What Is Giclee

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If you walk into an art gallery or go through their catalogue, chances are you would find a section reserved for reproduced artwork. It would come under the strange sounding name, giclée (pronounced zhee-clay). What exactly is giclée, you might wonder.

Giclée is a type of digital fine-art inkjet print, usually reproductions of artwork originally created in traditional media (paintings, drawing, and so on). Before the era of high quality digital printing, fine art prints were usually produced by conventional four-color offset lithography. Since the 1990s, that role has been taken over by giclée printing.


In the late 1980's, the digital printing pioneers were looking for a new identity for the beautiful prints they had worked so hard to achieve. They wanted a distinction between their artistic work and the commercial pre-press proofs churned out by IRIS printers.

Initially, IRIS prints were not quite topnotch. Their color fastness was doubtful, and the prints tended to fade within a few years. It was also not possible to achieve a completely smooth transition of color gradients, so important for reproducing artwork. After all, they were used mainly to match colors before the mass scale print run.

The development of new technology changed all that.
* Archival inks with fade-resistant properties increased the life of the prints.
* The versatility of inkjet printing enabled printing on a great range of substrates, the media on which prints are taken. (Giclée prints are today taken on canvas, water color paper, photo-base papers, even vinyl and transparent acetates).
* Finally, extensive research by the pioneers fine-tuned the process.

Digital prints of paintings and other artwork had finally come of age.


However, in the art world, words like "computer" and "digital" still had negative associations. Jack Duganne of Nash Editions, California supplied the perfect name for the new art form in 1991. He searched for a French word for the nozzle, which was generic enough for most printers, and it was le gicleur. The related French word for the verb "to spray" was gicler, and its noun version (feminine) was la giclée or "that which is sprayed". Giclée soon became another name for high quality art prints with IRIS inkjet printers.

Giclée however was to become more than a brand name. It started being used as a broad generic term for any digitally produced high quality fine-art print.

There have been attempts to standardize the quality of giclée prints by various printers' associations. Some of the common requirements are:
* Light fastness - 6 or higher on the Blue Wool Scale
* pH of the substrate ranging between 7 - 9
* Weight of substrate at least 250 gsm
* Mention of various details like title, artist's name, publisher's name and year of print
* Information on substrate, ink type and machine/production details.

Technology and printing methods.

Giclée prints are high resolution, high quality reproductions printed individually from a digital file using special large format printers. This file can not only be a digitally scanned image of a traditional artwork, but also digital art which has no tangible "original" artwork that can hang on a wall.

Inkjet technology used in giclée printing is way ahead of what the common desktop printer uses.

* Giclée printing these days employs six or more colors, including variants of the same color (for example, regular cyan ‘C' and light cyan 'c'). A six color CcMmYK model greatly improves print quality by increasing middle-tones. This increases the perceived resolution and richness of the print and the ability to capture subtle color distinctions.
* Archival quality pigment based inks (instead of dye-based inks) ensure better light fastness. Unlike a dye, a pigment particle is not completely soluble in its base. It also tends to be larger and less susceptible to environmental damage, and the image stability of pigment prints is therefore far superior to that of dye based prints.
* A large number of fine replaceable print-heads ensure a wider color range (gamut) and allows printing on different substrates.
* A combination of precise color correction and expert scanning helps giclée printing provide better color accuracy than other techniques of reproduction.

Advantages of giclée.

Before giclée was developed, there were a number of other techniques available to make prints of original artwork. The most popular was the conventional four-color offset lithography. It is a photomechanical process of image printing carried out by commercial printing presses.

Both giclée and offset litho prints have extended the reach of high art into homes by making them affordable to many buyers, who cannot pay for an original. In terms of quality of printing, both these methods of reproduction are accepted by galleries. They can be used to churn out quality prints that can survive the ravages of time.

However, giclée prints have a few advantages over offset litho prints. The advantages pertain to quality, convenience and economy.

The Quality Advantage.

In offset litho, tiny dots in four colors are printed in varying sizes to deceive the eye into seeing different colors.

On the other hand, in giclée prints as in all inkjet printing, spraying the ink onto the substrate actually mixes the colors to create exact shades and virtually continuous tones. The color range (gamut) of giclée is beyond the scope of lithography. As a result, giclée prints are prized by collectors for their quality and fidelity.


Once an artwork is digitally scanned and archived, the artist can get it custom printed on demand with minimal effort, as and when required.

This also gives the artist control and flexibility over all aspects of printing - the size, the media, and the color tone. The artist can even own and operate the printer.

Printing directly from a digital file does away with intermediate negatives and plates, associated with litho printing, which reduce image detail.

Archived files are also less likely to deteriorate than slides or negatives.


Giclée printing is an economical alternative to offset litho prints. Though the cost to print a giclée print can be as much as $50 compared to about $5 for an offset litho print, the latter has print runs of at least 1000.

Capital outlay, marketing and storage costs for litho prints work out much higher. The artist can print and sell giclée prints one at a time, according to demand, at a much lower cost.

Considering all this, you can truly say that giclée prints have been a godsend to artists, galleries and collectors alike.

For more information about Giclee visit http://www.gicleestore.com

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