What Is Giclée (Fine Art) Printing

We get lots of questions each day about printing and there are a few printing buzzwords that come up frequently that unfortunately don’t have short definitive answers.  Let’s call them “loaded buzzwords” since the terms can open up a lengthy discussion and create confusion rather than definitive answers particularly if you peruse the subjects in printing forums.  One such topic of discussion is giclee printing and what constitutes a “giclee print”.  There are some critical key components to look out for which we’ll get into later.

The term giclee printing has become more ubiquitous over the years and is often used as a marketing term to refer to any high quality inkjet print. It’s often used interchangeably with fine art printing, but it’s thrown around more than it should be (such as in cases where pigment inks and archival papers aren’t even used!).

“Giclee” (pronounced zhee-klay and derived from the French word meaning to spray or squirt) was first coined by printmaker Jack Duganne in the early 90’s (hard to believe that was over 25 years ago!) to describe his advanced method of inkjet printing.  At the time, inkjet printing was associated with inferior quality prints so marketing his higher quality inkjets with a fancy name made sense and it stuck!  Nearly three decades later, the inkjet process has improved dramatically.  So much so that pigment based inkjet prints are often preferred over any other method due to better longevity and color accuracy.  Inkjet is no longer the dirty word in the printing industry that needs to be masked by the fancy French term giclee!

You can think of the giclee process as two parts.  Giclee typically refers to the entire process of capturing an original artwork such as an oil painting on canvas in digital format and producing a print, but more recently it’s often used to describe a high quality print from any source including a digital camera.  Heck, the term giclee is even used in conjunction with dye infused metal prints and other direct to substrate printing methods which really can’t be considered archival at this time.  The point is, don’t take the marketing jargon giclee at face value.  Know exactly what goes into making that product to determine the overall quality – the printer, the ink and the paper or material type.  

STEP 1 – CAPTURE ORIGINAL ARTWORK IN DIGITAL FORM.  The original artwork is captured digitally using a high end, high resolution scanner (drumroll or flatbed) or for larger framed artwork and canvas, a relatively sophisticated camera capture system.  For artists, creating a digital copy of their original work before it sells is a no brainer which could lead to many additional sales as a print (typically limited edition, but not always). 

STEP 2 – PRINT.  Once you have the high quality digital file of your original artwork, a whole new world of printing options opens up to you including ceramic tiles, shower curtains, mugs, etc.  For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on creating that archival giclee fine art print.  Did I just say archival?  Ah oh, there’s another loaded printing buzzword that creates all kind of confusion and debate across printing forums.  We’ll have to save a thorough discussion of this topic for another article, but for our purposes here we’ll focus on the components of what most consider to be required to be considered archival.  Often times what is considered archival is also based on imperfect simulations, so saying a particular paper and ink combo will last 75 years is a very rough estimate.  The truth is we don’t know for sure, but using high quality inks and acid free components along with some UV protection should keep the print looking great for a lifetime.  

Key Components Of A Giclee Fine Art Print

  • Archival Acid Free Paper or Canvas.
    Most decent photo papers now are going to be buffered and acid free, but it’s worth checking with your printer to make sure.  We offer satin and metallic acid free papers here at Bumblejax that when combined with the UV protection of acrylic or laminates are expected to last greater than 100 years.
  • Archival Pigment Inkjet Ink.
    In terms of permanence (and color accuracy too!), pigment inkjet inks are superior to any other method.  Superior to C-prints, superior to any of the new UV prints and certainly more permanent and longer lasting than direct to substrate printing such as metal prints.  That’s not to say that metal prints can’t last a long time.  If the metal print is done using a high quality substrate such as Chromaluxe with high quality ink they are rated to last 50+ years.  Use a lab that cuts corners and pinches pennies and you might find that metal print fading in mere months.  Like everything else, you typically get what you pay for so know what you’re paying for especially if you’re an artist reselling your work!  Here at Bumbleajax, we use HP Vivera pigment inkjet inks rated to last 100+ years.
  • The Inkjet Printer.
    Any professional print lab offering large pigment inkjet prints will be using a high end large format inkjet printer consisting of 8-12 inks.  We’ve been using the HP Designjet series of printers for years and feel it’s the best fit for us after testing the various large format inkjet printers.  We currently use the 6800 Series to produce beautiful giclee quality prints.
  • The Process, the Proof.
    All the love that goes into a great print – from optimizing the image (color enhancement, sharpening, denoising, etc), to making sure everything is calibrated professionally will lead to a superior giclee print. Costco apparently sells “Giclee Canvas Prints”.  I love Costco as much as the next guy, but are you going to get the same consistent quality of print or canvas at a Costco that you would at a fine art print lab?  Are you going to be able to speak with someone experienced with whom you can have a long term relationship with to make sure your prints are the best they can be?  Not so much.  Regardless of where you get your giclee print done, it’s a good idea to see a paper print proof first to make sure the color is what you’re looking for.  It should come close to the original artwork, but if you’re viewing a digital image on your monitor you must have a color calibrated monitor or the print could differ quite a bit from the monitor.  Here at Bumblejax, everything is professionally calibrated to ensure accurate color.

With archival pigment inks, acid free papers/adhesives and additional UV protection, you can be assured Bumblejax products will last a lifetime.  Check out our popular acrylic prints along with our prints on bamboo, raw aluminum, dibond and gatorfoam!  If you’d like to order a test print of our satin or metallic paper you can do that here.  Let us know what kind of project you are considering and we can typically credit back the cost of the proof once you place your full order.

If you need a service to create high quality high resolution digital images from your original artwork, photos or negatives let us know and we can help you find a local provider.


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