A Las Vegas Printing Atelier Champions Antique Printing Methods in the Digital Age

Karen Kedmey
Feb 6, 2015 10:48PM

In some 21st-century businesses, it’s not digital-or-bust. At Rue Royale Fine Art, in fact, they bust down the digital in favor of the human hand. With the help of machines far older than anyone working at this print shop, they prove that in subtlety, depth, and beauty, the hand trumps the computer any day.

Like most images these days, prints—including posters, fine art prints, and photographs—are produced digitally. For better quality prints, giclee is the go-to method, in which paper is fed through a color inkjet printer, which sprays the inks onto its surface. In terms of cost, speed, and convenience, this and other computer-based processes represent vast improvements over the historical presses. But, as the team of artisans and experts at Las Vegas’s Rue Royale Fine Art reminds us about contemporary digital methods: “Compare this process to a man kissing a pretty woman through a veil.”

In the Information Age, the handmade is more valuable than ever. The quality and craftsmanship that derives from a highly skilled person working directly with well-made materials cannot be reproduced via keyboards, code, and pixels. In order to turn out the sumptuous fine-art lithographic prints that they are known for, the team at Rue Royale turns back the clock—to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The shop is one of the few lithography ateliers remaining today. “At the heart of Rue Royale are five extremely rare, made-in-Paris Marinoni Voirin editioning presses,” they write on their website. “Each is over 100 years old. As far as we can determine, there are only seven of these magnificent machines left in the world…(We are continually trying to purchase the remaining two.)”

With these gorgeous antique machines—the lightest of which weighs six tons—Rue Royale produces prints of original artworks by artists ranging from Alphonse Mucha to Gordon Parks. The presses used to run on steam; now they are powered by electricity. Producing a single, 12-color print takes multiple people up to six days to complete—that is, provided each step goes off without a hitch. These steps include drawing the image onto Mylar sheets, using one sheet per color; photo-transferring the drawings onto plates; carefully mixing the individual colors out of which the image is composed; and then hand-feeding the paper through the presses as many times as there are colors in the image. “There’s a sense of history when you print with this,” says master printer Daniel Leeland Woodward. “You can feel it in the paper, you can feel it in everything that you do. The finished product is 10 times better than what you would see coming out of a computer-generated image. And it really is a beautiful process.”

Karen Kedmey