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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 June 2007, 19:05 GMT 20:05 UK
Bringing art to life in print
Printer Steve Farley and the National Gallery's Danielle Chidlow on new printing technology
Some of the world's most advanced printing technology has helped bring priceless art to the streets.

Life-size reproductions of masterpieces from the likes of Constable and Da Vinci have been unveiled across central London.

Hewlett Packard used new technology in its DesignJet 10000 printer when creating the display of the National Gallery's Grand Tour.

The process involves printing on a new vinyl called Epiflex.

'Three-year lifespan'

HP says when combined with a waterproof laminate, the vinyl will stop colours fading for three years.

Lab tests suggest prints may still look the same after a decade.

'A Grotesque Old Woman'  by Quintin Massys being reprinted
A Grotesque Old Woman by Quentin Metsys being reprinted
The paintings were reproduced by Electronic Printing Services in Leeds.

Its Managing Director, Steve Farley, said he travelled the world looking for a printing machine that could produce pictures containing billions of pixels at extremely high resolution.

"We had the money to invest but there wasn't really anything to invest in until we found HP. The image is 2.5m wide by 64m long. You don't get any degradation of image."

Mr Farley believed that despite the high technological standards, the process was cost effective.

He said the largest pictures cost around 200 ($400) each to reproduce.

'Little versatility'

However, others in the industry are less convinced of HP's merits.

A record shop owner surveys a da Vinci
A record shop owner surveys a copy of a priceless da Vinci
Dr Sean Smyth, technical director at UK firm Duncan Print and a columnist for PrintWeek, admitted Hewlett Packard's technology was advanced, but argued that it was less versatile than at least one major competitor.

He said the Epson Stylus 9600 was more suitable for most printing situations because it used pigmented, or dyed, ink rather than ink made up of solvents.

Dr Smyth added that pigmented inks worked well on a variety of materials including paper, but that solvents had to be sprayed on to highly tailored surfaces, boosting production costs.

"If HP put ink on special material, that will give it stability. We want to buy material from wherever we can get it, so we went to Epson. With pigmented inks, you're not tied into the one company."

But for most people who are sampling the Grand Tour around the streets of London, the cost debate is irrelevant.

As the National Gallery's project designer Danielle Chidlow put it, members of the public have even thought real works of art have been left outdoors.


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