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Services Explained
Scanning
Scanning, for those who aren't familiar is a mechanical device that optically reads information from a source and turns it into digital information that a computer can use.

Scanning can be one of the more convoluted services to understand, and rightfully so, since there are so many paths that lead to forks, you'd think you were wandering through Venice. We'll try to explain it simply.

First, we must understand that we have several methods in getting a scan into digitized information:
  • It can be photographed using a consumer or "pro-sumer" digital camera.
  • It can be photographed using a large format view camera with a high-end digital scanning back.
  • It can be scanned from a slide, negative, transparency or photograph.
  • It can be scanned by placing the original painting on a large flatbed scanner.
Let's take each scanning method and examine them for their potential. You'll find there are some good methods and some that place limitations on the digital information which may result in a less than crisp giclee.

Digital Camera Method
Today's digital cameras are sensational for home use, and can produce some smaller prints that are quite agreeable. There are ways to enhance the image and produce acceptable giclees slightly larger, but if you have a choice in the matter, you should use another method. One last tidbit of information regarding digital still cameras. They use one processing chip to separate the three colors of red, green and blue. This sharing of the chip invariably leads to color distortions that cannot be reasonably corrected using software.

This is not to say that digital photography isn't capable of creating files large enough to create giclee prints. A view camera or specialized digital camera equipped with a scanning back can do a very good job at recording a large enough digital file to print to large format printers. Unlike consumer cameras, they use three computer chips, (one for each color) and therefore digitally record the information more accurately. Of course, they should, since they cost upward of $20,000 dollars just for the camera back!

View Camera & "Better Light" Digital Scanning Back
This is without a doubt the best method to record digital information from original art for several reasons.First, this method of scanning captures original information that doesn't have to go through generations of changes that encourage a host of variables to crop up. For example, even if you have a painting photographed using 8x10 transparency film, one has to first consider the color balance of the film and then the processing, as well as the photographer's experience in squaring the image, calculating the correct exposure, ability to properly light the subject and critically focus the camera, which isn't an easy task since it can be in focus in one area and out in another. There are even issues such as what type of lights are used and whether or not they will suppress reflections from shiny surfaces. On top of that, there's the question of how good the lens is! Truly! The lens is extremely important and for most photographers is one that's meant for service in studio photography but not the enlargements needed for fine art reproductions. I don't mean to bore you, but a lens should also be apocromatically corrected, meaning it won't distort color throughout the active circle it projects. Needless to say, we find problems with many transparencies that are sent to us, and we feel badly for the unsuspecting client, since their project is already compromised without their knowledge.

For those of you who have had professional transparencies or slides made of artwork with reflective surfaces, you've undoubtedly noticed thousands of dots of reflected light. By using polarized material over our special HID lights and then a polarizing filter of the lens, we cancel the effect of the sparkles and capture the full color depth and values of the artwork. This setup is called cross-polarization and requires very powerful lights to adjust for the polarizing filtration from both sources. The result is actually better than you can see the artwork in real life display situations.

You may ask, "Why isn't the "Better Light" digital system's view camera affected by focus and exposure problems?" The answer is four-fold.

  • One, the camera is aligned by a series of mirrors that assures precise alignment of all planes.
  • Two, the micro adjusted camera focusing is done using a computer that graphically displays (as well as audibly) when the precise focus is achieved. Amazingly, it actually focusses three light waves for extreme accuracy.
  • Thirdly, we can check everything immediately after scanning to reassure ourselves that the scan is exactly what we expect. If there's anything we feel needs improvement, it can be done right away. How many photographers blow up their transparencies and analyze them before handing then to you? None. And, how could you, the customer, possibly know if your new transparencies had flaws? We strive for perfection and this equipment gives the oportunity to achieve it.
  • Fourthly: The lens; Ours is corrected to assure alignment of lightwaves. Our BetterLight system accuracy ceritifies subtle colors are recorded with exceptional precision.
Another advantage to using the view camera with a "Better Light" digital scanning back is that the final costs are much lower. You can have a painting digitally photographed for the same price as a film photographer would charge for a 4x5 transparency. The bottom line, is that you don't need to pay the scanning cost to digitize the film image, which is often as much (or more) than the photography. So, you save at least half.

Ultimately, the best reason to use the "Better Light" system is for its uncompromising quality. There is no such thing as film grain, although if not set correctly, there can be what's called "noise." Colors that are missed and subtleties that are lost with film are all picked up using the "Better Light" system. The "captures" are breathtaking and leave you shaking your head in amazement. This is technology at its very best. There are no disappointments, only pleasant surprises, using a superior view camera with the scanning back that sports the latest technology. By the way, a recent white paper analysis supported a claim that the color and resolution of the BetterLite system we happen to use would require a piece of film that's 30x40 inches in size to equal the BetterLite quality!!! One photo using that size film would max out most credit cards and you still wouldn't have a giclee. You'll find a list of our equipment on the "Technical Info" page.

Scanning a Slide, Negative, Transparency or Photo
This category needs the most attention since the streets turn into alleys and paths. We'll take them one at a time. The good news is that the scanning is done on a Creo iQsmart3 scanner using oil mounting, so the results are the best available anywhere at any price.

Slides and Transparencies
There is no difference between a slide and a transparency except for its size, although some would argue that a slide is also a transparency. For most of us, we think of 35mm slides as just that-slides. When we get into larger sized film such as 120, 4x5 and 8x10s, we refer to the same film as transparencies.

35mm: Nearly anyone can pick up a 35mm camera and take a photograph of their painting, but there's so much more to shooting a photo of high enough quality to produce a giclee print. Suffice it to say that unless you have a very strong background in photography, superb 35mm camera equipment, the right film and a great professional processor, efforts might lead to some disappointment.

What's the downside and upside? Well, if you submit a slide that is affected by problems it will cause a slowdown in the prepress process while we assess the reduced potential of the resource and either compromise or pursue another direction. We are here to help, but we can't make up for what's not there. If you can, enlarge your slide using a projector (for just a moment) and look at its sharpness. If it looks terrific then let's give it a whirl.

  • When you submit a slide, send two of the same if possible, just in case there's an emulsion or scratch problem on one. If you only have one, that's fine.
  • Determine if the color balance and exposure is representative of what you expect - is it representative of the original and would you accept a giclee that looked like it?
  • It should be an original exposure of the original and not a duplicate.
  • And one last suggestion: avoid submitting a slide that has been projected - the edges curl and cause a slight focus problem for film scanners.
The upside is that we have an incredible scanned that, using oil mounting, we can easily create images up to 30"x40" and larger. The right equipment on our end assures exceptional results.

Medium/Large Format Transparencies: This is an excellent choice, as the added area of the film can render an extraordinary amount of information that can be digitized. It's also a good alternative if you can't send the original for a Better Light scan as described above.

Since these cameras are generally used by knowledgeable photographers, you'll generally have an excellent resource for scanning. What we like most about film scans is the natural smoothing of colors and the beautiful gradation within darks and lights. Larger formats such as 4x5s, 8x10s and 11x14s are superior at supplying much more scannable information.

  • When ordering 4x5 or 8x10 transparencies, ask the photographer to include a gray scale next to the painting. We don't need a color bar. This gray scale indicates to us whether or not the exposure is correct and we then determine if we need to lighten or darken the giclee. Another interesting consideration is that if the transparency is too dark, the colors are over-saturated and if too light, under-saturated, and we know to compensate while proofing.
  • Have them understand you want the image maximized on the film. Some will reduced the size of your image so you loose as much as half or more of the the recordable area.
  • Request they "critically focus" the image. You would think that focusing would be easy and obvious, but it's not as easy to critically focus a view camera as it is your 35mm camera. Far too many 4x5s and 8x10s just aren't focused as well as they should be and it's up to you to make it clear that they need to pay attention to this matter. Our scanner will pick up everything and a weak link at this stage will affect the entire process. If focal sharpness is missing, there's no practical way to remedy the loss except start over. Unfortunately, you'll have no idea if the photographer is using an excellent lens.
  • It's always advisable to have polarized lights as well as a polarizing filter on the camera lens (called cross polarization) to reduce glare, especially on varnished or shiny surfaces. A soft light system is helpful, but cross polarization is still advisable. If this advise is ignored, there may be thousands of tiny reflections that need to be removed from the scanned transparency that could be quite costly. If you find a photographer who charges a little more but follows these recommendations, you'll not only save money in the long run, but you'll also have superior giclees.
Negatives: Negatives are nearly as useful as transparencies/slides, but lack the essential cross check between the slide and giclee proof that color masters rely upon to fine tune the scan. There's a hit or miss factor involved, which although a skilled operator can hit more often than the latter, there's a slight compromise. On the other hand, there's more latitude in exposure on the part of the photographer, and a fine grained film can generally capture subtleties very well. In balance, negatives are on nearly equal footing with transparencies as long as there's a resource target supplied.

Scanning Photos
This is one method you should avoid, unless there's just no other way to gain access to the original art. A photograph can be enlarged, but there are always going to be some compromises. However, if you must move in this direction, we have special software that specifically reads scans such as these and generates interpolated pixels that greatly enhances the original. This cost for this service is fairly reasonable considering it can increase the overall dimensions as much as four to five times. One more factor to consider is, many photos have scratches or other imperfections that will need digital retouching. This is charged at $15 per 1/4 hour. We work quickly, so unless there's lots of reconstruction, this service should be very reasonable.
Digital Retouching
Occasionally, we need to restore or otherwise improve the digital scan. Some factors that might warrant this work is the discovery of an excess of scratches, large colonies of dust (only if our client provided the scan), color variations due to poor film processing or age, and the list goes on. Generally, we don't charge for anything we can correct efficiently; but, if it's an unforeseen problem, we'll let you know how much time might be involved and let you decide what you'd like us to do. Digital retouching is charged at $15 per 1/4 hour. Rest assured, we feel badly about having to inform a client about such matters, and will do our best to minimize the costs and maintain a friendly partnership working toward the same goal - a splendid giclee reproduction.
Critical Correction for Precise Matching
Some clients require color correction that goes beyond fine art color correction that to most discerning eyes looks to be a match or extremely close match to the original. We can provide this service and can assure those clients some of the most accurate results found in the USA, according to the reports of those who have found us after a long hair-pulling journey. We employ complex masks and numerous layers (all are embedded in the file for future adjustments) to color match to our client's needs. This work is charged at our standard fee of $15 per 1/4 hour including proofs.
Submitting Digital Files
This is a free service, but there's an understandable catch. When you supply us with a digital file, it will be printed "as is." That means, whatever comes from your file is what will be printed and you'll be expected to accept the results. Scared, yet? Don't be...necessarily....

We have lots of very happy clients who submit digital files on an on-going basis. But, unless you have a calibrated monitor using a spectrophotometer, or are just lucky, what you see on your monitor and what we see here will be somewhat different. Also, it's unlikely you're using icc profiling and color management, so that can slightly diminish the reliability of color matching your file image when ouputting to our printers.

So, the solution for many is to submit a sample print for us to use as a target while we proof your image. Quite often, we proof ten or more before final printing or sending you the proof for your approval. If you elect to have us send you a proof, you have an opportunity to say yes or suggest changes and then we will print your giclees. The charge for this service is $65 per image.
Photographing Original Art
Things have certianly changed in respect to using film photography. Although we've used transparencies as large as 11x14 inches in the past, these methods are now history. No film can come close to the color accuracy, subtleties and clean resolution of the Better Light scanning system, so all our other cameras are now shelved as antiques along with the 8-tracks.
800•877•9055•805•528•2244
2015 Fairchild Way, Ste. G Los Osos, CA 93402
Phone 805 • 528 • 2244
Fax 805 • 528 • 2233