Giclee Printing

Giclée - A "giclée" print is a piece of printed artwork or photograph produced by using a high quality digital inkjet printer. The first printer in this class was an Iris, and Iris printers still claim to lead the field. Other print machine makers include Epson, Mimaki, Mutoh, Hewlett Packard and Roland. The inks used must be specially formulated and compatible with the extreme fineness of the printer head that spurts jets of ink in minute droplets at a resolution of 1440dpi or more. Epson, Iris and Lyson supply many of the ink-sets that have been tested. The paper or canvas that is used is specially prepared to accept this type of printing mechanism and ink-set. Hahnemuhle, St Cuthberts, Epson and Lyson produce tested papers and canvas

Lightfastness - Early inkjet prints in the mid 1990’s were disappointingly fugitive with noticeable fading occurring quite quickly. Dramatic improvements have been made in the inks used and the paper or canvas substrate. It was found that it is crucial that the combination of machine, ink-set and substrate is compatible and tested as a whole. Recent tests show that the resulting print can be lightfast to very high levels with a minimum of six on the Blue Wool test, or 25 years by Wilhelm Institute tests. The latest test results show life expectancy rates of 100 to 200 years for some giclée prints. When printed on good quality heavyweight art paper the print should possess archival standards of permanence comparable or better than other collectable artwork.

Quality - The visual quality of the print result is extremely high with seeming continuous tone prints without dots, lines or barring. The colour saturation and definition can be stunning.

Benefits and disadvantages - One advantage that digital printing offers to the artist and publisher is that the edition can be printed on demand. Giclée images are recorded as a digital file and can be produced on a giclée printer singly, or more, whenever required. The prints will be exactly the same at the start and end of a print run, even if the run is interrupted and printed on different occasions. This means that the high cost and risk of producing a complete print edition all at once is avoided. A second advantage to the artist and publisher is the control available by manipulation of the digital file. Using special software it is possible to tweak and alter the original image to improve the size, colour, tone and other qualities of the image. It is also possible to design or create the print image completely on a computer using designer software such as Adobe PhotoShop, thus producing effects that could not be hand made in the studio using paint or ink. However, the costs per giclée print are quite high because the paper, ink machinery and specialist time involved are expensive. The machines are very slow often taking an hour to print one A0 print sheet. The machines can cost £50,000.00 and the paper may be £10 a sheet.

Update latest information - There has been a rapid increase in bureau services offering giclée quality print facilities to self-publishing artists, galleries and fine art publishers. Most of the established print houses are experiencing full order books, while some others are not offering the service any more. Many new bureau services have appeared with a variety of background experiences. Potential giclée publishers have a wide range of expertise to choose from, with some bureau services offering specialism such as giclée for photography. Machine manufacturers are continually producing new large format and desktop machines for commercial print house or small office/studio. In July 1990 Epson presented their desktop size photo-style printer the 2000P. Costing about £600 plus VAT, the 2000P produces giclée quality [6 colour at 1440 dpi] prints at A3+ size. Epson claim 100 -200 year lightfast results for these prints using their own paper. A new RIP [computer software commanding the printer] is promised which will assist the 2000P to print on the heavier Hahnemuhle paper range with similar longevity. But, this has already been upstaged with the forthcoming Epson 5500, promising faster printing at 2800 dpi, also using 6 colour pigment inkset. With so many more combinations of machine, ink and paper available, test results are not always available for the latest prints, but 99.9% of pigmented inksets are now scoring extremely high in blue wool tests.

Conclusion - The effect of print-on-demand production will increasingly affect the quantity and quality of published art images as more artists publish “giclée” editions. Galleries will have more choice and the collecting public should be stimulated by wider choice and better quality art. Publishers will be freed from the necessity to hold large stocks. Giclée prints are a radically new way that artists can produce art, publishers can supply art, and museums, galleries and collectors can display or own high quality art.