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What is the Difference Between a Giclee and a Print? (Giclee printing)

Giclee Definition: Giclee printing is a method of printing art on canvas or archival paper using pigment based inks on a commercial inkjet printer. Art prints are usually printed on paper or card based surfaces using a dye based ink. Dye based ink does not stick well to canvas and it is not thick like Giclee pigment based ink so it will look less like a painting. Giclee prints used to be called IRIS prints or IRIS proofs after the original IRIS printer that preceded inkjet printers.

Giclee printing is a bit like a big inkjet printer but instead of using normal ink which is more like a dye, it uses a pigment based ink that closely resembles actual paint.

The pigment (the colored powder) is suspended in water and is thicker than dye based inks.

So when Giclee prints are made, they will actually be raised on the canvas rather than being flush, giving it a look of paint to the untrained eye. A giclee print actually looks like a textured print.

When you hear the term “Giclee on canvas” and wonder what does Giclee on canvas mean then this means what is described above, a Giclee ink printed on a Giclee printer on canvas.

Here is an interest bit of trivia. According to wiki; “Giclée is based on the French word gicleur, the French technical term for a jet or a nozzle, and the associated verb gicler (to squirt out). Une giclée (noun) means a spurt of some liquid. The French verb form gicler means to spray, spout, or squirt. Duganne settled on the noun giclée.”

Giclee Printing Process

When a Giclee print is being made, the technician will load the Giclee printer with a suitable Giclee canvas or archival paper (this is an acid free paper that will not yellow or fade). They will then send the image to be printed from a computer to the Giclee printer.

What happens next is that the Giclee printer will spray the pigment ink onto the Giclee canvas one colored layer at a time, with different layers overlapping the other where needed.

This process closely resembles spray painting and is the closest method to getting paint on Giclee canvas like an artist would with a brush or airbrush.

This is the reason why I sometimes like to think of Giclee printing more like a Giclee Painting. It is still a paint like ink going on canvas or archival paper and it still has had the hand of the artist in the process. To me it is closer to an actual artwork rather than a print.

Giclee printing will enhance the value of the work and ensure its longevity, normal inkjet inks or laser toner will not.

In this article, I want to go further into detail about the differences between Giclee prints and normal prints.

Difference between Giclee and a Print
Difference between Giclee and a Print – Source: Wikipedia

The origin of the term Giclee

The word Giclee is pronounced “Ghee-klee” where the “Gh” in “Ghee” sounds more like the “G” in Goal, and rhymes with “Key”, was first used in 1991 by printmaker Jack Duganne for original artwork created digitally.

The original work is copied on to a computer either via a scanner or digital photo. It is then stored in a digital form before being transferred to a special type of inkjet printer called a Giclee Printer.

At the time, the term was restricted to describe works printed using an “Iris Printer.”

This printer was introduced in 1985 by Iris Graphics but now made by the Eastman Kodak graphic communications group.

This device was the premier high-resolution color-accurate reproduction printer at the time.

How the term Giclee is used today

The term Giclee has broadened out in its definition since those early years and no longer only refer to Iris printers.

Unfortunately, this has lead to a situation where the term Giclee is used incorrectly by some galleries to denote a good quality print.

It is sometimes even seen to be used as a description of an original physical artwork that has been scanned and reproduced.

These are not Giclees prints. A Giclee print can only describe an original artwork that is created digitally and then printed direct using a special printer.

Most printers use three colors and black, and it mixes these colors to reproduce a picture.

Some printers at the more expensive end of the market may also offer additional colors for smoother gradation between colors (up to seven colors in total).

True Giclee printers will have 12 colors so that they can truly represent the original design accurately.

At the same time, it may JUST be acceptable to use a seven-color printer to produce a Giclee print.

It is certainly impossible to create a true Giclee print on a regular printer. To do so is dishonest. The other factor is the paper or canvas used and the ink used.

In the next section, I will go into detail of criteria that must be met for a work to be described as a Giclee print.

Why are Giclee prints so expensive?

The reason why Giclee prints are so expensive is that the printer or artist producing Giclee prints need to recoup the expense of purchasing the hardware to not only produce the Giclee prints but also to maintain the equipment.

Giclee printers are quite expensive, so are the consumables such as canvas or archival paper and the pigment inks required to produce a Giclee print.

I have also watched a Giclee print being made and the preparation time and to print a Giclee print requires some time to complete from preparation to actual printing. Giclee printers are slow and they use a lot of ink.

Below I will go into some of the production of a Giclee print to give you an idea just what is involved.

How to prepare your work for Giclee Printing Production

Giclee Printer
A Giclee Printer

If you want your original digital artwork to be reproduced as a Giclee print, then you need to set your computer correctly before you start work.

The following settings and suggestions are provided by a specialist printing company that produces Giclées.

OPTIMAL GICLEE PRINTING IMAGE RESOLUTION

Most prints will be produced at 72 DPI. That is seventy-two dots to every inch of paper.

To be a Giclee print, a minimum of 300 DPI must be used for images smaller than 36 inches x 36 inches.

If the final print will be over that size, then 200 DPI is acceptable. Even if you can create files at over 300 DPI, do not do so as it is simply a waste as 300 DPI is the optimum setting.

There are two normal color formats used, and they are CMYK or RGB. You must use the RGB setting.

When using Photoshop, you should select Adobe RGB (Best) or sRGB color profiles.

The image should be saved as Jpeg, jpg, tif, or tiff. You should not save in PDF or png format.

You should also be aware that content near to the edge of the image may be cut off, so leave a border of at least ¼ inch on all sides of the picture.

Do not forget to flatten the image or save it with layers or text. The text should be rasterized before saving.

Once the image is ready and the Giclee printer is fed the required ink cartridges and paper or canvas then the image is sent to the printer and the slow process of printing 7 to 12 colors to produce a Giclee print starts.

IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO OBTAIN A GICLEE PRINTER AND PRINT YOUR OWN GICLEES, THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION WILL BE USEFUL.

GICLEE CHOICE OF PAPER

Since different art suppliers may have different brands. I have chosen brands that are available on Amazon, and therefore accessible by everyone.

Please note, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

HAHNEMUHLE MATT PHOTO RAG

308 gsm | 8.5 x 11 inches | 25 sheets per pack

100 % rag and free of acid works with both inkjet and pigment dye


HAHNEMUHLE MUSEUM ETCHING PAPER

350 gsm | 8.5 x 11 inches | 25 sheets per pack (RECOMMENDED)

OBA (Optical Brightening Agent) Free, Rag based paper, Best for long-lasting prints


EPSON PREMIUM PRESENTATION PAPER MATTE

165 gsm | 8.5 x 11 inches | 100 sheets per pack

Good for Matte finish, works well with Epson Archival prints


MOAB ENTRADA RAG BRIGHT 300 PAPER

300 gsm | 8.5 x 11 inches | 25 sheets per pack

Made with 100% cotton, acid, and Lignin free, Linin can cause the paper to discolor

There will be occasions when you require larger paper sizes, and thee are available from specialist suppliers.


PIGMENT BASED INKS FOR GICLEE

Giclees prints are printed with PIGMENT-BASED INKS, as opposed to the standard inkjet DYE-BASED INKS.

Dye-based inks contain a color that is fully dissolved and suspended in a fluid. Pigment-based inks are constructed of a fine powder of solid colorants that float in a liquid carrier.

Epson, Canon, and HP all make pigment-based inks and compatible printers.

Do not try and use pigment-based inks in a regular inkjet printer as it will rapidly clog the jets.

Art Print vs Giclee Print

Prints - Photo by Annie Spratt
Prints – Photo by Annie Spratt

When I was young, I would look at “Art Prints” sold in museums and think to myself that it was a hugely profitable business making them.

All I had to do was scan a photo of a famous picture, and then print it on my inkjet printer.

Based on the price of prints sold in stores and museum gift shops, a lot of money was to be made. Sadly there is much more to it than that.

FIRST OF ALL, WE NEED TO DISTINGUISH BETWEEN REPRODUCTION AND PRINT.

Art Prints

In its strictest sense, an art print is created by spreading ink on something that has been carved either by a human or a machine.

That plate is then used to print an image on paper.

There is no original copy of the artwork unless you call the plates the original.

The artist is, therefore, directly involved in the process of producing the prints.

In the case of a Giclee printing, the original piece is transferred to the computer via a scanner or digital photo and printed from there.

Sure there is some detachment from the process by the artist but these days, with the advent of NFT art I believe as long as the artist has had a hand in the process somewhere, then the artist is directly involved as well.

Art Reproductions

An art reproduction, in reality, is just a copy of an original painting. It can be produced in the absence of any contribution from the original artist.

These days the photo of the original artwork can be saved as a digital image and copies printed from there.

There is no limit to the number of reproductions that can be printed and can be continued to be printed.

If we use the above basis for comparing a print and a reproduction, we can see why an art print is typically more expensive than a reproduction, as there is more labor from the artist involved.

Often artists will set a limit on how many prints are created and number each one (possibly signing each one).

This process does not happen with reproductions, where the aim is to sell as many as possible.

Back to the Original Question – What is the difference between a Giclee and a Print?

Having established what each term truly means (Giclee print and art print), we have established that in terms of how they are created, they are both prints.

The difference lies in the complexity of the equipment and the quality of the materials used in the creation of each piece.

A mechanical process usually creates prints, and Giclée prints are digital in origin, but in both cases, there is the intention to create multiple copies from the very start of the project.

A Reproduction, however, is a later copy of a painting that was not originally planned to have multiple copies.

Are Giclee prints worth it?

As long as the Giclee print is printed using good quality ink and on a good quality giclee canvas or archival paper then yes, Giclee prints are worth something.

If you can get the artist to actually sign the Giclee print as part of a limited print run then the Giclee print will actually be worth a little more.

A good price point for a Giclee print should be half way between an original work of the artist and an art print of the work of an artist.

Never pay more than an original, never pay more than a Lithograph work of an artist as these are actually worth much more than Giclee prints or art prints.

Can I print a Giclee at home?

We live in fantastic times where we can hop onto Amazon and have a Giclee printer delivered to our homes for an affordable price. Even just 20 years ago this would have been an impossibility. Now you can print a Giclee at home for a fraction of the price of printing a Giclee print professionally.

The only limitation you may have is budget limiting you to the size of the Giclee print you can print at home. A professional operation can print you a full painting size Giclee print whereas a home Giclee print may be limited to a letter size Giclee print.

Why can’t I just use my inkjet printer and print a Giclee with that you ask? The problem lies with the limitation of most inkjet printers we have at home. I used to self produce prints at home using an inkjet using inks that cost me $70 a pop.

The problem I ran into was that my entry level inkjet printer lacked a few things that a dedicated Giclee printer would have. That is, the ability to handle high resolution resolution images, use a high quality ink, and accept archival paper (my inkjet would jam whenever I used a good quality archival paper).

Have a look at what is available below and decide for yourself.

If you were wondering how much a Giclee Printer would cost, have a look at some on Amazon:

Once you have all your printing requirements met, I suggest you start recovering the expense of producing Giclee prints by creating a limited run of signed closed edition prints of your artwork at a higher price point and then produce an unsigned and unnumbered open edition of your artworks at a lower price.

While some people may raise an eyebrow, I did just this and managed to sell thousands of dollars worth of prints of my muscle car drawings every year to collectors.

Conclusion

By this long and winding process that I have followed, I think I can now bring the answer to the question “What is the difference between a Giclee and a print?” down to a couple of lines.

Prints are produced as multiple copies, which are usually created using mechanical means (printing plates).

There is no hard copy original. A giclee print is produced directly from a design created by an artist and printed via a computer with the intention of producing multiple copies using high-quality equipment and materials.

Keep in mind that no two Giclee prints will be the same as there is a dependency on ink quality and paper or giclee canvas quality.

Low quality Giclee inks will print a degraded Giclee print after the preceding print. A good quality Giclee ink will produce consistent results and will be less likely to fade or yellow over time.

I hope that you found this wider exploration of the differences between art prints and Giclee prints to be informative.

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