor profile. He then outputs patches (the printer target) from MonacoEZcolor to his large-format Epson inkjet printer. Next, he attaches the 5x7 IT8 reflective target (provided with MonacoEZcolor) to the printer target page and scans both targets together on his reflective scanner. MonacoEZcolor uses the 5x7 reflective target to first profile the reflective scanner (so as to accurately capture the printer target), then it uses the printer target to profile the printer. Since Forrest works with one standard paper type and ink set, he only has to output the printer patches once, using his typical paper and inks. Occasionally, he will re-profile the monitor to compensate for any possible changes due to its near constant use.With all his devices now profiled, he is ready to scan a painting, such as two wagons standing side by side in a field with mountains and a barn in the background. He opens the image in Photoshop and applies his printer (output) profile. Forrest has edited his Photoshop settings so that his monitor profile is being used to display the images, resulting in an accurate on screen preview (soft proof). Once hes determined that the colors in the image are exactly what he wants, he prints the painting to his printer, using his typical paper and inks. A brilliant reproduction like this can be sold for the fraction of the cost of an original painting.

Craig Forrest is currently involved in revising his Web site (http://www.sleepyhollowstudio.net), which will better categorize his painting samples, as well as allow customers to buy prints from the site. He also looks forward to the upgrade of MonacoEZcolor, which offers among other benefits, the ability to tweak images, expansion tables that enable profiling dye-sublimation and pigmented-based inks and Monaco ColorWorks for applying profiles and soft proofing. Forrest has a hard time imagining that the upgrade of MonacoEZcolor will make his colors come out better than the version he is presently using, but the proof will be in the pudding.

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