GAC Products on Inkjet Prints

By Mike Townsend

The volume of e-mails and calls to our Technical Support Department reveals a consistent increase in the number of artists incorporating inkjet printing into their artwork. While some artists’ focus is making quality prints, others see the print as a starting point for creating original artwork. This article focuses on materials and application methods, and product interaction when working with GOLDEN products on digital prints.

Print Systems
Today the artist is presented with a wide assortment of precoated papers, canvases, specialty printers, inks, protective coatings and varnishes. In an effort to improve the performance of a print, as well as to control sales, companies develop printers, inks and substrates together as a system. If an alternative substrate is used, for example, the receptive coating may not allow the inks to penetrate as well as the recommended substrate’s surface, and so the print’s quality is compromised. Starting with an established system provides a baseline for the artist for future testing.

The key requirement for any substrate being considered for inkjet printing is how receptive it is to the ink system. Physical characteristics of the substrate impact subsequent product applications.

Below is a breakdown of benefits and potential issues of common substrates: Inkjet Papers – A range of papers are available, from very glossy photo stock to heavy matte papers. This group can include watercolor papers specifically produced for inkjet printing. Various paper stocks and coatings can experience color change and yellowing regardless of how the inks fare. Therefore, not all inkjet papers are suitable for archival use.

Inkjet Canvases – The canvases intended for use through printers tends to be easy to coat and seal because the surface is not very absorbent. If properly coated, the canvas texture can be retained and it can be stretched and framed like a painting. These precoats may not be receptive to all inks, and may also repel applications of mediums or varnishes. As with papers, inkjet canvas coatings may have inherent archival issues.

Uncoated Substrates – Artists have experimented with many materials for use in digital printing, including 100% cotton rag paper. Although some may be quite permanent and appropriate for fine art work, because they are not specifically developed for inkjet printing, these surfaces may cause poor reception of the inks. Without an appropriate sizing such as inkAIDTM or other ink receptive coatings the quality of the resulting print may be compromised. If used without any receptive ground coat, the high degree of absorbency means multiple applications of a sealer may be required to close the porous surface.

The two types of inks available for inkjet printing are dye-based inks and pigmented inks. Dyes are colorants, which are soluble in the solution carrying them. By nature they are more prone to fading from exposure to light, especially in the ultraviolet portion of the spectrum. Pigments are larger insoluble particles with significantly stronger bond strength holding them together and therefore, less subject to break down from ultraviolet light exposure.

Three ways to seal a print include spraying with GOLDEN Archival Varnish, brushing with GOLDEN MSA Varnish or applying MSA Gel with a squeegee. These Mineral Spirit Acrylic-based products should not distort water sensitive prints.

Three ways to seal a print include spraying with GOLDEN Archival Varnish, brushing with GOLDEN MSA Varnish or applying MSA Gel with a squeegee. These Mineral Spirit Acrylic-based products should not distort water sensitive prints.

Sealing CoatsPigmented systems are more permanent, but the dye-based inksets have a wider color gamut. Of course this is a generalization, but each artist will need to make a decision as to which one to settle upon. Their choice affects what substrates and subsequent coatings can be used as well. Dye-based inks are generally more water sensitive than pigmented inks, but this can be countered by using substrates designed to minimize the issue. Pigmented systems tend to be less vibrant than dyes and their water resistance reduces inadvertent reactions with a larger variety of coatings. The use of pigmented inks can allow for direct waterborne coating applications.

The function of a sealing coat is to reduce the absorbency of the substrate and also to encapsulate the inks, making them less susceptible to reacting with subsequently applied materials. It also seals the substrate’s ink-receptive coating if one is present. Each substrate will have a unique degree of absorbency and reaction to the initial sealing coats applied to it. Sealing allows for uniform varnish coats and the ability to apply and manipulate subsequent products more readily. Once a uniform layer has been established, the artist is free to “re-mark” — the post manipulation of a print with color and texture — with paints, gel mediums, or varnishes.

In many cases it can be difficult to apply water-based coatings directly onto the print without some color bleed — even systems deemed “water resistant.” Spraying provides the most even application of these coatings. Light, fast-drying seal coats can minimize the occurrence of inks bleeding or distortion of the image.

Once it is established that a waterborne coating can be used, then determine what properties are desired with this coating and what application method works best. For example, GAC 500 blended with Airbrush Transparent Extender makes a good overall spray coating, while Soft Gel (Gloss) thinned with water is better for brushing. Thin coats are best to seal the surface. Absorbent papers may require several coats to properly seal the paper. Gloss products provide better clarity and depth of color than semi-gloss or matte products.

If the image is too easily blurred with a direct application of a water-based coating, the most practical solution is to apply the GOLDEN MSA Varnish (Gloss) or Aerosol Archival Varnish (Gloss) as the primary sealing coat. This solvent-based acrylic varnish should not react with water-soluble inks or ink-receptive coats.

Assuming the print has been sealed with a compatible coat; manipulation of the surface can begin. The initial seal coat aids in stabilizing the inks and substrate, which in turn allows for more working time, smoother applications with less foam generation, and the ability to also work over the print, applying thin or thick layers of paints, gels and mediums. Commonly used GOLDEN products for “re-marking” inkjet prints include:

Gels and Mediums – Care must be taken to avoid excessive foam bubbles, distort water-sensitive inks, or otherwise harm the print. While some artists prefer to use semi-gloss or matte products, to ensure transparency and image clarity, the standard recommendation is to use gloss gels for texturing. Modify the gloss sheen later by finishing the work with a lower sheen topcoat, such as MSA Varnish (Satin).

Custom MSA Gel – This mineral spirit acrylic-based product allows for one-coat applications to combine reduction of water sensitivity, adding texture, and UV protection all in one product instead of having to apply multiple materials. However, if the MSA Gel is not going to be used over the entire print, an overall pre-coating of MSA Varnish (Gloss)creates a uniform surface for the gel. MSA Gel is available with and without the UltraViolet Light Stabilizer (UVLS) system.

Blended Paints and Mediums – GOLDEN Acrylics such as Heavy Body and Fluid are appropriate for “re-marking” sealed prints. Artist paints offer a significant advantage of lightfast pigments and range of color. The use of specialty colors such as Iridescent and Interference colors can add elements to a print that cannot be digitally created. Paints can be combined with gels and mediums to create translucent glazes. Refer to an article in issue 12 of Just Paint, titled “Defining Luminous Effects” for a better understanding of glazing.

Top left: Seal paper and canvas surfaces with Soft Gel; allow to dry. Top right: Apply thin coat Soft Gel as glue layer. Bottom left: While gel is wet, lay print evenly onto canvas. Bottom right: Carefully place weight on print to prevent buckling; allow to dry.

Top left: Seal paper and canvas surfaces with
Soft Gel; allow to dry.
Top right: Apply thin coat Soft Gel as glue layer.
Bottom left: While gel is wet, lay print evenly
onto canvas.
Bottom right: Carefully place weight on print
to prevent buckling; allow to dry.

Both the GOLDEN MSA Varnish and Polymer Varnish contain UltraViolet Light Stabilizers (UVLS) to minimize fading, and some artists will prefer to use one system for both sealing the substrate and also for the actual UV protection. Both products can be used on a sealed surface or directly onto a print, as long as there are no solvent or water sensitivity issues. These products will offer water resistance but not make a print waterproof. However, applying a varnish will allow for general cleaning and handling.GOLDEN Varnishes
Varnishing provides significant protection by reducing change, such as fading and yellowing. The number of coats needed for such protection can vary based upon the application method and materials. Refer to the test results in this Just Paint issue and other GOLDEN information sheets for further information.

Mixed Media
Whenever mixed media is being considered for artwork, it is important to understand product relationships to assure adhesion and compatibility. For example, it may be necessary to seal between layers, especially if working with delicate media, such as pencil or charcoal. Testing various products over one another before committing them to the print can mean the difference between success and failure. When inkjet prints are involved in mixed media work the most important issues are adhesion and whether various materials will
distort the print.

Preparing Prints for Use in Collage
Rather than the artwork being limited to the printable substrate, some artists want to add printed elements into a painting. For collage work, once the sensitivity of the print has been addressed, the print can be used as would any other paper element in the composition.

Mounting Prints to Canvas or Panel
Acrylic mediums and gels can be used as glues for mounting prints, but if the print is one with water-sensitive materials, this should be addressed first. A good example of this is attaching a giclee print with water-sensitive dye-based inks on watercolor paper onto a panel.

Prepare the back of the paper with one or two thin coats of Soft Gel. This seals the absorbency prior to actually attaching the paper to the panel. The panel’s surface should simultaneously be prepared with a coat of Soft Gel to seal the panel’s absorbency. By pre-coating these surfaces, less Soft Gel is needed for the actual gluing process and in turn, a better bond is created. This process also reduces the chance of edges curling and air pockets developing due to lack of gel between the two materials. Mounting large prints can be the most difficult as the gel needs to stay wet until the two objects are ready to be glued together.

The Importance of Testing
The digital print world moves at a very fast pace. By the time this issue of Just Paint is published there could easily be several new substrates and colorant systems in the marketplace. It is imperative to test and re-test materials for compatibility. Inkjet canvases and papers have special receptive coatings, and these films may cause adhesion failure of certain materials. Some ink may be touted as water resistant, but when a heavy coating of acrylic gel is applied, the moisture remains on the surface long enough to cause the image to blur or color to change. Therefore, do not assume because a product worked fine for one kind of ink and a particular canvas it will perform as well on others.

If the intent of the artist is to create a lasting artwork, they need to be prepared to spend time gathering information and conducting some tests. This new digital medium can provide so many options for the artist. It can serve as simply a print media or become part of a much more complex mixed media work. So many questions remain unanswered as to the ultimate permanency of this media. As more artists push the boundaries of this technology and as their customers demand greater confidence that their work will remain viable, the products will continue to improve. It is our goal to continue to investigate what is possible within this media and provide our best practice ideas as the field continues to evolve.

13 Responses to GAC Products on Inkjet Prints

  1. Subarna Talukder July 30, 2018 at 10:07 pm #

    HI Michael, DO you have any knowledge about how to do oil painting on archival prints on paper mounted on panel? Thanks, Subarna

    • Michael Townsend August 1, 2018 at 8:56 am #

      Hello Subarna.
      Thank you for your questions. The key is to seal the surface of the print, and what products to use revolves around the ink system and its resistance to water. If the print is made with “pigment inks”, they tend to allow water based acrylic mediums such as GOLDEN Fluid Matte Medium to be directly applied to the print. 3 coats of the Fluid Matte Medium are sufficient to prevent the oil paint to reach the paper, which along with proper adhesion, is of key importance. After you apply and allow the oil paints to sufficiently cure, you can then apply the GOLDEN MSA Varnish or the Archival Varnish over both acrylic products and oil paints. Please contact us if you have any other questions! – Mike Townsend

  2. Victoria Hayes November 17, 2018 at 4:40 pm #

    Hi Michael, I am working with digital prints using inkjet dyes. I want to collage them to another paper surface but can’t use any water soluble glues without damaging the ink surface. The images are printed onto Japanese washi paper coated with ink aid. I would rather not seal the surface since I like the washi paper surface. Can I use thinned out Golden MSA varnish only as a glue between paper surfaces? Vicki

    • Michael Townsend November 28, 2018 at 6:10 pm #

      Hello Victoria.
      You can use the GOLDEN MSA Varnish to seal the print, both front and back. If it’s sealed sufficiently enough, you should be able to then use acrylic medium (we often suggest the Soft Gel for this purpose) for the actual adhesive. The pieces could be coated and then laid onto polyethylene plastic sheeting (4 mil construction/drop cloth plastic rolls), allowed to dry, then peeled from the plastic and glued as needed.

      That said, I can see the point to why you are looking to use the varnish with the washi paper directly. If done carefully, with the MSA Varnish thinned adequately with the MSA Solvent, you could use it for sealing the paper and as the adhesive, as it is still after all an acrylic medium and remains clear and flexible over time.

      Both applications of course require testing to see which method you prefer.

      – Mike Townsend

  3. Francesco March 21, 2019 at 2:14 am #

    Hi Michael,

    I wish to varnish giclee prints on archival 100% cotton papers, alpha cellulose papers, and canvas prints printed with archival pigment-base inks. Then I wish to mount the giclee print to ampersand 1/8″ clayboard with golden soft gel medium, then frame with
    non uv plexglasss. Sould I varnish the print first before mounting , or mount the print first and the spray varnish with golden archival spray Varnish gloss. Thank you.

    • Michael Townsend March 21, 2019 at 7:23 am #

      Hello Francesco.

      Thanks for the questions. I would suggest applying a coat or two of the Archival Gloss spray varnish first, allowing for a day or more to dry. Then mount the print to claybord using Soft Gel, and allow that to dry for a couple of days, especially with the canvas prints as the coatings are usually tight which causes the gel to dry more slowly. After that, apply however many coats you wish to finish the work. This way, if you accidentally mar the surface while mounting the print, you should be able to even out the finish with the additional coats of varnish. Be sure to frame this in such a way that there’s no varnish touching the plexiglas or matting, as the varnish will likely want to cling and attach to whatever it is in contact with.

      – Mike Townsend

  4. RL April 12, 2019 at 4:17 am #

    hello Michael

    Thanks for this publication. Im currently trying to identify if there is an ideal method for displaying large giclee prints, without an acrylic or glass.

    The main concern being fading, and after reading your and Sarah Sands papers, articles, Im still unsure if there is a reliable method.

    IS your article suggesting that the inkjet receptors are unique for every paper? Thus the varnish ability is different?

    Im using a canon prograf printer. Can you make any suggestions for deceasing giclee fading where I am adhesive mounting, and framing without glass?

    Alternatively, What if I were wanting to varnish, and then roll the image up, and ship it though the mail?

    This is for commercial applications, and we deal with other artists work, so, Im wanting to make sure and get it correct. thank you in advance

    • Michael Townsend April 12, 2019 at 4:06 pm #

      Hello Ryan.

      Thank you for contacting us with your questions.

      The overall takeaway from the articles is that the inkjet printing technology is a moving target and that this means it’s important to conduct regular testing to insure success. Printers and printing substrates will continue to evolve, and the inks and coating systems can be changed over time. However the good news is that the inks tend to be trending up in regards to longevity and durability. That said, there’s a couple of pieces of advice we can provide for you.

      I would say that not only is each brand of paper going to have their own type of ink receptive coating, but various lines of paper/canvas could use a different coating to adjust the way the ink absorbs into it. For example, paper usually requires much more ink than canvas due to the coating. The settings on the printer reduce or increase the ink flow depending upon the substrate you are using.

      The best recommendation, and most universal varnish is our MSA Varnish. This tends to have great clarity, leveling and film integrity with excellent clarity. If you brush apply, 3 coats of varnish is enough of a varnish layer to achieve a high level of UV Protection. Often artists will start with gloss, due to its clarity, and finish with the desired finish as the last layers. the sheen choice is up to you.

      One concern I have is the type of adhesive you are using to attach the print to the panel. If it’s solvent based (such as 3M super 77), the MSA Varnish might loosen it and create bubbles between the print and substrate. If you use the water-based varnish (Polymer Varnish) to aviod solvents, be sure that the water and other additives in the varnish do not interact with the adhesive.

      Please let us know if you have any other questions.


      Mike Townsend

  5. Jean Starling May 20, 2019 at 5:15 pm #

    I’m a photographer looking to add interest and something different to my photos. Most of these photos I will glue to a canvas board or other type of board. I send my photos out to be printed, most are metallic prints and some are just gloss. If I want to just add a clear layer to make the photo look more painterly then what would I use? And then if I want to mix in some color to add some interest areas would I use the same medium? I’m new to this whole idea so any info is appreciated. Also if you can recommend some books or learning sites to give me more info on this and other ways to add interest to photographs I would appreciate that.

    • Michael Townsend May 21, 2019 at 10:49 am #

      Hello Jean.

      Thank you for contacting us with your questions. Most of the information we have is on ink jet prints, which are of course vastly different than working on actual photographs using Kodak and Fujifilm papers. These tend to make it more difficult to work upon with waterbased products, which is why many photo retouchers would using solvent based inks. Here’s a link to those products: If you do print the images on inkjet supports then you can follow the advice outlined in this Just Paint article.

      – Mike Townsend

  6. Kim Clinton September 23, 2020 at 3:35 pm #

    What is the best medium to use if one wants to transfer an inkjet print onto a substrate like a canvas by laying it printed side down and removing the paper backing afterwards by soaking and abrading?

    • Michael Townsend October 1, 2020 at 10:05 am #

      Hello Kim.

      Thank you for your question. An important factor is the type of ink used in the inkjet printer. Some are more water sensitive than others. You would also want to use the thinned, cheapest (tree pulp) paper that still provides a clean print. This helps during the transfer process. Higher quality papers are more stubborn and require a lot more paper rubbing and peeling to reveal the image. You might want to apply a thin layer of Fluid Matte Medium to seal the inks before you actually do the image transfer process. The downside to this is that the paper will want to buckle when it gets wet, so that may also influence the process that works best for you.

      Let us know if you have any further questions.

      – Mike Townsend


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