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The complete guide to buying and collecting video game art

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The complete guide to buying and collecting video game art

Part 3: Art Printing Styles and Material Conditions

Arjan Terpstra

19 Jan 2022 ⋅ 12 min read

This is part three in a larger series of articles on Video Game Art Collecting. Click the links for part one and two:

Part 1. Why You Should Collect Video Game Art
Part 2. What's It Worth? Value Development in Video Game Art

On the importance of material conditions



After examining the many reasons to collect video game art in part one and two of this series, we now dive into the material properties of video game art, with a specific focus on high quality art prints. Of course there are many other art collectibles to think of related to videogames (think high-end statues, props, original marketing art, simple posters, and even NFT's), but for now we are focusing on art prints and posters.

Cook and Becker was founded on the idea that video game art has an intrinsic value, if certain conditions are met. In part 2 of this series we talked about things like artist and studio involvement, scarcity, the importance of the material quality of collectable art in general, and how they all contribute to the value of any given object. Video game art collecting is no different than collecting stamps or antiques in this respect: value will be an outcome of its perceived cultural/historical status and popularity, offset against its availability/scarcity, the market, and—the topic of this part of the series—its physical condition.
Stamp

The famed British Guiana 1c Magenta, 1856, is one of the most expensive postal stamps in the world. Originally issued as part of a small emergency run when a large shipment of stamps went missing, only one stamp survived. In 2014, the stamp sold for USD 9.48 million at auction.

If you're looking to collect video game art more, it makes sense to get acquainted with the lingo in mechanical reproduction of digital imagery—independent if it's illustration art or photography. It helps if you are able to understand what it is you're looking at, but also to understand how it was made, and what technologies, materials and processes were involved. This is what this article is for, but we urge you to see this as an introduction: there's a world out there full of specialists and specialist knowledge about the printing of digital art, and it's a lot bigger than your color printer.

What to look for when you look at material quality



At Cook and Becker, we have in-house knowledge on all relevant aspects of quality printing. Which means we constantly have an eye out for developments in the printing business. So, what have we found out? Here's our checklist of what to look for when you want to value an art print's material quality.

1. Ways of printing



The transfer of a digital image onto a sheet of paper requires a few technical steps. After selection, still images often need color correcting and color profiling before they are fit for print. The reason is most imagery from video games is developed on color monitors, with artists using all kinds of different color calibrations for their monitor. You will have noticed yourself that the colors of an image look different on your phone than on your laptop screen. So, which one looks better, and how should an image look in print to be as close as possible to the original artist's intent?

Also, on a screen all colors are backlit or lit by a light source, which means every color is backlit by the screen. Transfer this image to paper, and you'll lose the backlighting, meaning colors often look less bright than on a screen, dark shadows suddenly obscure colors, et cetera.

Color correction and color profiling are used to keep the original intent and artistic qualities of a digital image when this image is printed. This requires a few technical steps, like switching between RGB colors (best for digital images) and CMYK or Wide Spectrum CMYK archival colors (best for fine art printing), and most of the time key colors are punched up or down, to find the right balance for the print.
AnnPrint
© Atlus

A print of the Persona 5 character Ann Takamaki would not survive transfer from screen to paper without proper color correction. The reds and pink would loose their vibrancy, rendering the image flat and far less dynamic. Image available through here.

Next, a printing technique is chosen, with a wide range of printing techniques available. Cook and Becker mostly resorts to giclee or fine art printing (a relatively new technique specifically developed for digital art prints; more on this later), but techniques like screen printing, or offset printing (for lithos and posters mostly) are also widely used in digital art printing. The selection criteria for a certain type of printing can be very diverse: some printers prefer screen printing for aesthetic reasons, other value offset printing as it allows for large print runs, perfect for when you need flyers or posters.

Independent of the printing method, art prints need a round of proofing, which usually means a printer proofs, samples, proofs again etc., to ascertain if the color corrections work in the finite product. Also different papers could yield different results, so sometimes proofing constitutes paper tests as well.

2. Know your printer (M/F)



If we learned anything at Cook and Becker, it is to look at the printer. By which we do not mean the machine, but the person operating it. Master printers (that's a title, yes) are key to delivering art prints from digital imagery in the best possible way. Not only because chances are an art printing studio operates machines more sophisticated than your inkjet color printer, but also because they are staffed with specialists: craftsmen and women, equipped with expert knowledge on digital art printing, handling, and anything else involved.

Master printer, in other words, is a title not everyone can carry. They print for posterity, and have a printing practice based on scientific method. Most adhere strictly to industry standards like the Certified Art Giclee™ hallmark, the European standard for superior giclee prints (created by Giclee Master Printers, members of the Giclee Printers Europe Foundation, or GPE). Cook and Becker makes exclusive use of GPE members for prints, meaning every print is made using only the most advanced techniques, materials, and finishes.
GuildWarsRefugees
© ArenaNet

Refugees, an original concept artwork for the video game Guild Wars 2 made by concept artist Theo Prins for studio ArenaNet. The Guild Wars 2 fine art collection can be found here.

There are other methods, other standards and other names in the business, but the point is: as a video game art curator, you should definitely look into them before you settle on an art print. To use the Certified Art Giclee™ as an example: the method is lab-tested to ensure a print keeps its original quality for a lifetime. A promise that can only be made if the printer uses the right acid-free paper stock, combined with archival inks, and keeps an eye out for how finishes (a varnish, or an acrylic cover) impact the print, if a varnish is chosen.

3. Got ink?



Sorry, archival inks? Yes, they are a thing, and an important one, too. We like to think printed materials are forever, but talk to anyone invested in art or archival curation, and you'll see how drastic ink deterioration can be. Over time, regular inks can fade and discolour, and in some dramatic instances (google "ink corrosion" in combination with "iron gall ink") burn right through paper, reducing historic documents to heaps of paper scraps. Of course these are extreme cases seen in documents hundreds of years old. But as shown in the image above, contemporary prints can—no, will!- suffer too, and from a range of causes.

Best known is (over) exposure to sunlight, which will have almost immediate effects on non-archival inks used in mechanically reproduced prints and almost all offset prints, due to photochemical reactions to UV light. But exposure to heat or water does the trick, too—there's a reason museums and galleries uphold strict policies towards temperature, UV light exposure, and humidity levels for their print exhibition rooms.

4. Read the paper



What goes for ink, goes for paper, too. The use of acid-free paper has been the norm in the printing industry for decades, after scientists discovered the main culprit behind deterioration in archival documents: acids from wood-based pulp. Today, acid-free paper is the default for art prints, with several options to choose from, that usually adhere to certain industry standards, like ISO or NISO norms. You'll usually find these standards named in the marketing copy whenever paper is advertised, so keep an eye out for those.
Gicleecomparison

A side-by-side comparison of a Certified Art Giclee™ (top) and regular giclee print (bottom), after exposure to UV light. Color prints of inferior quality fade rapidly, losing their original brightness in weeks. Image taken from the Cook and Becker video What Makes a Museum-Grade Giclee Print?

Let's take the paper stocks Cook and Becker uses for most prints as an example, Hahnemühle Radiant White and Photo Rag Bright White. The official marketing copy from Hahnemühle for the latter has phrases like "acid and lignin-free" in the description (lignin is the polymer in wood responsible for the yellowing of paper stock made from wood pulps), next to "ISO 9706 conform." Importantly, this specific paper is "cotton-based," which explains the felt-like structure and the resistance to tear. In short, everything in the description of this paper points at its durability, just like marketing phrases like "conservation grade" or "archival grade" you'll find in other quality paper stocks.

This isn't the only paper stock Cook and Becker uses for game art prints, but we consistently select papers that are considered the best in the market for this type of printing. When we launched Deathloop art prints, for instance, we opted to use Baryta Satin (300 gsm) FineArt paper for some of the prints, as it resembles 1960s photographic paper. Research the description of Baryta Satin, and you learn this paper is also acid-free, and "meets the requirements for longevity according to ISO 9706."
BreteiroFramed
© Cook and Becker/Arkane Studios

This print from the game Deathloop, called Breteiro Sepulchra Breteira & IMPAR Heritage Gun, was one of the items from the Deathloop fine art print series Cook and Becker printed on FineArt Baryta Satin 300 gsm paper. This was done to optically emulate 1960s photography paper, while keeping to modern standards for art printing. You can find the print by following this link.

And while we're at it: paper stock is produced in every conceivable quality, and for many different purposes. As a collector, it helps to know the basics, and see what paper mills have to offer, not only in terms of quality and durability, but also in finishes: the Baryta Satin has a "satin-gloss surface," one that gives a very different look to an art print than the Hahnemühle non-gloss "bright white" paper, with its "matt premium inkjet coating." There's an amount of lingo involved here, and you don't need to know everything to be a proper collector, but it helps you understand why certain art prints reflect more light than others.

5. Mind your mounting



Of course your curatorial duties are not over once the printing process has completed. How you handle, store, or hang your print, all matter for the material quality of the print. If you opt to store your art, please do so in a controlled environment, and store the art flat, using portfolios or other containers, and acid-free papers if you stack several art prints on top of each other. Ideally speaking you also want to look into things like humidity (humidity levels between 50% and 55% are advised by professional archives), temperature (64°F/18°C is ideal), and lighting conditions (a maximum of 200 lux is advised, with a low UV-radiation of 75 microwatt per lumen) if you want to go all out. The latter is probably overkill for anyone wanting to enjoy their prints now instead of keeping them for posterity, but just to let you know.

If you want to hang your print, it is worth looking into mounting options. Generally speaking, you will want to use a mounting back when displaying your art, independent of the use of a frame, simply to support the art while in an upright position. For this, a range of mounting materials is available, going by names like foam core, gator board, or mat board, et cetera. Importantly, you want to look into options that provide a sturdy backing: rigidity is key, to avoid buckling. Also you want to make sure boards and any adhesives you use are acid-free (for the same reasons you want acid-free printing paper).
ShellsnapperDibond
© Cook and Becker

An Horizon Forbidden West print is placed behind acrylic glass on a Dibond panel. The glass gives optimal protection against UV, while the Dibond provides a sturdy, acid-free backing.

Apart from foam boards, other options are available as well. Cook and Becker offers Forex (polyethylene) and Dibond mounting boards, the latter being a composite plate of aluminium, with a polyethylene core, that provides a solid, rigid backing to art prints. Combined with an acrylic glass or Diasec® mount (a gel-based process bonding prints directly and permanently to an acrylic sheet, a standard for museum-grade work), this makes for sturdy support of the art, as does framing. Of course other options are available as well, such as printing on metal, where a digital image is printed directly on an aluminum photo panel, sometimes with a Dibond backing. Cook and Becker uses a HD Finish technique called High Definition Metal Print, where heat infuses the inks into sheets of a special aluminium, providing a high-quality print that's highly resistant to color fading. This method has the extra benefits of not using paper, plus the image is ready to hang from the moment it's printed. More information on these mounting options and finishes can be found on our FAQ pages.

Share your thoughts!



This brings us to the end of the three-part The Complete Guide to Buying and Collecting Video Game Art series. Of course there's always more to tell, as there is always something new and exciting to learn about video game art collecting.

As we hope to keep up-to-speed on all things related to art collecting, we'd love to hear your art-saving tips, your experiences as a collector, and your do's and don'ts in framing, displaying, or storing art. If you want to read what other collectors have to say, check out the interview series we filed in our Magazine section, or join our Collector's Group on Facebook, where Cook and Becker collectors gather to share their stories. Also make sure to follow us on Twitter
and Instagram for the latest news on video game art and art collecting!

Join up, and share your experiences as a video game art collector with us!

Team Cook and Becker



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