Understanding Giclee Printing

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A Giclee Print of an Illustrator's Work


For digital artists that produce tangible prints of their artwork, the term Giclee may have arisen when considering the different printing techniques that will present their art the best. Even if you haven’t heard of or used it before you may have used a miniature version of the machinery involved commonly known as an inkjet printer.

A Giclee Print of an Illustrator's Work

Sora by Alberto Cerritino  – 1 of 20 limited edition Giclee prints

As there are countless numbers of in-depth articles that attempt to explain this excellent printing form we’ve decided to provide our readers with an easy to digest version of what Giclee printing is, the uses of it, and how to make sure your Giclee makes the grade.

What is Giclee Printing?

Giclee printing, also commonly known as fine art inkjet printing, was primarily used for the reproduction of fine art which started during the late 80s to early 90s period, however, the increased use of digital visual art software packages and DSLR cameras has opened up this traditional method of printing to more than just the traditional fine art producers.

Using similar large format printers that we use to print huge gig posters on, Giclee printing involves the use of particular inks and substrate (paper, canvas, etc) to ensure that the final print is guaranteed to last a very long time – slightly more involved than just knocking up a print from your desktop printer.

The Giclee Printing Process

Image Credit: Flickr

You’re probably wondering why the fancy French name when you could just call it fine art inkjet printing? Apparently in the early 90s a printmaker named Jack Duganne named the process Giclee to hide the ugly connotations that the term “inkjet” had as a marketing tact (Wikipedia). He was clever about it though. If you Google translate “gicler” – the French verb “to spurt” you will understand how all the pomp and circumstance came about, which simply translated the name of the printer’s spraying action.

Archival Ink and Canvas

The “particular inks” used in Giclee printing are broadly named archival inks because of their long life, which on a finer level can be identified as pigment-based inks. Compared to the cheaper water-soluble dye-based inks used in most inkjet printers, pigment-based inks have been proven as more water and UV resistant (Photo Paper Direct) – ideal for a fine art print (especially if it is a limited edition).

CMYK Pigment Inks in Water

Image Credit: Flickr

The substrate, be it of paper or canvas, has to be at least 250gsm in weight and have as little acid as possible in its fibres (PH 7-10). These guidelines are set by the Fine Art Trade Guild to ensure that consumers of fine art prints are getting a fair deal. To be a trusted producer of fine art prints you should ensure that the printing company you use for your Giclee printing carries the following certification:

Fine Art Trade Guild logo

As a consumer of fine art, you can be sure that you are getting a certified Giclee print if the logo above is displayed either on or in accompany of the print you’ve purchased. There are also other details that need to accompany the print which are detailed on their website: http://www.fineart.co.uk/Standards/Print_Standards.aspx.

The Artist’s Use of a Giclee Print

From an artist’s perspective, the piece of work you are looking to reproduce has to be digitally copied either from a digital format (print ready PDF), from a scanning process of some kind, or through a digital photo. Whichever format you decide upon, the resolution of your work has to be set to a minimum of 300 DPI.

Giclee printing is ideal for artists because a print can be produced on a just-in-time basis – presumably how artists sell their work anyway. If, however, an artist’s work is highly popular and requires large print runs, e.g. for a gallery souvenir shop, then Giclee is an expensive printing technique to adopt. Lithographic or standard inkjet printing would be more suited for larger print runs but of course the quality will be completely different.

Traditional Artist at Work

Image Credit: Flickr

Traditional artists are likely to use Giclee printing to reproduce their original art form, which could result in copies that use the same material that the original was created on to make the print as close to the original as possible. The long life inks used for print also imitate the original to a degree as the original is hopefully intended to last a long time e.g. oil paintings such as Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” have lasted since 1889.

Digital artists and photographers are likely to use Giclee printing for the same reasons that a traditional artist may, however, there could be a perception that the original created by an artist using one of the age-old mediums is worth more than a photo or digital graphic, which could also influence the worth of a print – debatable.

Additionally, the use of Giclee for modern art forms can add a certain texture from the canvas and print quality that gives them a similar appearance to the fine arts.

Problems With Giclee Printing

As desirable as this printing form seems there are a couple of problems to be aware of regarding this otherwise great printing technique.

First of all be sure that you want a Giclee print before getting one made, as they can be a costly process. As we’d mentioned before it is perfect for artists who need just-in-time copies of their work but be sure that you choose a certified printer of fine arts otherwise you could be paying over the odds for a fake Giclee.

Secondly, the pigment inks used for Giclee have a restricted colour gamut compared to other dye-based inks, which have more subsets of colours. This means that the sub tones of the original may not be as well defined in the print compared to a print made with liquid dye inks. It will, however, last multiple times longer and have stronger resistance to the natural elements.

Summary

To summarise Giclee printing for artists or buyers here are 3 main points to take away with you:

  • It is a large format inkjet printing process that reproduces fine arts but can be used for other mediums of visual artistry;
  • It is intended to last a very long time to preserve the artist’s creation – as long as 100 years and onwards;
  • Always use a certified fine art printer when producing or purchasing a copy, identified by the logo and other specifications set by the Fine Art Trade Guild.

We hope that you found this article informative and useful if you were considering creating or purchasing a fine art print and wondered what Giclee was all about. If you have any comments or points of discussion regarding this article, please leave them in the comments section below. 

10 COMMENTS

  1. Really interesting to read this and brings back a lot of memories! I setup a whole production room for Giclee back in 2003-2005 for turning a bunch of art that our company held into fine quality prints. Very interesting to learn all about archival inks, colour adjustment and the many different types of paper and mediums. Also we got to buy a fabulous Epson 4000 inkjet – which could do 17″ by 22″ paper or any length via a paper roll. (II get kind of excited with big format printers. It’s really amazing when something that you’ve printed 8″ x 10″ suddenly comes out 17″ x 22″ – SO much more impact!) When I left I was given a beautiful Giclee print on silk – which is framed and on my wall right next to me now.

  2. Really pleased you have written about Giclee printing as I’ve seen the name title when I’ve been to art exhibitions but never completely understood the process, until now. Thank you very much

  3. A very interesting blog. I had a design made for me by my friends dad (a commercial artist) whilst at college & could never understand why companies started to move to prints. However after reading through about the Giclee printing it has made me appreciate that these are also “works of art”.

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