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Giclée - Definition & History

A giclee is a digital ink jet print made to reproduce artwork and photography. The process employs a highly refined ink jet print head that has thousands of tiny nozzles that sprays very fine, overlapping layers of pigmented ink onto paper or canvas to create stunning prints with superior clarity and color.

The term "giclee" is derived from the French noun "gicleur" meaning "jet, stream of liquid or gas forced out of an opening". More loosely translated, it means "to spray". The term was created by an early proponent of digital ink jet printing who wanted to elevate the awareness of the superior nature of this new printing process over traditional offset printing -- that a giclee was a print that was "sophisticated" or special.

This new ability to sell reproductions of original art and photographs on different substrates has made giclees a very popular means for artists to leverage the time it took to create their original work and to offer it for sale at a more reasonable cost than the original -- thus generating more revenue and expanding their customer base.

Print On Demand

Giclee prints have become the print method of choice for artists, photographers, art publishers and fine art museums who are looking for high quality reproductions. Not only is the quality of giclees superior to offset prints, but the upfront commitment of capital is far less.

Also, once a giclee is proofed and finalized for printing it can be reliably reproduced over and over again without any degradation because it uses a digital output method -- not a physical printing plate. This is a superior method for an artist because it means that they do not need to make thousands of prints of one artwork in order to achieve "economy of scale" because printing a giclee is relatively inexpensive when compared to the offset method. This ability to print a giclee -- even just one -- is referred to as being able to "print on demand". Picture Salon keeps a copy of the digital file in storage until another print is made.

Giclee History

Giclees were originally made using Iris printers that used archival dye inks. The paper was loaded on a rotating drum and took extremely long to print. Then, Epson came along with a new, more improved printer and introduced a line of pigmented inks that were far superior in terms of their color-fastness when compared to dyes inks.

Pigmented Inks

Pigmented inks are very stable. Some of the more current inks are rated to last up to two hundred years without fading according to testing lab Wilhelm Research. Even though dye inks have a larger color "gamut" or range, pigmented inks are overall superior for their stablility.

The papers and canvas types that are used to make giclee prints are all specially coated to make the substrate's surface more receptive to pigmented inks.

The advantages of giclee prints are:

  • Superior detail and color fidelity or "gamut"
  • Color permanence rated to last at least one hundred years
  • A wide choice of 100% cotton papers and canvases
  • Print-on-demand

Giclee prints offer the ability to reproduce artwork on a variety of specially treated substrates including canvas, fine art papers and photo papers. They also make reproducing artwork more cost effective than offset printing -- especially when produced in limited runs.

The term may sound foreign, but it is a pretty good deal all the way around!

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