By Ed Avis
When artists, art collectors, and art museums in Dallas need their prized collections reproduced, they don’t seek out a frame shop or quick printer. They go to MS Dallas, a reprographics firm that has built a reputation as a premier art printer over the past 15 years.
“We do the reproductions for many artists and wealthy collectors,” says Daphne Best, president and founder of MS Dallas. “Early on MS Dallas got a name as being artist-friendly, for keeping an eye out for them, and we’ve maintained that.”
MS Dallas did not start as a fine art printer. Best, who had worked for Bruning and Oce during the ‘80s and early ‘90s, wanted to start her own business and a reprographics shop seemed logical to her.
“My parents had owned a company, and after I worked for other people, I just decided to give it a go,” Best says. “Our doors officially opened on May 1, 1995.”
At that time MS Dallas focused exclusively on the AEC market. Best was familiar to many of her eventual clients in that market because she had called on them for Bruning and Oce. She knew they would value a reprographics firm that paid close attention to detail.
“For instance, when we get orders we don’t just hit ‘print.’ We preflight all of the orders we get from architects and engineers,” Best says. “We make sure everything is in the right place and set up correctly. So we have a name in the marketplace here in Dallas as being another set of eyes that our clients don’t have to hire to watch over work before it goes out the door.”
The effort of being that “extra set of eyes” has paid off in a solid reputation in the AEC field, which still is MS Dallas’ largest market.
A New Challenge
But about five or six years after launching the business Best got antsy. She wanted a new challenge. MS Dallas was already becoming skilled in digital color printing, so she started developing ideas about how to grow that segment.
“I was a collector of art, and I was involved in the Dallas art scene, and several artists were friends of mine,” she says. “So I decided put together a juried art show for local artists that MS Dallas would sponsor.”
Best negotiated with the owners of a new development in downtown Dallas called Mockingbird Station, who offered her 8,000 unfinished square feet for the show. Her art show attracted 10 to 15 top Dallas-area artists, and soon it became a twice-a-year event. Gallery owners made a point of attending the show to seek out new talent.
Best put MS Dallas’ color skills on display at the show by creating on-demand giclee prints of the artists’ work for customers who couldn’t afford original pieces. The sales financially benefited MS Dallas and the artists, but more important, the shows demonstrated MS Dallas’ abilities in fine art printing.
By the time MS Dallas stopped sponsoring the shows in 2005, the firm’s reputation among artists, art collectors, and art museums was well established. Among other reasons for them to use MS Dallas was a solid guarantee: If a piece of art they printed faded, MS Dallas would reprint it for free.
“When you stand behind your product, people keep coming back,” Best says, adding that MS Dallas’ reputation for fine art printing has also brought in more conventional color work. “People figure that if we can do fine art printing, then our color quality on projects in general must be superior.”
Best enjoys the interesting clients she has encountered over the years. For example, a customer once hurried into her shop with an original Matisse under his arm. He was on his way to the airport for a trip to his summer home on Martha’s Vineyard and wanted to bring along a reproduction of the Matisse so that he could gaze at it all summer. Her team created the reproduction stat.
“That’s not the way normal people think – ‘I have an art emergency!’” Best laughs.
Another time a wealthy client brought in a collection of priceless art to be cleaned, digitized, and reproduced and asked Best to bring the finished job to his private jet at the airport.
“I don’t know how anybody could get bored doing this!” Best says.
Best has maintained her company’s reputation in the art community by staying on top of technology. For example, she has always sought out the most advanced art-quality scanners to digitize the originals. She now uses a system from BetterLight, which provides scanners to art museums worldwide.
“It’s really hard to tell the difference between the original and a reproduction with the BetterLight,” Best says.
She has used various printers over the years, and currently uses an HP C6200 to print the fine art reproductions.
Media also plays a big role, Best says. A wealthy client who wanted her to create reproductions of his Ansel Adams prints once gave her a proverbial “blank check” to buy and experiment with top-rated media.
“Most of these papers cost hundreds of dollars a roll,” she says. “So you don’t want to mess it up once you start printing on it!”
She found a product that was appreciably better than any other and she continues to use it when called for.
Naturally, talented employees are also a necessity. Among Best’s 14 employees are three who are devoted to the art side of the business. These three employees have a deep appreciation for what artists need and how MS Dallas’ equipment can bring that about.
Advice for Others
Are you interested in tapping the fine art market in your community? Best offers several pieces of advice:
- Stay current on technology so that you’re always offering the best possible reproductions.
- Learn and follow the guidelines for creating archival prints.
- Make sure the customer asking for the reproduction has the rights to do that, and have them sign a form attesting to that fact.
- Make sure your insurance will cover this valuable artwork while it’s in your business.
- Provide one proof for free, but charge for subsequent proofs, because otherwise some artists will endlessly ask for modifications.
But most important, make sure you appreciate the artist and art collector community and feel comfortable working in it.
“A lot of the artists we work with are my friends,” Best says, “and I always have made it my job to be in the know about the latest techniques on how to reproduce art and share that with my friends.”