Frequently Asked Questions

What materials and papers do you print on, and how much does it cost to print?

In addition to a variety of rag papers (eg, Arches, Rives, BFK, Somerset, and Hahnemuhle), we also print on media ranging from Japanese kozo, canvas, and backlit film to glass, aluminum, and wood.

Please refer to our Digital Printing Price List for more information and cost specifics.

Do you weave custom tapestries for artists?

We do occasionally take on custom tapestry projects, where we work with an artist or client, using our technique to create tapestries with them, but we do not publish or sell the finished works. These may be multiples or unique pieces. It is important to remember that the tapestries are a result of translation, not reproduction. Each image must be proofed -- ie, an initial version must be woven as a test. Sometimes the file needs revision and multiple proofs are required to arrive at a satisfactory translation. Typically we are reluctant to take on a custom tapestry job if the image does not seem well suited to the medium (e.g., subtle gradations in a large number of hues, or a preponderance of straight lines and exact geometric relationships). There are various factors that inform the tapestry pricing, including whether the range of colors in the work will match up to an existing woven color palette, or whether a new palette must be developed; there are also weaving costs, costs for shipping proofs, etc. When inquiring about custom tapestries, please send a sample of the image or images to be considered, an indication of the budget, and the desired time frame. Some custom tapestry jobs can take as little as two or three months, but others may require more time.

What role does Magnolia play in the creation of the tapestries? Are the tapestries woven in-house?

Working with the weavers, we begin by selecting the 8 or 10 weft threads (color, composition and weight). These threads are woven in all accessible combinations to create over 3,000 possible color swatches. We then select a minimum of 250 colors (and a maximum of 510 colors) that will make up the weaving palette(s) from those available swatches. Using a computer and spectrometer, we create and organize an electronic lookup table based on the weave structure and color of the swatches. Next, we develop a digital weave file that, when woven, tests the accuracy of our projected set of colors. Once an accurate color table is achieved, we can prepare an electronic weave file of the actual image to be editioned. Working with the artist, we translate an image (or multiple collaged images) into the colors available to a specific palette of a set of threads. Once the electronic file is ready, we send it to a small, family-owned mill near Bruges in Belgium. There the looms are prepped with the correct weft colors, after which the electronic file is "punched" and the file is woven.

While for commercial projects the weavers might assume more agency or take creative license, in the case of the Magnolia Tapestry Project they play the role of technicians, with an emphasis on realizing each tapestry to the exact specifications of the artist. Ultimately, the artist retains complete control over the content, development, proofing and realization of his or her edition.

A poorly prepared file will not weave. The structure of the file is as important as accurate lookup tables and color identification. Each pixel in a file structure is a request for a specific weave pattern. A pixelated weave file will call different colors to the surface of the tapestry, sending others to the back; if done in excess, this creates too much tension on the warp threads, causing them to break. If one thread of the 17,800 warp threads breaks, the loom comes to an immediate halt and the broken thread must be found and repaired. The hundreds of tests done for the Cathedral project and the subsequent tapestries we have woven have helped us perfect our technique.

What are your tapestries made of?

Mostly archival cotton with some viscose, which is a cellulose/cotton product. In one palette we use a shot of blue acrylic. The black and white (grayscale) Bruce Conner tapestries are woven with 5 shots of wool and 3 shots of cotton in the weft. In 2008 we started weaving a few tapestries with a wool (not cotton) black weft thread in an effort to achieve a darker black.

An 82 inch x 82 inch tapestry has 17,600 threads (ends) in an 8 color warp. We use 60 shots (threads) per cm (152 threads per inch) in the repeating 8 color weft. In a 10 color weft we use 70 to 75 shots per cm.

What draws artists to Magnolia?

Since 1981 artists have come to Magnolia's studio in Oakland, California, to explore a full range of printmaking techniques and to work collaboratively in an experiment-friendly environment. In particular, although we continue to explore traditional printmaking, the staff of artists at Magnolia is especially devoted to developing and playing with new technologies.

Many artists, therefore, come for our pigment-based electronic printing facilities and for the electronic expertise and innovations of artist Donald Farnsworth.

Are fine art prints at Magnolia created by photographing and reproducing paintings?

Artists working at Magnolia enjoy a full range of choices and printmaking techniques. When we founded the studio in 1981, our focus was on traditional print media. At this time artists worked fully within the print medium: drawing, scribing, or using any number of printmaking techniques to make the matrices necessary to create an edition of original prints. As time has gone on and digital technology matured, we have developed, concurrent with our work in traditional print media, a wide range of digital techniques that we place at the artist's disposal. We regard photography and other optical/digital techniques as vital tools available to the artist. This sometimes involves photographing and printing pre-existing images in new formats and on new surfaces. At Magnolia, however, we continue to produce prints that are limited edition originals, not posters.

Where is the original?

At the end of the printing cycle there exists a stack of curated, signed and numbered prints referred to as "the edition". Though many matrices and materials may be used to create the edition, only the stack of prints included in the edition comprises the artist's finished work. The prints that make up the edition are understood to be a series of originals.

Generally speaking, are pigments better than dyes?

We think so. Dyes are synthetic, often unstable and sooner or later (usually sooner), they will fade. At Magnolia we have a deep concern for permanence and durability. In both traditional and digital printmaking we use pigments, not dyes. Historically, pigments (derived from minerals) have stood the test of time. From the paintings of cavemen to the first Gutenburg Bible, from Rembrandt to Sam Francis, all lasting images have been made with pigments.

Pigment is a finely ground, particulate substance which, when mixed or ground into a liquid to make ink or paint, does not dissolve, but remains dispersed or suspended in the liquid. Pigments are categorized as either inorganic (mineral) or organic (synthetic).

A pigment, such as red iron oxide (rust) is simply an oxidized form of iron. One could leave iron, lead, or gold in the sun for a million years and they would never change color or change into another substance (much to the consternation of alchemists). In contrast, man-made synthetic and vegetable water-soluble dyes can fade rapidly, often within one to six months.

Can Magnolia's digital work be classified as either Iris or giclée prints?

No. Magnolia's digital prints have been made using either a thermal or Piezo technology inkjet printer, both of which use six colors of pigment.

Pigment cannot (as of Jan, 2003) be used in an Iris (aka giclée) printer. An Iris printer uses charged plates to direct four very fine streams of red, yellow, blue and black dye onto the paper surface. The stream of ink is so fine that a liquid dye must be used. For many years the four-color Iris printer produced the best visual results. Today the far more permanent alternative to the Iris printer is an inkjet machine that uses six colors of pigment.

Giclée, French for "to spurt," was initially used to describe dye-based Iris prints done at Nash Editions in Los Angeles, California. This trendy term for an Iris print is quite an international embarrassment as the vernacular use of the word in France is "ejaculation" (rather apt for throwaway prints destined to last no more than a decade).

Unlike pigment, dyes dissolve when mixed into a liquid. Dyes are organic (not mineral). Although most are synthetic, derived from petroleum, they can be made from vegetable or animal sources. Dyes are well suited for textiles where the liquid dye penetrates and chemically bonds to the fiber. Because of the deep penetration, more layers of material must lose their color before the fading is apparent. Dyes, however, are not suitable for the relatively thin layers of ink laid out on the surface of a print.