What is Embellishing & Can I Do it Myself?


This content was written by ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing, Melbourne FL

Yes! You Too, Can Learn the Secrets of Embellishing Artwork!

We’ll bet you have seen those incredible photographs in homes and businesses that look like an original painting and wonder how they were made. With texture and brushstrokes, they look like original works of art, yet they were so affordable you know they have to be reproductions.  Whether you’re interested in embellishing your own artwork, or you are hired as an apprentice to embellish another artist’s work, we’ll let you in on the secrets of embellishing today’s giclée prints.

Earn More Money for Your Artwork by Embellishing

Why offer an edition of the same exact print when you customize each print by adding texture, brushstrokes or color variations and earn more money for each?  Embellishing creates a happy median for beginning art collectors (and many seasoned too) who cannot afford or are simply not willing to invest in original work, yet want quality artwork that is more valuable than a plain print. Embellishing your artwork is the answer!

Embellishing also solves the common “giclée printing” debate about the value of reproduced art.  At ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing, we like to silence the critics by admitting that an embellished reproduction that has actual artist involvement and is slightly different than every other print of the same image, is indeed more valuable.  HOWEVER – ChromaZone Ink Canvas Prints absolutely NEVER condones the act of trying to pass off a highly embellished giclée on canvas as an original work of art.  Because highly embellished giclées on canvas can look so darn good, a few mal-intended marketers have actually tried to fool people by doing that, which only fuels the giclée printing debates.  That is a crime, and there is no way around it.  Any embellished print should state on its certificate of authenticity exactly how it was created and that it is indeed a reproduction at some level.  It is the artist’s responsibility to ensure that a proper disclaimer is included for each work.  (See our FAQs on how to create Certificates of Authenticity).

Expand Your Artwork Product Offerings

In this article we’ll explain the considerations of embellishing artwork, and how you can create different levels of limited editions for your reproductions.

Artists have been reproducing artwork almost since the beginning of time.  In the early ages images were carved or etched onto stones or metal, covered with inks or paints and stamped onto surfaces.  The earlier run images in an edition were deemed more valuable because they were clearer and sharper than prints run after the stone or metal was used a few hundred times.  All this went away with the invention of inkjet technology that we know as “giclée” printing, because this newer technology is so high-quality that images do not degrade with additional print runs.  An image that was printed for the two-thousandth time looks as good as the very first giclée print (as long as you are using a reputable printer like ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing Orlando).  So how then does an artist create premium limited editions anymore?

They do it by enhancing the printed surface with additional fine art materials.  The level of embellishing you do or have done on your artwork can differentiate the value of, and allow you to have multiple editions of the same print.  At ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing, we have two levels of embellishing we offer and we label them “Surface Enhancement” and “Premium Surface Enhancement”.  Our recommendation for artists is to offer at least two different editions for each canvas original you create, preferably three.  Let’s explore these options…

Option One

The first and most affordable option you can offer is simply the plain printed canvas.  You can offer it as an open edition with no numbering and no signing, or you can limit the edition by offering a pre-determined quantity, then signing and numbering each, the most common way we see high quality, higher priced prints sold.  Now we would love to tell you that the more prints you order from us the better off you’ll be, but the truth is that we see the most success with artists who limit these kinds of limited editions to 500 or fewer.  But hey – if you’re selling them like wildfire and choose to keep the edition open, then ChromaZone Ink canvas printing REALLY wants you as our customer!  (See our 50% off coupon for first timers on our home page at www.ChromaZoneInk.com!)

Option Two

The second option is to offer an “Embellished” edition and this is where some of our “secrets” come into play.  This is where the artist or artist’s apprentice covers the entire surface and sides of the printed canvas with a clear acrylic gel medium that is thick enough to hold brush strokes.  In the ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing online store options, we call this option a “Surface Enhancement” add-on, and offer instructions for ordering on our “Surface Enhancements” page.

Now PLEASE, if you’re going to do this, please, please differentiate your artwork from the mass produced, low-cost “embellished” prints by taking the time to follow these steps:

  1. Start from the most distant, background portion of your motif, and work to the foreground. This will allow you to overlap consecutive layers over the layers behind it.
  2. Follow the brushstrokes of the actual image below it, and pay attention to the printed textures. See if you can mimic some of the different textures with your different brushes.
  3. If you have faces in the motif, we recommend as thin a gel coat as possible applied with a small fine brush, gently following the curves of the face.  Faces are the only place you don’t want to see thick brush strokes (unless it is the obvious style of the work) because these will often look like wrinkles or some other cosmetic defect in the subject from different angles.  You do, however want some gel on the faces just so that you can maintain the same sheen across the entire image.
  4. If you’re only going to add brush strokes to portions of the image, then a final UV spray coat will eliminate the disturbing differences in sheen.  With the clear gel however, we recommend covering the entire canvas including the sides.  This will protect the canvas even more, and is necessary to apply first when embellishing with oil paints.

As art collectors ourselves, we “Zonies” find it quite insulting to see prints advertised as “embellished” only to see that the gel is applied with a thick brush straight up and down across the entire surface without any regard to the image below it.  Really???? You call that embellished?  We call it cheap.

Oh yes, one more thing when you’re gel-embellishing – use good quality brushes that won’t “shed” onto your image because if you don’t pull those little hairs off the gelled surface fast enough, they’re going to harden into the gel and leave a “scratch” in the surface when you pull it out.  Likewise, we recommend keeping pets out of your studio and remember to keep the paddles of that ceiling fan in your studio dust-free!  We actually keep lint rollers near our easels for a quick “once-over” ourselves before we start embellishing.  We wear aprons and sometimes lab coats. It’s also a good idea to have your hair restrained by some method too.

Option Three

The third edition option is what we like to recommend for artist proofs (AP) or whatever you are going to call your most pristine, expensive, low-run edition.  This is what ChromaZone Ink labels as a “Premium Surface Enhancement” add-on.  This is where we do the clear gel application, and when it is completely dry we add oil paint to different areas of the artwork.  When the oil paint has dried enough, we re-coat it with another layer of UV to even out the sheen of the different mediums.  For production, we like to use the water-soluble oil paints because they do dry faster yet they maintain the richness of oil paints.  CAUTION: only use oil paints when the surface of your artwork is completely covered with an acrylic gel barrier. You do not want oil paints touching the actual artwork, as the oils will penetrate the substrate and cause discoloration.  We don’t usually use acrylic paint to embellish a work where we are trying to exactly match colors because it is a painstaking process to match colors only to have them dry darker. If you’ve ever worked with acrylic paints, they can be a lot of fun, but you’ve no doubt experienced how they dry to a different tone than how they look when they are wet. You certainly CAN use acrylics though.  You can use pretty much anything you want if it will stick! 

Be sure to TEST first when embellishing your art.  Fine art prints have inks that are made to meld with substrates on the different surfaces, and the surfaces are made to accept and hold these special inks.  So if you’re a watercolor artist for example, embellishing on a printed paper will accept your watercolors differently than your artist-grade watercolor paper.  

Now here is something very important to remember if you are going to be embellishing someone else’s work – this is something we tell all our artist candidates we’re considering for employment…. And that is:

“The artwork that you are going to embellish is NOT your own!  You must honor the style of the artist who created the original.”  

Too many times an apprentice will want to apply their own artistic license to an image, and that is not what we sell (unless requested of course!).  The irony of embellishing is that sometimes you don’t actually want an artist doing the embellishing on someone else’s work, but rather a very trainable & skilled technician who can follow instructions and leave their emotions & “visual opinions” out of the enhancing.

Premium surface enhancing is intended to only highlight certain areas of the image to give it a most-painterly effect in obvious places without re-painting the entire surface.  For this reason, you will find most of the thick paint embellishments in background foliage, flowing fabrics and architectural structures.  We generally do not do premium surface enhancing on faces or skin tones, for the simple reason that the time involved in doing that would render these prints as expensive as originals, and that is contrary to the concept.  We want to make these very high-end works of art attainable for a larger audience.

Premium surface enhancing is an intense exercise in color-mixing and you must know your complimentary colors in the color wheel and what results you’ll achieve by mixing different colors.  Start with tiny bits of oil paint because you’re sure to end up with more color than you need once you achieve the correct color to match or complement the image beneath it.  We at ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing have actually developed a series of color-mixing exercises we call the “Double-H Blocks” that our artists must complete first before they are allowed to do the premium surface enhancing.

ChromaZone Ink Canvas Prints Melbourne would love to be your giclée printing company whether you use us for surface enhancements or not! Call us at 321-312-4800 | 800-501-2901

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