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Guide to Giclee Prints (Fine Art)

Author: Collaborator - Printique by Adorama

Giclee prints are popular among artists, professional photographers and consumers who want to fill their homes with high-quality art prints. These people all turn to giclee prints because they are the gold standard for assured longevity of any artwork. On top of being long-lasting, giclee prints provide the most high-quality, detailed types of prints available to consumers.

For artists and photographers, the time and energy that goes into creating a piece of fine art make giclee printing especially attractive, since artists can circulate their work in high-quality prints. Those who buy art regularly turn to giclee prints since they provide the most accurate and long-lasting reproductions of original pieces of art.

Whether you’re an artist, hobbyist or art-consumer, you may want to know what giclee prints are, the giclee printing process and the various factors that make these types of prints so attractive.

giclee prints by printique by adorama on coffee table

What is Giclee Printing?

Giclee (pronounced “zhee-clay”) printing is a method for reproducing fine art. Its name comes from the French term, “la giclée,” which can be defined as “that which is sprayed or squirted.” Giclee printing is a type of inkjet printing where a printer crafts high-quality prints by spraying ink with a great deal of precision.  Not all inkjet printing is giclee printing, with giclee printing representing the highest-quality version of inkjet printing.

Unlike the most common inkjet printers, giclee printers have greater capabilities and are designed to produce high-quality prints. These printers provide more formats and paper options to users, along with an ability to print at a much higher resolution and with more specialized ink than available with standard inkjet printers. As a result of giclee printing methods, giclee prints tend to have a much longer lifespan than standard prints, with their color not prone to fading.

Often, giclee printing is used to reproduce pieces of artwork, such as paintings, drawings, watercolors and other similar pieces of art. The level of detail captured by giclee printing makes it the best medium for recreating original pieces of art. Along with reproducing original art, giclee printing can also be used to create physical copies of artwork that was created digitally.

woman holding fine art print by printique by adorama

What Is a Giclee Print vs. Art Print?

The first thing you should understand about the difference between art prints and giclee prints is that a giclee print will always be an art print, but not all art prints are giclee. In most simple terms, an art print reproduces an original piece of art, such as handmade paintings or drawings. While a giclee falls under this definition, it also has a few specific markers that differentiate it from other types of art prints.

Within the category of art prints, there are plenty of subcategories. You might recognize some of the other main types of art prints, such as digital prints, etchings, lithographs, engravings, screenprints, letterpress prints and posters, among others. To identify giclee prints from these previously mentioned types of art prints, you can check to see what standards are used in an art prints process. A giclee will have the following qualities:

  • Employs an inkjet printer and specialized ink: A giclee print is made using an inkjet printer that features pigment-based inks. A standard, more common inkjet print will usually only use dye-based inks.
  • Features high resolution and color: You’ll notice that a standard art print may not fully match the appearance of the original piece of art that the print is attempting to reproduce. A giclee print comes with the highest resolution and a full-color spectrum so that the original piece of art is matched as closely as possible.
  • Printed on archival paper: A giclee’s print is known for its superior durability when compared to other art prints. They achieve this durability by using archival paper, which helps to maintain the paper’s longevity and keeps it acid-free.

man at desk with a fine art print of city above him by printique by adorama

History of Giclee Printing

Giclee printing was originally coined in 1991 by Jack Duganne, a printmaker working for Nash Editions. While working at the company, Duganne wanted to provide a term for a type of printing that the company was using to produce fine art prints. In this specialized process, the company was using an IRIS printer modified to spray a piece of paper with ink while it rotated on a drum.

Duganne wanted to differentiate between the standard IRIS print and this more specialized process they were using at Nash Editions. To find a term, Duganne looked up the French verb “gicler,” which meant “to spray or squirt,” since the IRIS printer they used squirted ink like an airbrush, with its spray being quite fine.

Instead of stopping there, he chose to use the feminine noun version of the word, giclee, which meant “that which is sprayed or squirted.” With the decision to begin using “giclee” as the term for their specialized printing process with an IRIS printer, a new printing term was born.

Since Duganne coined this word, the definition of giclee has expanded, with it becoming a generic term that refers to a type of digital fine-art print. It’s regularly linked to digital reproductions of artwork made with inkjet printers, where the giclee print provides an exact copy of a work of art, such as a painting or drawing.

With the increasing capabilities of computer applications to create digital artwork, giclee prints have evolved from just being reproductions of original artwork to include pieces of art originally created in a digital workflow. For example, a painting might be created in a computer application and still be considered a giclee print.

giclee prints by printique by adorama sitting on desk

How Much Are Giclee Prints? Are They Worth the Expense?

Giclee prints aren’t as expensive as original works of art, but they are pricier than traditional prints because of the time and detail involved in their production. For example, you’ll pay more for giclee prints that than you do for bulk prints created through traditional lithography. This additional price is well worth the money if you want a long-lasting print. These prints should last at least 100 years without fading with proper care.

If you’re a photographer or artist, and you want to reproduce your work exactly, giclee prints are absolutely worth the investment. Those who love an artist’s work but can’t afford to buy the original piece will want something that resembles the original as closely as possible. A giclee print will provide a more affordable alternative to buying an original while still retaining the original’s quality.  Art reproductions that are almost indistinguishable from the original is why giclee is so attractive to customers and worthy of the expense.

Basic Requirements of Giclee Printing

To make sure you’re getting a giclee print rather than an ordinary art print, you’ll need to understand the basic requirements they must meet. Essentially, giclee prints need to have a high document resolution, use archival quality paper and come from a specific kind of printer and ink. Consider all of the requirements that go into knowing how to make giclee prints:

1. Document Resolution

Those who work in printing know that an image’s resolution makes or breaks the level of detail a final print contains. Dots per inch (DPI) typically measures an image’s resolution. It should be noted that a print’s resolution doesn’t relate to its size. Just because an image has a high resolution, it doesn’t follow that it will be a larger size. For example, both 4-by-6-inch prints and 40-by-60-inch prints can be printed with the same high resolution of 300 DPI.

To ensure that giclee prints can reproduce original pieces of art precisely, printers often use giclee prints that come with a much higher DPI than traditional art prints. An average digital image is captured with a resolution of 72 DPI.  An image must be at a resolution of 300 DPI or higher to be produced as a giclee print. This difference in resolution largely impacts the quality of an image and is why those who want the best turn to giclee.

In short, higher resolution images contain more detail and clarity. As a result of this greater level of detail, giclee prints will have a high resolution.

Checking the Resolution of Images

To ensure that you’re getting giclee prints from a supplier, you’ll want to ensure that the prints meet certain criteria of resolution. For standard size prints, your giclee prints need to have 300 DPI to have the best quality resolution. To determine whether your DPI is at this level, you can do some quick math.

If your print’s longest side is 24 inches long, the dimension of the image will need to have 7,200 pixels. To get this number, you’ll simply multiply the length of the image (24) by the number of pixels you need per inch (300). For those who are checking the DPI of an image that already exists, you can divide its number of pixels by its length to see if it meets the 300 DPI criteria.

giclee paper types by printique by adorama

2. Paper Choice

Giclee prints are applied to archival-quality paper only. The paper substrate must be 100% cotton or rag-base, along with being acid-free. Ensuring that you have the right paper is crucial to authentic giclee prints. The right paper makes sure that your print doesn’t lose its quality, deteriorate or fade over time.

The use of acid-free paper is crucial for your giclee prints. They are specifically designed for durability, as acid-free papers prevent even the smallest trace of acid from forming on them. Any type of archival quality paper will be acid-free, so you want to make sure your giclee prints use 100% cotton or rag-base archival quality paper.

What Does Archival Quality Mean?

Archival quality paper stays in its original state for years. It’s often understood to be a type of acid-free paper that’s incredibly durable. The paper is often used for journals and artwork that has longterm value. Typically, a paper supplier will indicate on the box if the paper is archival quality or not. To be considered official archival paper, it will need to meet standards from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Paper Choices

Though you always want to use archival quality paper, you can still choose the paper’s brightness, finish and weight. As such, you’ll have the freedom to find the paper that meets your needs exactly. When you’re choosing paper, consider these factors to get a type that works best with your prints:

  • Finish: With paper, you get three types of finish: matte, glossy and semi-gloss. These types of finishes each offer their own unique advantages. For example, matte paper is perfect for prints that will be held under glass since matte paper doesn’t show any reflection. In contrast, glossy prints have a reflective coating that provides greater protection for them, making them more ideal for prints that aren’t going to be behind glass. As you pick your paper, do some research into the three finishes.
  • Brightness: Though paper seems brights on its own, the brightness does range significantly. Typically, you’ll want to go with brighter paper for prints that have bold or bright colors. On the opposite end, you’ll want a paper that’s on the low end of the brightness scale when you print more subdued and light colors. If you have a mix of colors on your print, stick to paper with medium brightness.
  • Weight: People often prefer to use a thicker paper when they print giclee prints. The thicker paper helps with framing, while also cutting down on wrinkling or tearing. If you’re concerned about large scale images beginning to sag over time, you’ll want to go even thicker than you normally would for a giclee.

3. Ink and Printer

While standard inkjet printers use dye-based inks, giclee prints are made with pigment-based inks. Printers that produce giclee prints need to be 12 color inkjet printers. The 12 colors available with these printers gives them the ability to reproduce an image down to its every detail. As you look for an appropriate printer, just remember that the more cartridges, the better. With more ink cartridges, you can print in a more expansive color range.

Along with choosing a print that has many color ink cartridges, you’ll likely want to select a printer that’s a modern large format model. These kind printers offer the greatest level of color rendition and precision. Additionally, they should have onboard software that allows users to customize them to meet the unique needs of individual jobs and provide the absolute best quality prints.

Besides the printers, the ink used in these pictures will need to take the form of special pigments rather than dyes. The use of pigment-based inks is one of the main aspects that sets giclee prints apart from standard inkjet prints that only use dye-based inks. The pigment used will pair well with archival quality paper and offer greater longevity for the print that prevents fading. These inks should last somewhere between 100 to 200 years before they begin to fade.

Choosing a printer that offers pigment inks is a must. Settling for a printer that can only work with dye-based inks means you aren’t actually making a giclee since the resolution simply won’t be high enough. Printers that are compatible with pigment inks regularly provide users with resolutions of 2,400 to 2,880 DPI. This level of resolution gives the giclee prints a fine art quality that separates them from standard prints.

How to Price Giclee Prints If You’re an Artist

If you want to sell giclee prints of your original works of art, you may wonder how much you should sell your prints for and what’s fair. As giclee prints offer unparalleled reproduction abilities, they’re ideal for any artist who wants to sell copies of their original pieces of art. To price them, consider the cost of printing the art, along with the costs associated with selling it.

Costs of Printing

The first step to pricing is to determine how much it’s going to cost to produce the print. Your pricing may fluctuate depending on the company you use and the number of prints you need the company to make. After you’ve determined the costs of printing, you’ll have a better idea of what you need to charge to receive a profit.

Costs of Selling It

Though people usually consider printing costs, they often neglect to factor the costs associated with selling their artwork into their pricing. If you’re selling your artwork by yourself on the street, you likely won’t have many selling costs, if any, as you’ll be the person distributing and selling your art. While you won’t have selling costs if you handle it all yourself, you’ll likely miss out on larger profits since you’ll only reach a small audience.

To raise their income, artists often let other people or organizations sell their art, such as letting art galleries feature their prints. Many artists find online art stores that will feature the print on their site and handle the selling and shipping process for the artist. When an artist lets another organization sell their prints, the organization will want a percentage of the sale, so you’ll need to factor that in as a cost of selling.

Pricing the Print

With the costs of printing and selling the print in mind, you’ll be ready to price your giclee print. Though price will vary based on individual needs, the price of each print will likely need to be between 2.5 to 4 times more than the amount of money it took to produce the print. This general ballpark for pricing will usually deliver you the most value and give you the highest returns for your giclee prints.

Ultimately, giclee is the top standard for artists and photographers, and you can set the price accordingly. Those who know printing will understand that a giclee print is worth the investment.

Get Giclee Prints Made at Printique

If you’re wondering where you can get giclee prints made, turn to Printique for your needs. Preserve the durability and clarity of your artwork with archival quality giclee prints from Printique.

We offer several sizes and textures, making us one of the leading giclee printers for artists and photographers. Our giclee prints are made from high-end 100% Hahnemuele fine art paper that can range in size from 4-by-6 inches to 40-by-60 inches. If you aren’t sure which size of print or texture is right for you, we have experts on hand who can help you decide which kind of print is best.

Printique has been creating excellent prints for years and knows how to deliver the best possible quality for clients. Browse our giclee prints page to learn more about your options. Please contact us if you have any questions!