The Real McCoy

Working with HP, a company called ARTtrust is enabling digital photographers to authenticate original fine-art photography

As a young boy, I learned early about the excitement of an original piece of art. Each summer at the end of August, my father would rent a small booth at the Spokane County Fair in Washington State. I was barely seven years old when Dad introduced me to Mr. Cowboy Joe Breckenridge, “the fastest painter in the West.” He shook my hand, then asked me what my favorite scene was. I responded, “The mountains of the West.” Literally 30 seconds later on the inside cover of a matchbook, I had an original piece of art.

I remember this scene as if it were yesterday, although sadly, my one-of-a-kind Breckenridge is nowhere to be found. If it’s still around and in the possession of an art connoisseur, how will he or she know if it’s authentic? Had Cowboy Joe been painting today, he could have solved that problem with a new art-identification system introduced by Hewlett-Packard and Prooftag™. The mental thought of Cowboy Joe and the technology of 2010 coming together is hard to envision, but the benefits are not. My desire to keep track of my own series of multiple original, fine-art prints has led me to investigate this new opportunity using Prooftag.

HP and Prooftag have introduced a fine-art tracking system called ARTtrust (, which can be used across the art world for authenticating fine-art prints. I’m currently using it for that exact purpose, keeping track of my fine-art photographs. In today’s world of virtually instantaneous copies, ultra-high-quality photographic reproductions and simply reshooting/copying printed images of all kinds, there needed to be a way to track art back to its creator.

The idea behind the Prooftag technology is somewhat similar to the uniqueness of the pattern on a human finger, although it’s 1,000 times more accurate. Prooftag developed what they call a Bubble Tag™. It’s composed of a translucent polymer, in which a random set of air bubbles are encapsulated. These bubbles can’t be removed without altering the visual appearance of the film layer, and each bubble pattern is random and completely distinctive. Watching the video on the ARTtrust website shows exactly how a Bubble Tag provides this one-of-a-kind visual.

Once I registered with ARTtrust, I received a set of ARTtrust tags, all numbered, three tags per individual ID, for a one-of-a-kind Bubble Tag. They look something similar to a hologram. I also received a reference number and datamatrix code. Each label within the set of three is a different color and has a different function. The silver label goes on the back of my pigment print, the gold label is applied to a certificate of authenticity going to the customer, and I retain the blue label for my files. Each set of three labels is assigned to an individual numbered print. All three tags of this particular “tag set” have unique Bubble Tag patterns that are synchronized so a client can refer back to the ARTtrust website, which has the identical visuals of each tag I’ve placed on my art or documents. Comparing the ARTtrust tag on the art to the one registered on the ARTtrust website is the process used to authenticate whether that print is a Daniel J. Cox original.

Setting up a quality database to keep track of your fine-art prints and their corresponding ARTtrust Bubble Tags is another piece of the puzzle we had to work through. Recently, we purchased database software called Bento (for the Mac) that we now live by in our fine-art studio. One of Bento’s many strengths is the ability to easily attach an image to individual records. Additionally, you can embed a mini-spreadsheet within each Bento record that can keep track of any number of things. We use the spreadsheet feature to document our ARTtrust Bubble Tags that correspond to each individual who has purchased one of our signed, limited-edition, fine-art prints.

As an artist, I’m always in search of something unique that helps me stand out from the crowd. Sometimes it’s a vision I’ve captured like nobody else, and other times it relates to the business side of my craft. We all have our own unique style, but frankly, that’s not enough in today’s world of artistic abundance for the art-collecting connoisseur. I’ve never bought in to the old adage of the “starving artist,” and ARTtrust gives me one more tool to be successful and, most importantly, trusted.

Oh, by the way, Cowboy Joe never did hit the big time, but you can find out more by visiting this page on

To see the wildlife and nature photography of Daniel J. Cox, visit his website at