A pigment print is a type of fine art or photographic print created using pigment inks. These prints are made by inkjet printers which spray tiny droplets of pigment ink onto a chosen surface, such as paper or canvas. The pigments in this process are microscopic colored particles which are suspended in a liquid carrier. Most notably, these pigments exhibit greater stability and durability compared to dye-based inks, thereby providing superior resistance to fading over time.
Sometimes pigment prints are referred to as Giclee prints. This term originates from the French word "gicleur" which means jet or spray. This term was originally used for fine art prints made on Iris printers during the 1980s but has since become generic to mean any high quality inkjet print.
Pigment prints should be distinguished from three other common types of paper prints:
Most professional labs catering to photographers produce C-prints and these are the most common type of print you can find today. If you go online and order a generic print, it will likely be a C-print. These are inexpensive and the machines for making them can handle high volumes required of a commercial lab.
In fine art printing, throughput and cost aren't the most important criteria and pigment prints made on inkjet printers have largely come to dominate this area for several reasons:
The main drawback of pigment printing is the higher cost which comes from several factors. First, pigment printers are slow and cannot produce as much output in a given timeframe as other types of printers. This is a significant for a professional lab with a high volume of orders. Second, the printers typically need regular maintenance and are prone to clogging and other mechanical issues. Finally, pigment printing is often done on expensive fine art papers made with cotton fibers as opposed to the cheaper resin-coated (plastic) paper used for C-prints. Using the expensive papers is not required but is a typical practice.
Two other drawbacks of pigment printing are that the pigments sit on the surface, which results in a very sharp high resolution image, but is vulnerable to scratching or scuffing and must be handled carefully. With C-prints and dye-based prints the ink is underneath the surface protecting it somewhat. On glossy media, pigment prints may exhibit bronzing or gloss differential. This is where the surface has a slightly different sheen depending on the ink density. However newer printers have work-arounds for this such as using a gloss enhancer.
You may see pigment prints labeled as an "archival print" or "archival pigment print". While there isn't a specific organization that formally designates what qualifies as archival, pigment prints created with high quality papers are commonly described as such due to their extended lifespan.
Pigment prints have a distinctive look but if you are not familiar with them, the easiest way to tell is to ask the photographer or artist directly. But if you can't do that, usually how the paper is described will give you a clue:
At many art fairs a popular print medium for photographers and some painters is what is called a "metal print". Typically they are shown frameless and have a very thin edge. These are not pigment prints but instead are dye sublimation prints made onto a coated aluminum blank (Chromaluxe is the most popular brand). Note that these are different from prints on metallic paper.
Overall, many artists choose to make pigment prints because of the combination of superior image quality, longevity, and the ability to print on virtually any surface, especially the finer cotton rag papers and canvas. It is without a doubt my personal choice for photographic prints and if you go to a museum or high-end gallery you will see many such prints in their collections.
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