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What you need to know about giclée prints

What you need to know about giclée prints

Ever wondered what makes a giclée print different from other types of art prints?

The color and resolution of giclée prints are gorgeous, and they are always priced higher than other types of digital prints. I never fully understood why, or how they are produced, so I did a little digging to find out what makes a giclée a giclée.

First, a primer on prints

print of an artist's work is a replica of his or her original piece. Creating prints of an original artwork is advantageous to the artist because he or she has greater opportunity to sell their creative work. Prints also make art accessible to more people. After all, not everyone can afford an original painting.

Sometimes an artist will print a specific number of prints, known as a limited edition. An edition may be as small as 10 or as large as 500, but generally speaking, the smaller the edition, the more valuable the prints, because there are fewer of them. Prints by Airstreamer and watercolorist Don Lake, for example, are highly sought after because his editions tend to be very small - often 10 or fewer. 

Arizona Campground Sunset by Don Lake

Arizona Campground Sunset by Don Lake - Series of 10
Globetrotter Gallery has 2 prints available for purchase

You'll know when you're looking at a limited edition print because it will be numbered, titled, and signed by the artist, traditionally in pencil. If the print is numbered "13/100," that means it's the 13th print in a series of 100 total prints. 

When it comes to the process of how print is made, a print can be printed using a digital printer or using traditional printmaking techniques.

Traditional printmaking is a big topic, which I won't cover in this post. Digital printing is a method that feeds a digital-based image into a computer, and results in the art being directly printed onto various types of media. Some common media for fine art digital printing include paper, canvas, and metal.

So what makes a giclée print different?

Giclée (pronounced “zhee-clays”) is a type of digital print that's been around since about the 1990s. That's really not long when you consider that Gutenberg invented the printing press in the mid 15th century.

The giclée printing process uses pigment-based ink, a larger digital printer, and ink deployment technologies that produce very high quality color and image resolution. The inkjet printers used for giclée prints are able to match the original color of an image nearly exactly and apply ink precisely using a much higher number of ink dots. In other words, the printers used for giclée prints squirt more ink on the paper than lower grade ink jets, resulting in a higher resolution than a typical digital print. In fact, when done correctly, giclée prints are the closest thing an artist can get to his or her original.

The combination of these process elements, by the way, costs more to produce than a regular digital print. That's why giclée prints carry a higher price tag. But for the higher color quality and long lasting nature of these pieces, they are worth the additional cost.

 Ana Reservoir with Vintage Airstream by Lynn Pass
Globetrotter Gallery has 2 prints available for purchase

    What's with the name giclée?

    The term giclée refers to the high volume of ink squirt that gives these prints their robust color and sharp resolution.

    According to Wikipedia, printmaker Jack Duganne is credited with coining the term. It's based on the French word gicleur, the French technical term for a jet or a nozzle, and the associated verb gicler (to squirt out). Une giclée (noun) means a spurt of some liquid. 


    All in all, buying a giclée print is a wise investment. You'll get stunning color. The piece will last longer. And if it's part of a limited edition, you may find that the piece will hold or increase in value. You should expect to pay more than you would for a regular digital print. But if you love the artwork and can't afford the original, a giclée print is money well spent.  

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