Donald Daniel,

Originated November, 2000, updated May 2014

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Have you ever seen a painting in a museum and said "wow!"? You probably never even asked yourself whether it would enhance your home if you had it. After all, it is worth a million dollars, and it is too big for your house, and museums do not sell their paintings. However, the painting can be photographically reproduced with high quality to any size, suitable for framing. But, perhaps you checked with the museum gift shop, and even though they sell printed reproductions of some of the museum's paintings, they do not sell reproductions of the one you wanted. Do not give up, there is a way. Or, perhaps you saw your special painting in an encyclopedia or art book, how do you get it for your own home?

Identify the picture and museum.

Call the art department, photo department, or reproductions department of the museum, not the bookstore or gift shop. Ask for a large positive transparency of the picture, not a 35mm slide. If all you can get is a 35mm slide, it will do, but a 30 inch print will be noticeably fuzzy. Some museums sell, others rent such transparencies. I have bought a 5x7 inch transparency for $75 from Austria, and rented a 4x5 inch for $60 from California. If the transparency is to be rented, it might be best to arrange for the printer to rent it, so you are not on the hook if he looses it.

The transparency will probably have the frame, as well as the painting in the picture. For it to look nice, you should frame it yourself. The height to width ratio of the painting is not likely to match any standard frames, so a custom frame will be required, which your local frame shop can do easily, but not until you have the mounted print in hand. The picture of the frame should not be in the final print. If the camera was not exactly perpendicular to the painting when the transparency was shot, the image will not be exactly rectangular. The lab making the print will have the choice of eliminating a tiny bit of the edge of the picture, or of including a little bit of the frame in the picture. It would look sloppy to include a little bit of the frame in the picture, so it is best to trim a bit of the picture if necessary.

You cannot specify both the height and width of the picture, as you do not know the ratio exactly. Specify either height or width and let the printmaker adjust the other dimension to match the painting. You will have to fit your selected size within one of the standard sizes that printing materials come in, and will be charged for the whole size even though you will only use part of it.

There are different ways to make a large print from the 4 by 5 transparency. Different photo labs specialize in different ways. The way that has been used the longest for high quality fade proof prints is to print directly onto Ilfochrome photographic material, formerly called Cibachrome. When these are laminated with polyester film they are guaranteed fade proof for 99 years, if they are not hung in direct sunlight. The polyester is available glossy (clear like glass), semi-gloss, or matte. The semi-gloss and matte are obtained by ultra fine clear sand in the polyester. They make it less shiny. The matte has so much sand in it that the black parts of the picture do not look completely black because of the sand. Prints done this way can be cold mounted on expanded PVC board about 5mm thick which is dense and tough. One brand name of such board is Sintra, but there are others. When prepared this way the prints can be framed just like an oil painting with no matte border or covering glass. A 30x40 inch print prepared this way cost about $320, the last time I checked, plus tax and shipping. A 24x30 inch was about $210. The 24x30 print is small enough that a nice custom picture frame at your local frame shop will probably cost more than the print. Other sizes, smaller and larger, are available, but these are probably the most of interest for home use.

By searching on the internet you can probably find several photo labs that make these kind of prints. The one I have used is Photobition, 1919 Empire, Burbank CA 91504, 818-842-1121. Call and arrange to send them the transparency, using a mailing envelope designed for VHS video cassettes sold at office supply stores. Sandwich it between the two pieces of cardboard. Include a cover letter with credit card # and expiration date, instructions for printing, for example: "30 inches high, no frame in print, trimmed to width of painting. If image not exactly rectangular, eliminate some of picture to avoid getting picture of original frame. Print on Ilfochrome Classic photographic material, mounted on 5mm Sintra black board, protected with glossy (or semi-gloss or matte) polyester laminate. The final print and the original transparency are to be shipped to me Fedex (Photobitions preferred way)." Expect the print within a week or two of when you sent the transparency.

Your local camera shop or photo shop probably has an ink jet printer that can print on canvas or paper. This would be another way to get the picture printed ready for framing.


This last paragraph is only of interest to museums who wish to improve their photographic technique. Different museums provide photos of different quality. I inquired of a museum which provided near perfect quality to see how it was done. To copy an eight foot high painting, the room was first darkened. Only one incandescent light on either side of the painting was used, each at a 45 degree angle, and about 30 feet from the painting. A 4x5 inch camera with a 19 inch lens was used, very far from the painting. The long lens was needed to reduce glare and flare. Kodak EPY Ektachrome 64T Professional 6118 film was used. The film was digitized by Kodak to their PhotoCD format, 75 megabytes. The photoCD was then printed digitally onto Kodak EPP Ektachrome 100 Plus Professional 6105 film for a final 4x5 inch transparency. This final transparency was used by me to make the Ilfochrome print, almost indistinguishable from the original oil painting.

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