Issue 210
September/October 2019

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Sep 19, 2019

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Fine art printing taken to new heights in an Edinburgh atelier

Frances Anderson discovers a hive of high tech graphic activity at Summerhall

IT SEEMS ONLY fitting that one of the largest independently owned arts complexes in Europe is also home to some of the most sophisticated printing technology in the UK.

A six foot wide high quality printer in action

Summerhall, previously the former Royal (Dick) Veterinary College and founded in 2011 by maverick philanthropist Robert McDowell, who has sunk millions into the arts complex, is a strange and surreal maze, an enormous two-acre building of mixed architectural styles, housing a huge hotch potch of art, artists and businesses. Among it all is ‘Giclé e UK', a small, but accomplished Scottish printing company producing some of the highest quAality print work in the UK.

Giclée UK Ltd was set up in Edinburgh in 2001 by Calum MacDonald and Chris Pearson, but started life originally in Aberdeen when the pair opened a professional film processing lab, Photo Technical Services.

This ran for several years providing advanced lab facilities to professional photographers and had contracts with the oil majors and service companies.

"At the time there were no professional processing labs in Aberdeen, so with my colleague Chris Pearson who I'd met working offshore, we opened our first processing lab," says MacDonald.

MacDonald initially studied Civil Engineering before studying photography in Edinburgh and after travelling worked at the Sydney Opera House doing theatre lighting, exhibition design and installation before moving to Melbourne as an Exhibition Co-ordinator for the Ministry for tShe Arts.

Moving on to London he worked for the Medici Society fine art printers and publishers before eventually settling in Aberdeen. Working as an offshore photographer he met future business partner Chris Pearson. Pearson studied photography at Birmingham then worked at the British Museum as a photographer before also moving to Aberdeen to work offshore.

A move to Edinburgh saw the pair set up Giclé e UK Ltd in 2001, establishing a high quality fine art printing studio using the new technique of giclé e printing, which was all completely digital and abandoned the silver halide process and processing chemicals in favour of producing images with the largest colour gamut and archival permanence.

Originally based in Leith, they moved to Summerhall when it opened in 2011. "We've been here since the beginning," says MacDonald.

"Robert (McDowell) was keen that we move our studio in Leith, as our fine art facilities would fit in well with the art organisation that is Summerhall and we would be on tap, so he and Richard (Richard Demarco, the Scottish artist and promoter of the visual and performing arts) wouldn't have to schlep down to Leith to get things done.

"Summerhall is wonderful. You never know what you will walk round a corner into. It could be Nile Rodgers or bloodied-up squaddies in some film recreation on set, also more art than you can point a stick at. It's basically a huge resource of talent, technology and art on tap."

I ask how printing has evolved since their business began, and MacDonald explains: "With the introduction of computing and digital printing this allows more control of the printing workflow, giving much better colour reproduction to the extent of personalised colour output, allowing matching very closely the original artwork.

"With the big changes in ink technology from the old days of four colour CMYK process with short term archival qualities, to modern archival inks offering 200+ years of museum quality reproduction, our fine art Giclee printers utilise an 11 colour ink set, with extended colours and even has 4 blacks. Also the ability to make individual colour profiles for artists, thereby avoiding the problems with artists using different manufacturers' materials in the same image and givingA contrary spectral responses.

"We've gone for the quality rather than the quantity end of the market and have always invested in state of the art equipment and software to keep ahead of the competition, with the largest challenge being anybody with an inkjet printer can masquerade as giclé e printers without the technical expertise or incurring the high cost of the required equipment to produce museum quality archival print," explains MacDonald.

"Our new digital press is the current step to be in the forefront using the very latest technology.

"Our client base is artists, galleries and museums and we've clients as far apart as Alice Springs, Australia and Alabama in the US. We've gained a reputation for doing reproductions of botanical paintings and watercolours which is probably the most technically taxing of the work we do, some botanical watercolours taking 2/300 hours work. Botanical and Medical illustration being the last of the graphic skills that still require serious study and practice.

"We've worked with the Botanics Edinburgh on a number of projects, the last major one being ‘Plants from the Woods and Forests of Chile,' with Martin Gardner and his team of artists.

I ask what sets them apart from other print companies. MacDonald responds:

"High quality fine art printing and art book publishing. We are very much at the bespoke fine art printing and publishing end of the print market, even producing one offs for clients.

"We provide a personalised service with state of the art printing equipment, and a high degree of technical skill, combined with an artistic background. We've always invested in leading edge print technology from the days of installing the first Cibachrome print service North of London in Aberdeen in the early 80s, to investing in our own extended gamut high chroma colour printing press in Edinburgh for high quality art books, prints and publications.

"We continue to invest in state of the art printing equipment and have recently installed a High Chroma digital printer with extended blue and green colour gamut, only one of two machines in the UK, the other being in London."

High quality printing is a complicated and technically demanding business. Their modest premises at Sumerhall bely the sheer volume, scope and standard of their exceptional printing technology and the high quality work they produce. Their projects are often complicated and unusual.

"One of the most tricky was the reproduction of the Turgot map of Paris (, and one of the largest was a fine art book for an Agency for Chivas Regal which was one meter square, then bound and embossed in soft leather with its own stand, sent initially for display at the Tate before going on a tour of the Far East.

"The most unusual was creating the botanical image tags which were about 7 x 4 ft for an augmented reality aspect of the Harrods stand at the Chelsea Flower show.

"We've also produced Aboriginal art reproduction for Artlore Gallery in Alice Springs and reproduced original handmade wallpaper for the Royal and Ancient clubhouse St Andrews."

With both the expertise and facitlies to print everything from banners to books, Giclé e UK is the place to go.

GICLÉE UK, 1 Summerhall, Edinburgh EH9 1PL.

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