Protecting and Preserving Your Giclee Prints

 
Just a couple years ago the production manager at FinerWorks surprised me with what she was able to do with a canvas print which had accidentally been scratched. A customer had ordered a large stretched canvas print of a wedding photo. The surface of the print became damaged when it accidentally hit up against something sharp right after it has been stretched and mounted. 
 
My production manager said that she thought it was fixable. Of course any mishaps like this are automatically reprinted for the customer but for fun I was curious to see how well my production manager could touch this up with paint. As a talented painter, I knew her abilities in embellishing canvas prints on request by customers but I figured no way would she be able to take a “photo” canvas and make the scratch go away. It was about a 6 inch scratch which went across the background , head, and body of the groom. She would essentially need to paint over a huge section of the photo canvas. So pulled out the acrylics and went to work. An hour later she showed me the canvas print. It had been touched up with paint and recoated with the clear coat we apply to canvas prints. My mouth dropped to the floor because it was like the huge looming scratch had magically disappeared. I showed it to another staff member who was unaware of what happened and they had no idea that it had been scratched and repaired, even after 
 
I had them inspect the print closely and told them where to look. As I said, we did not give the client this print but it was a fun little exercise in how all may not always be lost if you damage a print.
 
The inks for giclee printing on fine art papers have come a long way and evolved to be more durable in both the long run as well as being able to withstand causal handling. So much so that even many professional photographers now utilize inkjet prints just as readily as more traditional lab prints. If you have ordered prints on our fine art papers, the inks used are aqueous based (which simply means water based) versus any other type of chemical such as a solvent. This means they may have a little more difficulty bonding right away and infusing themselves to the surface. A process called outgassing then ensues which means the inks will dry and cure. This may take up to 24 hours. After the print inks have finally cured and bonded to the paper, the giclee prints need to be handled with care. 
 
In our lobby/showroom we have a number of prints which are out in the open and get regular handling by the public. They have held up and look as pristine as when they were printed. But this is not always going to be the case. Things like scuff marks and scratches may be hard hard to avoid if you are not careful when handling your print. Plus those types of mishaps can be more visible in areas where you have large areas of a single solid color. This is even more true with darker colors  due to the way light reflects off of them. Any interference such as a small thumb print as a result of the natural oils on your hand in those solid color areas. This is one reason I prefer giclee prints in which an extra border is added. As is the norm, you will want to place these prints behind glass or other clear barrier. 
 
Artists and photographers are not without options when it comes to fixing and even protecting their giclee prints. The incident described at the beginning is an extreme case but one of my favorite options and pointed out to be by a photographer with over 30 years of professional printmaking experience are the usage of fine point sharpie markers available at any office supply store in a wide range of colors. I had initially looked down on this idea until he mentioned that a many prominent photographers and print labs rely on these quick fix remedies all the time. He showed me how with light dabs I was able to touch up tiny dust size spots where the ink may have flaked or chipped away from the paper of my prints.  Even with the colors not being exact, with the right amount of pressure and small enough dots he showed me how spots as large as the head of a pin become indistinguishable.
 
Ideally you want to prevent or minimize this sort of thing. With canvas, unless you rub it against a hard sharp object you usually don’t have to worry about it too much. Our gloss and matte canvas are given an clear coat finish to protect the inks from smudging and handling. The artisan archival canvas is done with Eco-solvent inks therefore don’t need to be protected once they have sufficiently cured. With the paper prints it is a little more difficult. For those I recommend a lacquer based coating be applied.
 
These lacquer based sprays are highly recommended for long term preservation. Not only do these provide the inks on a print a protective barrier but many times they have UV inhibitors which further extend the lifespan of a print. Applying these requires care since you do not want to overspray and leave obvious spots on your print where the spray appears to be applied more heavily. The secret is to apply the spray evenly and consistently across the entire face of the print.
 
Three of my favorites have been the following: Moab Desert Varnish, Hahnemuhle Protective Spray and PremierArt Shield. These may run about $15-$20 a can so you will want to use them very carefully so as to not waste any of the valuable solution.
 
Applying the spray is not difficult but technique is important so you do not create heavy spots and have a consistent coating. If may be a good idea to practice with a newspaper or other surface first. Inspect the coated piece at an angle with some bright light hitting it after you have applied it to make sure it looks consistent. Afterwards let it dry for at least 30 minutes. 
 
The advantage to a lacquer based spray versus a water based coating is that it won’t cause the underlying paper to warp or shrink, especially with a cotton based paper. Plus it dries faster. The protection they afford are worth the money, especially if you choose to make the prints available to the public for handling.  There are other sprays out on the market but I cannot safely vouch for them. If you find something else labeled to protect inkjet prints, experiment with it carefully. I have had the displeasure of trying certain cheaper sprays which turned my prints chalky white.
 
To see how to properly apply one of these coatings, check out the video. This video shows you the appropriate spraying technique to ensure a consistent coating. In it we use the Moab Desert Varnish on photo printed on the Moab Somerset Enhanced Velvet. It is what we label on our site as simply "Fine Art Paper". It was printed with a Canon iPF8400 using the Canon Lucia Inks. When spraying make sure the area you spray is well ventilated since the fumes from the spray are very strong.
 
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