What is Giclée?

The 21st Century printing innovation explained

What is Giclée?
Giclée prints are created typically using professional 8-Colour to 12-Colour ink-jet printers. Among the manufacturers of these printers are vanguards such as Epson, MacDermid Colorspan, & Hewlett-Packard.
What is giclée? – archival quality ink jet printing

Prints have always been seen as the poor relations of paintings and drawings, and the terms original print, reproduction print, artist’s proof, limited and open editioned prints, printmaking as opposed to just printing and of course the various different types of prints and the plethora of technical terms (many in Italian or French!) haven’t helped.
The recent arrival of digital technology has confused the issue even further and now even the artists sometimes get it wrong. So What is giclée and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

With a relatively inexpensive giclée printer, scanner and computer the artist is now able for the first time to produce accurate “reproduction prints” without any outside intervention, limiting the edition at his or her discretion. Most forms of printing require a separate set-up stage involving plates or screens and this means they are only really viable for long print runs. Giclée prints require not lengthy set-up and a single print is no more expensive than a longer run.

The term ‘printmaker’ is accepted as referring to an artist producing prints by traditional “hand pulled” methods and for many traditional printmakers the term ‘limited edition giclee print’ is seen as a direct assault on their skills and, for the general public (who it must be said, are only just starting to accept photography as “Art”) it is all extremely bewildering. Most people own a PC, an inkjet printer and a digital camera – so What is a Giclée print?

OLD TOWN SUMMER ROOFS -Hastings, Limited edition giclée reproduction print,

SLIP DOWN MERMAID STREET, RYE Painting and reproduction giclée print

Giclée prints are a revolutionary new way of reproducing accurately paintings, drawings and other artwork to an archival standard surpassing even fine art offset lithography, and have became very popular with artists wishing to sell their art to a wider audience.
The term “Giclée print” connotes an elevation in printmaking technology. Images are generated from high resolution digital scans and printed with archival quality inks onto various substrates including canvas, fine art, and photo-base paper. The Giclée printing process provides better colour accuracy than other means of reproduction. Archival quality ensures that the prints are light-fast and non water soluble.
In giclée printing, no screen or other mechanical devices are used and therefore there is no visible dot screen pattern. The image has all the tonalities and hues of the original painting.

The Definition : Giclée (zhee-klay) – The French word “Giclée” is a feminine noun that means a spray or a spurt of liquid. The word may have been derived from the French verb “gicler” meaning “to squirt”, (it does allegedly have some slang connotations in French!)

giclée (zhee-clay) n. 1. a type of digital fine-art print. 2. Most often associated with reproductions; a giclée is a multiple print or exact copy of an original work of art that was created by conventional means (painting, drawing, etc.) and then reproduced digitally, typically via inkjet printing. First use in this context by Jack Duganne in 1991, Los Angeles, California

The Giclée Process

Giclée prints are created typically using professional 8-Colour to 12-Colour ink-jet printers. Among the manufacturers of these printers are vanguards such as Epson, MacDermid Colorspan, & Hewlett-Packard. These modern technology printers are capable of producing incredibly detailed prints for both the fine art and photographic markets. Giclée prints are sometimes mistakenly referred to as Iris prints, which are 4-Colour ink-jet prints from a printer pioneered in the late 1970s by Iris Graphics.

Advantages of giclee prints

Giclée prints are advantageous to artists who do not find it feasible to mass produce their work, but want to reproduce their art as needed, or on-demand. Once an image is digitally archived, additional reproductions can be made with minimal effort and reasonable cost. The prohibitive up-front cost of mass production for an edition is eliminated. Archived files will not deteriorate in quality as negatives and film inherently do. Another tremendous advantage of Giclée printing is that digital images can be reproduced to almost any size and onto various media, giving the artist the ability to customize prints for a specific client. The quality of the Giclée print rivals traditional silver-halide and gelatin printing processes and is commonly found in museums, art galleries, and photographic galleries.

The accessibility of giclée printing and the proliferation of giclée prints has led to a certain amount of confusion amongst the public and suspicion from traditional artists, galleries and the art establishment.

Litho reproduction:
half tone dot pattern is visible.
Loss of detail
Giclee reproduction: pattern of canvas board
is texture of original painting
and not printer

Disadvantages of Giclée prints

Giclée prints suffer from the same affliction that besets much creative work in the digital age – in that a lot of the process is automated and the final result is more a tribute to the software used, the hardware, and the programming skill of big company development teams than it is to the skill of the artist. Creating an original print, be it an etching, engraving, lithograph, screen-print or photographic print entails hours in the studio or darkroom with metal plates, chemicals and equipment, years of experience and infinite patience. Reproducing a print from an original painting or graphic can be a technical minefield of variables with lighting exposures, colour separations and halftone screening to contend with. Original prints were created directly on the plate, stone or screen in studios strewn with medieval implements and smelly, dangerous solvents. Photographers relied on cameras that had to be adjusted one photograph at a time for shutter speed, aperture and film speed with a bewildering array of dials that clicked reassuringly as each frame was winched across the back.
Today anyone with a mobile phone, laptop, and inkjet printer can produce prints quicker and more efficiently than a Rembrandt, David Bailey or Guttenberg. The most basic computer notepad can produce documents that can be justified, sized, kerned and spaced at the flick of a button. Fonts can be stretched and distorted cut, pasted and integrated with graphics in a way that only 40 years ago was virtually impossible.

Giclée prints are NOT printmaking!

Epson SureColor SC-P700 A3+ foto printer
Polymetaal etching press-JH-Series-3

All this has meant a devaluing of the art of printmaking, the skill of printing and the technical expertise that underpinned the foundations of any creative image. Prior to the digital age a print was valued for the image and the visual skill of its creator , but also for the sum of skills that had brought that image into existence on the paper. The stripping away of most of these skill intensive processes has led many to believe that everyone can become an artist. The accessibility of giclée printing and the proliferation of giclée prints has led to a certain amount of confusion amongst the public and suspicion from traditional artists, galleries and the art establishment. What determines the quality (and ultimately the value) of an image is as dependent on its context and history as it is on the finished image itself. For many professional artists and galleries giclée prints represent a welcome source of income and an
affordable way of reaching a wider public. Unfortunately there is also nothing to stop any image of any quality being reproduced ad infinitum, on any surface and in any size. A photograph of a cute puppy from a mobile phone can be uploaded to a pc, re-coloured and blown up in Photoshop, posted on the internet and printed out on paper, canvas and T-shirts in hours. The same image can be given a suitably arty title (and price) and be hung in a gallery alongside work by professional artists. Many galleries will not deal in giclée prints for this reason and many professional artists are openly antagonistic. Personally my gripe is “fine art prints on canvas” – or how to pass your photo off as an oil painting?
Please see also Printmaking


The advantage of Giclee printers is that they are capable of reproducing art-work and photographs on a wide range of surfaces including vinyl, canvas, and on various weights and textures of paper and card. Inkjet documents can have poor to excellent archival durability, depending on the quality of the inks and paper used. If low-quality paper is used, it can yellow and degrade due to residual acid in the untreated pulp; in the worst case, old prints can literally crumble into small particles when handled. High-quality inkjet prints on acid-free paper can last as long as typewritten or handwritten documents on the same paper.

Hahnemühle German Etching
paper 310GSM

Isn’t giclée printing the same as inkjet printing?

The association of giclee printing with its conceptual cousin – inkjet printing – has led some people to question the validity of this printing medium as a true fine art system.
Fine art printmaking has traditionally been based on the concept of creating a master plate – known as the matrix – from the original and using this to reproduce a predetermined number of ‘editions’ of the original artwork. Historically, the matrix was then destroyed by the artist, producing a set of truly limited edition prints. The more traditional printing techniques such as etching, lithography and linocut have evolved into art forms themselves and required a huge degree of expertise to reproduce the original to the artist’s precise demands.
Nowadays, the production of a printing matrix is no longer necessary as the high quality scanning techniques employed by printing companies results in a perfect facsimile of the original painting or photograph. Giclée printing offers incredibly high degrees of fidelity and richness of colour when compared to other ‘traditional’ printing methods and because no screen or other mechanical device is used, there is no visible dot pattern. The expertise that is employed involves the careful monitoring of the colour system through the use of colour profiling techniques and the understanding of the colour space that the machine operates within.
The print-on-demand nature of the printing process enables photographers and artists to maintain full control over the artistic integrity of their work which, coupled with the proven archival permanence of giclée prints (when coupled with specifically designed output media and inks) ensures that the artist’s work will be enjoyed for decades. Naturally, the understanding be-tween the artist and their customers that the edition is truly limited must be maintained. The matrix is no longer destroyed, but the original scanned file must be deleted or removed from circulation upon reaching the defined number of released editions, but this has always been the case and the advent of giclee printing has no impact on this mutual understanding.
Giclée printing is indeed a fine art printing technique and one that is truly liberating for photographers and artists wishing to share their work with the widest possible audience whilst achieving a quality that was hitherto unobtainable without huge expense.
Please note Giclée prints are almost always reproduction prints and do not fall under the category of printmaking! For an explanation of the difference please see What is a limited edition print?

Archival Inks

Inks marketed as ” Archival Quality ” are usually pigment-based. Some professional wide format printers use aqueous inks, but the majority in professional use today employ a much wider range of inks, most of which require piezo inkjet heads and extensive maintenance: