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Giclee prints – are they better than standard digital prints?

Visit any art-related website or gallery and you will undoubtedly see the term ‘giclee’.

In this article we will explain all about giclee prints, as well as looking briefly at the history of printing. We explore who was behind the invention of giclee printing, and why artists and galleries choose giclee over standard digital prints.

We have split this topic into different sections. If you would like to jump to a particular part of the article simply click on one of the links below:

– A ‘brief’ history of printing
– The invention of giclee printing
– Why choose giclee
– In conclusion
– Recommended resources

A ‘brief’ history of printing

Print history goes back much further than you might think – to around 3000BC. Along the way there’s been some incredibly clever folk, pushing the boundaries of what can be done.

So, let’s start at the beginning with the Mesopotamians in 3000BC who developed round cylinder seals. These seals had impressed images which were then rolled onto clay tablets.

The next development in the history of printing is quite an important one – the invention of papermaking. This took place in the 2nd Century and is attributed to a Chinese man called Ts’ai Lun. This rather important milestone only reached the shores of Europe 10 centuries later.

Again, the Far East, in the 13th century, are winning the printing race. Whilst Europeans are still carving their printing plates from wood, they are busy developing cast text from metal (bronze).

The next big leap for printing took place during the 15th century. This time a European, Johannes Gutenberg, led the way by inventing the very first printing press. Before Gutenberg’s invention, everything was produced by hand-making which was incredibly laborious and time consuming. Gutenberg’s press was automated, and allowed print to be produced on an industrial and profitable scale.

Gutenberg's printing press
Gutenberg’s printing press

Even the inks used were superior to those of the Chinese (oil-based rather than water-based), allowing for better quality and longevity (an important step for artists).

From this point, the development of the printing press began to gain pace. This included advancements accredited to Englishman Robert Barclay (the first offset lithograph press) and Ira Washington Rubel, an American, who accidentally realised through a complete mistake that the image could be placed onto the cylinders of the press rather than the original plates.

Did you know? In 1631, printers Martin Lucas and Robert Barker accidentally left a rather important word out of the bibles they were requested to print. In the holy commandments, rather than saying ‘Thou shalt NOT commit adultery’, their version left out the word NOT. This version of the bible has been referred to as ‘the wicked bible’ or ‘sinner’s bible’.

At this point it is important to state that these developments, although used for books, newspapers and magazines on an industrial scale, were equally important to artists. It is equally important to state that within this article we are talking about printing exact copies of an original. ‘Printmaking’ – the art of producing reliefs on wood, metal or other material and then transferred through ink, is an incredible art form that has been created for thousands of years.

In order for art printing (in the manner discussed above) to begin, two things needed to develop – photography and printing. In the 1850s, photographs began documenting original art work. Galleries made attempts to sell these commercially, but many art historians, such as Carl Justi, rejected these poor attempts stating that they could never capture the true colours – and in fact distorted the original.

This constant ‘issue’ continued to hinder and hold back the acceptance of a true representation of an original art work through print. Art critics, collectors and historians dismissed these inferior versions as nothing more than documentation.

From the 1850s we need to take a dramatic leap (we did say this would be a brief history) into the digital age in order for these critics to pay attention.

Just as photography technology developed over the next hundred years or so, so did printing. In 1991 an American company, Iris Graphics, developed the Iris 3047 for the bargain price of just 126,000 dollars. It was developed for Japanese company ‘The Marubeni Corporation’ as a proof printing machine. This is regarded as the first machine capable of reproducing accurate versions of an original from a photograph.

At this point creatives began to realise that it might just be possible to reproduce, accurately, prints of original art works.

At the same time as this breakthrough, a printer by the name of Jack Duganne began using an Iris machine to produce high quality art prints. It was Jack Duganne who coined the term ‘giclee’.

The invention of giclee printing

Giclee, pronounced ‘Zhee-Clay’ or ‘Gee-Clay’, is the name given to the highest quality of art printing. Developed in 1991 by printmaker Jack Duganne, in Los Angeles, it has become the leading name in fine art reproduction.

The term giclee means ‘squirt’ or ‘spray’ in French, and Duganne thought this was the perfect name as that’s exactly how the ink is put on the paper.

Duganne was working for Nash studios in Los Angeles when he took an Iris ink jet printer and developed it to produce art prints (the Iris printer was originally designed as a prepress machine). Couple this breakthrough with high quality inks and paper, and the result is an affordable (in comparison to the cost of an original piece of art) exact representation of the original art work.

Jack Duganne the inventor of giclee printing
Jack Duganne the inventor of giclee printing

Although the name was coined for Duganne’s work on an Iris printer, the term giclee is now linked generally to the process of using state of the art printers with multiple inks.

Jack Duganne still produces stunning prints from his studio Duganne Atelier in Santa Monica.

Why choose giclee?

Trawling the internet, you’ll see a constant debate surrounding this topic. Some say that giclee prints are just a way of charging more for a print because they aren’t any different from any other print. We wholeheartedly disagree. Let us explain why.

As discussed earlier in this article, technology has come on in leaps and bounds, to the point where even home printers can produce great prints. The question is – are they 100% true representations of the original art? Have they captured the real colours, the brush work and all the tiny detail within the original?

Like anything, the end result is based on the equipment used. Take a stereo, for example. Would you pay thousands of pounds for a stereo to then add cheap speakers? What would the quality be like?

Printing follows the same principle. Giclee encompasses all aspects of the printing process. From the quality of the photograph, the quality of the printer as well as the quality of the inks used through to the quality of the paper. All of these elements put together result in the perfect print.

Giclee prints are produced on digital ink jet printers costing thousands. They are designed to print every little detail. Before printing begins, artists will sit with the printer and run test prints, carefully comparing the tests to the original to ensure an exact match. These are known as artists’ proofs.

Giclee quality printers use up to nine different inks to recreate the perfect prints
Giclee quality printers use up to nine different inks to recreate the perfect prints

Unlike standard home printers, these art printers use numerous inks (usually eight or nine). This allows the printers to create many more variations of the colours – adding to the tone, depth and feel of the print. Every brush stroke and every detail is captured. The ultimate goal is to reproduce the original piece in print form.

Giclee printing is not only designed to achieve exact representation of the original, but to also acquire longevity of the print. The inks used are referred to as archival pigment inks. This means they won’t fade or taint as time goes by. Also, the paper used is acid-free art paper (there are many types, different thicknesses, textures and sizes) to ensure that your print still looks as good as the day it came off the printer years and years later.

In conclusion

Printing has developed to such a standard that even a home printer can reproduce artwork well, but nothing compares to a giclee print.

Every aspect of giclee printing is geared towards not only producing a print that looks exactly like the original piece of art, but also a print that will stand the test of time.

Giclee printing has become an accepted piece of art in its own right, with artists and skilled printers working alongside one another to produce exact representations.

Yes, you can of course pay less for an inferior product – but when it comes to art reproduction we strongly believe in offering the very best product.

Commonly, galleries will charge much more for giclee prints, but here at CreativeFolk we feel that giclee printing shouldn’t come with an increased price tag. Having a giclee print should be an option for everyone, which is why our open edition giclee prints start at just £24.95 – and are signed by the artists too. We want you to be able to have beautiful art in your home, printed to the very highest standard – at affordable prices.

CreativeFolk offers stunning signed giclee prints at prices everyone can afford
CreativeFolk offers stunning signed giclee prints at prices everyone can afford

If you would like to read more about the history of printing, as well as giclee printing, here’s some other resources we recommend:

Recommended Resources

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