The Basics of Printing
Last week I covered a few ways to show off your Art Blocks collection online, now let’s talk about the basics of printing. We will cover what you should know before shopping around for a local print shop — that way, you can compare apples to apples.
(Quick note: double-check your NFT’s license to make sure printing is allowed. License info can be found on the project’s page.)
If you are interested in printing an Art Blocks piece for your wall, we highly recommend finding a local fine art print shop or online service. Fine art prints are made using pigment-based inks on acid-free paper. They hold up much better than dye-based inks and acidic papers, which will discolor and fade much faster. Of course, both will eventually fade, but fine art prints are rated to last up to 200 years compared to 20 years.
When you’re researching local print shops, call and ask if they offer giclée printing (pronounced zhee-KLAY). Giclée is a blanket term for fine-art printing made with inkjet printers. This printing method will give your piece smooth gradient transitions and a larger color gamut.
Once you find a shop that offers giclée printing, you’ll need to pick a paper material, weight, and finish.
When it comes to paper material, we recommend cotton rag or alpha-cellulose. Cotton rag is usually higher quality and the better option. Alpha-cellulose paper is slightly less expensive and made from high-grade wood pulp. The pulp in alpha-cellulose paper is refined to remove acid, while the cotton paper is naturally non-acidic. I recently printed a few of Aaron Penne’s Apparitions, and there was a $5 difference in 16”x16” prints, so I went with the higher quality cotton rag.
Now that you’ve found the right type of paper, you’ll want to pay attention to the weight. Fine-art paper is measured in grams per square meter or GSM. The weight goes up to 450 GSM, with the heavier paper being higher quality. The absolute minimum GSM for fine-art printing is 200, but again, go for the heavier stuff.
Last, you’ll want to consider the different finish options. Which finish you choose will depend on the type of project you’re getting printed. Typically, I find that Art Blocks projects look best with a matte finish. But you can also check out glossy and metallic finishes if you think it better suits the piece.
Depending on your budget, you can get a custom frame or go the discounted route. When people talk about how expensive it can be to print fine art, most of the cost comes from buying a custom frame to go along with it.
How you frame a picture is part of the viewer’s experience and should be considered an art on its own.
When I printed my Apparitions, I asked my shop for the entry-level price for a custom frame. I was quoted at $230, while the print itself was $28.
If you want to save a few dollars, you can find a generic frame at your local crafts store, discount home goods shop, or Amazon. I snagged three 20”x20” frames for a grand total of $60 on Amazon. It’s not an ideal option, but I decided to go with the highest quality prints and discounted framing for my home office.
It’s important to note that going with a custom frame includes glass, while cheaper frames usually have plexiglass. If you go with glass, you have the option to use non-reflective glass and UV filters that protect the integrity of your print. Going with cheaper frames often means your print will sit behind plexiglass, which usually has a glare and can warp over time to distort the details of your print.
If you want to skip the framing altogether, you can go with a stretched canvas. This is when your art is printed with extended borders that wrap around the edges of a wood frame. Because you don’t frame stretched canvas, you don’t need to worry about costly custom frames or glass quality.
Typically, you can find two types of stretcher bars — regular and thick. For longevity and stability, we recommend going with thick stretcher bars.
As a bonus, I want to touch on plotters. We’ve had a few plottable Art Blocks projects that look absolutely amazing and worth looking into. Put simply, plotters draw lines on paper. In its simplest form, plotters draw single thickness lines. It gets trickier when you want to plot lines of different thicknesses and different colors, but it can be done.
Matt DesLauriers project Subscapes is a prime candidate for a plotter. Here is a video of Daniel Catt (@RevDanCatt) plotting Subscape #433 on A2 Winsor Universal Card: Yellow paper:
Another project that can be plotted is Stefan Contiero’s Frammenti — as long as the piece has a stroke but no fill.
Unfortunately, print shops don’t usually offer plotting services. But if you’re able to find a local plotter, this is another great way to display an Art Blocks project.
First, figure out which piece you want to print, where you want to hang it, and what size print will fit the wall. Then, find a local fine-art printing shop. You can use online services if you cannot find a local shop, but use some Google magic to support local business.
When you order your print, make sure it meets this criterion:
1) Giclée printing (pronounced zhee-KLAY)
2) Acid-free paper (preferably cotton rag)
3) Grams per square meter (GSM) over 200
Once your piece is printed and hung, get ready for the holiday season because I’m sure your uncle isn’t going to understand NFTs, crypto, or generative art. It should make for an interesting conversation.