Giclée Matters

Peter Paul Rubens The Hippopotamus HuntThere’s been quite a debate and assumption about home inkjet printers being a reliable source for a Giclée product.

Giclée (pro: “zhee-clay”) has two definitions translated from French that I can find:

  • To squirt or to spray
  • Gicleur: meaning “nozzle”

This process was created by Jack Duganne in the late 80s/90s, a printmaker working in the field, to represent any inkjet based digital print used as fine art.

Meanwhile, I’m learning that folks are calculating the assumption that that if the inkjet sprays, it’s Giclée. I didn’t necessarily think this was so and thus, Googled the word until my eyes swelled shut but to no avail. I tried calling Epson, but they sent me to India and India wanted me to spell the word -I hung up as I knew it was futile. So, in search of the industry standard definition for Giclée printing, I went to my trusted source: my printer Mike of Theo-Davis Sons where I have them print my notecards and fine art prints.

I asked Mike if Giclée is a process (from color calibration, to print methods, to varnish at the end) or is it merely pigment vs dye inks?

While Mike doesn’t claim to be an expert in the Giclée world, this is what he conveyed to me:

The original Giclée prints were printed on an Iris inkjet device originally sold by Scitex for use as a high-res proofing device in the printing industry. Some enterprising folks found they could make one-off prints for the art community and earn a bit more money from their expensive printer.

I’m not sure the Iris machine is still in use as it was a royal pain in the a## to maintain. Also, the major inkjet vendors (Epson, Canon, etc.) have produced machines that are far better than an Iris.

There are several factors that determine if someone is getting a Giclée or an inkjet print:

1. Inks used. Should be pigment based with archival quality (usually 90 plus years).

2. Printer used. I’m not sure what the preferred print device is, but I read an article last week about a company in Key West that uses an Epson 9800 like we have. I don’t think there is an official list of Giclée printers.

3. Paper used. Should be archival quality. There are lots of textures and finishes available.

4. Original file prep. The piece of art, unless it’s a digital photograph, has to be digitized and color corrected. I believe this is the most important step. My personal opinion is that large art pieces should be photographed in a studio using a studio camera with a scanning back on the camera. In other words, don’t shoot a transparency. Like all things digital, there will be some color correction and file retouch required. The big name artists usually play an important part in this process.

5. Marketing. You can probably get away with calling any inkjet print a Giclée if you can convince the customer that’s what they are getting.

Bottom line: If you are going to sell it as a Giclee, ask around in the art community and get recommendations on reputable Giclée shops.

I hope this clarifies your printing endeavors.

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