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What are giclées? Let's take a closer look

Updated: Feb 1, 2022

Giclée candiate? Candy Cub | 20 x 24 | Acrylic on Canvas

If you’ve been around the art world for any length of time you’ve likely run into the term “giclée” or “giclée print.” Often the words are spoken in hushed, reverent tones, as though describing something rare and exotic. So what are these mysterious giclées?

Simply put, a giclée (pronounced zhee-clay or jee-clay) is a high-quality inkjet print of an image. And while the name connotes some arcane, old-world art process, the term has only been around for about 30 years.

The term “giclée” was coined by California printmaker Jack Duganne in 1991. He was looking for a name to describe a new process for creating high-quality fine-art prints and chose giclée from the French noun “gicleur” (a jet or a nozzle) and the French verb “gicler” (to squirt out). The name stuck and is used to this day to describe fine-art prints made using special inks and papers on advanced inkjet printers.

The words “special” and “advanced” are important, because while all giclées are inkjet prints, not all inkjet prints are giclées. You and I may have inkjet printers in our houses or studios, but that doesn’t mean they’re capable of producing giclées. There are no giclée police (yet), but a number of criteria must be met for a print to be considered a giclée:

  • Resolution — A giclée is usually printed at at least 300 dots per inch (dpi). To produce a print of any reasonable size at that resolution you need to start with a high-resolution image of your artwork; that is, an image that has enough pixels. We’ll save the technical discussion about how to prepare your image files for printing until another day; for now suffice it to say you need high-resolution images to create giclées.

  • Paper — Giclées are printed on high-quality, archival paper. Look for descriptors like “acid-free,” “lignin-free” or “museum grade” for these papers. The giclée process can also be used with canvas to produce high-quality reproductions.

  • Ink — To ensure accurate colour reproduction and longevity, the giclée process uses pigment-based inks that are quite different than the dye-based inks used in most home inkjet printers. Pigment-based inks are like paint — they’re thicker than dye-based ink, consist of pigments (fine, coloured powders) suspended in liquid and wouldn’t work in most home inkjet printers. Because of their special properties pigment-based inks can last for up to 200 years without fading.

  • Printer — The printers used for the giclée process are not the kind you pick up at your average big-box office supply store. They’re much larger, work with rolls of paper rather than single sheets and use 10 to 12 colours (compared to four to six for most home printers). Using so many colours of pigment-based inks allows them to produce prints that are deeper, richer and more colour-faithful to original artwork. It also makes them expensive to operate, rendering them impractical for most home studios.

Boiling it all down, a giclée equals a fine-art image printed at high-resolution on archival paper using pigment-based, archival inks on advanced inkjet printers. Done right, a giclée can last more than 100 years without yellowing or fading — longer than some pieces of original art can last without yellowing or fading!

I hope this overview has been helpful. There are all sorts of other considerations related to giclées — artwork photography, colour correction, image file preparation and submission, limited and/or open editions…the list goes on — but those are topics for other articles.

If you have questions about giclées, or would like assistance producing giclées, drop us a line!

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