In the context of fine-art paper, a 'cotton rag' is a paper that is made from pure cotton. The term 'rag' comes from the traditional method of sourcing the cotton - rags from cotton mills were collected and the cotton fibres extracted and used as the pulp for paper. Today the finest quality cotton is used. Cotton is prized as a fine-art paper material due to it being naturally acid-free and more durable and long-lasting. High-quality cotton paper will last almost indefinitely if properly stored. Some papers use a blend of cotton and other fibres, a '100% cotton' paper is made from pure cotton.
Many manufacturers have incorporated the term 'cotton rag' into their brand names, for example Hahnemuhle Photo Rag is a paper that is made from 100% cotton.
Barium sulfate, also known as 'Baryta' is used as a coating on traditional darkroom papers. Today the same coating is used on pigment ink photographic papers to limit the penetration of the inks into the fibers of the paper while giving the surface the sheen and uniformity of traditional darkroom prints. The result is a print with the look and feel of traditional darkroom prints.
What is a 'Giclée' print (and why we don't love the term)?
The term Giclée was coined in the early 1990's by the pioneers of fine-art inkjet printing. It is based on the French verb gicler, which means "to squirt or spray", referencing the fact that the new technology worked by spraying drops of ink onto the media (i.e. inkjet). The intention was to create a term of distinction that would describe a fine-art print produced by a professional-quality inkjet printer.
Many people now feel that the term is too broad and generic and could refer to any number of different things. It has been accused of being a marketing term. We agree.
So what should I call my print? See below...
What should I call my print?
'Archival pigment ink print' is an accurate description. 'Pigment ink print' is also good. You can reference the media as well if you want, for example 'pigment ink on cotton rag' if you have used cotton paper. Some people like 'digital pigment print'.
A contentious issue is the use of brand names within the description, for example, 'archival pigment ink on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag' . Some advocates will argue that collectors want to have as much information about the print as possible. The other school of thought is that one would never use a brand name to describe a painting, for example, i.e. "Winsor and Newton oils on Belgian canvas" as opposed to "oil on canvas".
Our personal preference is not to use brand names in the description
What is 'archival pigment ink' and why does it matter?
Pigments are very small, fine particles of colour. Archival pigment ink consists of high-quality colour pigments suspended in water. Once the ink is deposited on the media surface, the water evaporates leaving the pigment behind.
It is important to note that it's entirely possible to print art or photography using dye or solvent-based ink, both of which are much cheaper then water-based pigment inks. But dye fades quickly and solvent has a high acid content. When we refer to 'archival pigment ink' we are referring to water-based acid-free pigment ink with high lightfastness.
In fact, what does 'archival' mean?
In the broadest terms, 'archival' means 'long-lasting'. Exactly how long lasting? Well that depends. With regards a pigment ink print, environment is a crucial factor. Sunlight and air pollution will have a major effect. A print stored in an climate controlled 'dark storage' should last centuries. The same print hung in a sunny spot near a busy road might begin to show sign of fading within a average human generation.
What is certain is that a modern 'archival pigment ink print' is one of the most archival and light-fast print processes ever and matches or surpasses the longevity of traditional darkroom prints.
One of the main causes of deterioration in prints or any artwork is the presence of acid in any of the material. That is why acid-free or neutral pH paper and ink are so important.
What is 'Colour Management' ?
In the context of a print studio, the goal of Colour Management is accurate, predictable and repeatable printed colour. To achieve this requires a combination of calibration of devices and the creation of custom paper profiles.
Epson printers are well know for their stability and 'linearity', which is why they have been the first choice for fine art printing worldwide for decades. In addition, the Epson inks are manufactured to extremely tight tolerances, resulting in consistent batch-to-batch values, meaning that a print produced today can be easily replicated in years to come - vital for artists who work in editions.
But even the best behaved devices can drift over time. And some devices like monitors can change fairly quickly. A 'closed-loop' system must be created, where every stage of the process is calibrated.
See also 'Calibration' and 'Paper Profiles'
What is 'Calibration' ?
Calibration is the process of creating a known reference point for a device and then regularly checking that the device is still operating within the correct values, or returning the device to the reference point.
Our Epson SureColor P10000 printer is calibrated on a monthly basis.
To calibrate our monitors we use the 'X-Rite i1Pro2' spectrophometer from the global leaders in colour management hardware.
See also 'Colour Managment' and 'Paper Profiles'
What is a 'Paper Profile' (and why it so crucial)
A paper profile is a set of instructions (code) that tells the printer exactly how ink should be applied to a certain paper. Most paper manufacturers supply generic profiles for use with their products. While acceptable results can be achieved using supplied profiles, creating a custom paper profile will result in much greater control and accuracy. We spend days creating and refining our profiles. The creation of custom paper profiles is absolutely crucial in allowing us to utilize the full contrast, hue and saturation range of every paper. We use large test charts (2000+ patches) which we read with our X-Rite i1Pro2. We run tests to optimize things like ink density and paper feed and head alignment for individual papers. Using generic profiles and default settings will get you close, we believe in spending the time to create settings which allow us to squeeze all the potential out of the paper and ink.
See also 'Calibration' and 'Colour Managment'