Centre for Fine Print Research University of the West of England Centre for Fine Print Research

The CFPR and Hewlett Packard - an Industry case study

The Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR) initially established links with Hewlett Packard (HP) in 2000 through the HP Art and Science Philanthropy fund, which was set up to promote collaboration between arts based research organisations, science research and HP. The purpose of the fund was to ensure that these links could be strengthened, not only through access to equipment, but also by providing technical support in the form of detailed information on ink, head array mechanics and software and firmware within the printer. Over an unprecedented five-year life the project brought together major art museums and galleries, schools of art and design, universities and secondary schools to explore how information technology could be used in support of art; its creation, preservation and communication. As such some long standing flagship relationships were built with and between institutions including the National Gallery London, the Louvre Paris and the Uffizi, the CFPR, Southampton University and other key European universities involved in the science of art. Many of these relationships formed the basis for further pan-European collaborative formations, and also seeded a series of Large Format Printing and Colour master classes, ‘The Perpetual Portfolio’, led by the CFPR.

A second educationally focused project grew out of 'Art & Science' - "Art Exchange", which worked to link secondary and primary schools across Europe. The project used the internet and the medium of art to help groups with very different language, culture and social backgrounds share their insights, stories, passions and concerns through a series of common themes. The work involved many schools across Europe; ranging from an isolated rural agricultural village in Sardinia, to a Gaelic school in Ireland, to projects in deprived urban environments in Spain and England such as the local Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) in Bristol. Again the early model has seen many newer projects seeded from these working relationships, and many organisations world-wide have adopted a similar approach.

Under the Art and Science Philanthropy fund HP donated equipment to the CFPR in the form of wide format printers, cameras, and PC’s. Importantly, the equipment was backed up by access to HP Research Labs and the product development teams. This created a dialogue that remains ten years later.

One of the very first projects we undertook was the International Digital Miniature Print Portfolio.
At the time, wide format printing equipment (inkjet printing equipment capable of printing wider than 24 inches) was being rapidly adopted within the creative arts, but there was very little real data as to how users interfaced with the equipment outside of the limited reprographic use the products were originally developed for. The research focus of the project was to ascertain how and in what ways individuals interfaced with this technology.

The objective of the Miniature Print Portfolio was also to encourage collaboration on a variety of levels – between artist practitioners, higher education art students, and schools; and the result was the development of new collaborative ventures. In addition to Hewlett Packard - St Cuthbert’s Mill, Inveresk Paper and UWE also sponsored the portfolio. 80 artists from around the world participated. Each artist sent us a file with an image no bigger than three inches by four inches and we printed 80 sets of prints, so that each artist had a complete set as reward for participating - the CFPR printed a total of 6,400 prints.

What we learnt was that there were 80 different ways of approaching the technology, and 80 different solutions to a problem! As each of the files had been created remotely using whatever technology was to hand, we had no idea of the lack of technology interface that would occur. The CFPR solved the immediate problems with a number of ‘work around’ solutions, to produce an excellent exhibition of prints, but in real terms did not face the problems head on.

‘The Perpetual Portfolio’ sought to tackle these problems head on. Eighteen artists were selected, and each undertook a one-week residency to make a large format digital print with mentoring assistance from staff at the CFPR. An edition of fifteen prints were created: 5 to be owned by the artist, 3 by UWE, 2 by HP, and the remaining 5 to be sold to raise funds to extend the programme.

The intention was to document the process that each artist undertook in order to make their print. When prints were created remotely the CFPR had no control over or awareness of the process. With this project the CFPR did not control the process, but rather assisted the artists in whatever methods they used in order to create the print. The primary objective for the CFPR was to prove to HP that users interfaced with technology in a very different way to the way it had been developed. At the end of the project the CFPR had 18 documented case studies of how artists worked; the results were very revealing to HP and certainly informed several aspects of their approach to current technology in wide format printing.

In 2004 HP began developing their next generation of wide format printers, and as a result of collaborating more closely with groups such as the CFPR, decided to consult more closely with the group of users they termed creatives, in addition to the user groups they had previously consulted. A series of small focus groups consisting of ‘industry influencers’ were invited to Barcelona to discuss their needs for the next generation of machinery. The artists and photographers group consisted of five people; two photographers of international reputation, an artist’s paper supplier and two fine art representatives, Ian Cartwright from the Print Room and Stephen Hoskins from the Centre for Fine Print Research.

During the consultation, the photographer’s main concerns were extra blacks and smoother rendition of tones, the artist’s were more concerned with colour sets to extend the gamut beyond the standard CMYK. To cover a broader range of needs, the considerations of the group were not simply photographic, but included a need to render graphic imagery created using vector programmes, and a straight through paper path to take thicker papers more suitable to large scale artists prints.

As a result, the CFPR became a pre-beta test site for HP, giving further access to the rationale for the technology behind the next generation of printers. During this period, the CFPR was awarded a large two year research grant from HP to undertake colour research into alternative colour sets and supplied the funding to employ a software writer.

At the beginning of 2007, HP supplied the CFPR with the new generation of printer, the Designjet 3100 and the Designjet 6100. The 3100 included many of the modifications that had been requested at the focus groups in Barcelona; it was a 12 colour printer including RGB and orange in the colour set, and it had an almost straight through paper path included. The CFPR created a straight through paper path by modifying a Designjet 5000ps, bypassing paper, alignment and feed sensors, and cutting away barriers to the straight through path. Then rewiring the printer to enable a sheet to be passed through several times, without being rejected by the inbuilt printer firmware. A registration system was then created to enable the prints to be realigned to extremely accurate tolerances of less than two thousands of an inch. At this stage HP proposed a wide format printing master class for the Art and Science Philanthropy Group, hosted by the Centre for Fine Print Research. The presentations were given by specialists from HP Colour Labs Barcelona, HP Labs Palo Alto and The National Gallery London, giving clear guidelines for image capture that related to accurate colour reproduction, but also supplying explanations of software transcriptions through the imaging pipeline.

HP have funded a series of research projects since 2000. Ten years on, the CFPR are still conducting strictly confidential research with HP. HP have funded a personal chair (Hewlett Packard Professor of Fine Print) since 2003, and are currently in discussion with the CFPR to support a number of further collaborative projects.


Quick Links

CFPR were given a free stand at IPEX 2010
IPEX 2010
Several open evenings were held at CFPR labs
CFPR Spring Open days

CFPR and HP links

Art and Science programme
more information (.pdf)
Art Exchange
Wide format printing
more information