Print designFeature

The beginner's guide to giclee printing

Giclee printing is a way of creating high-quality prints: we explain how, and what you can use this much misunderstood technique for.

What is giclee printing? If you work in graphic design then there is little doubt that you have come across this term before in passing. But do you know what it means? This article will help outline the types and criteria that must be met for a print to be called giclee.

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The first thing you need to know is that it's pronounced 'Zhee-Clay'. The word being taken from a version of the French word 'la giclée' meaning, 'that which is sprayed or squirted'. Giclee printing is a type of inkjet printing - but importantly, not all inkjet prints are giclee prints.

What's the difference?

Giclee printing is meant to produce a product at a higher quality and longer lifespan than a standard desktop inkjet printer. Originally, the word was used to describe digital reproductions of conventional artworks (painting or drawing) or photographs. Today, it is generally accepted that a giclee print can also be a work created entirely in a digital workflow on a modern computer application like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.

There are those who will argue that applying the term 'giclee printing' to a work is nothing more than a ploy to charge a higher price for a inkjet print. However, there are at least three basic criteria, which must be met in order for the print to be considered a true giclee...

01. Document Resolution

Giclee Printing
When creating a new document to print as a giclee, make sure to set your resolution to a minimum of 300 DPI)

Any image that is to be printed as a giclee needs to be created at a resolution of no less than 300 dots per inch (DPI). In the case of a photo or conventional artwork reproduction, that means that the camera or scanner used to capture the image or scan the artwork must be able to do so at 300 DPI.

When setting up a file that you will use to create artwork whose final output is a giclee print, make sure it is at least 300 DPI. This is to ensure that the final print has the sharpest detail and lacks any of the fragmentation that can occur with images less than 300 DPI.

02. Choice of paper

giclee printing
Look for key terms on the box like archival, 100% cotton or rag, and acid free

For giclee printing, the paper or substrate used to actually print the final piece must be of archival quality. Any professional series paper will probably indicate if it is archival quality on the box. Typically it will say it is acid free and consists of a 100% cotton or rag base.

These are the best papers for longevity and colour reproduction, and can be found at a variety of different sellers. Some common examples are Epson with their Signature Worthy series and Moab with their Somerset and other professional paper lines.

Do your research

Professional series paper is more expensive than plain white copy paper, so be sure to do your research on any paper you are looking to purchase. There are many different types of professional paper out there that will react differently depending on what you are printing.

If you are buying a giclee print from an artist, confirm the type of paper it is printed on. Usually the artist will indicate it in the product description, but don't be afraid to ask if they are selling it as a giclee and the paper they use is not listed.

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03. Use the right ink and printer

giclee printing
A giclee print is typically created on a large format printer that uses pigment-based inks such as Epson's UltraChrome K3

The last step to creating or confirming a true giclee print is the type of ink and printer used. The biggest contrast between a standard inkjet print and a giclee print is that giclees are printed using pigment-based inks rather than the dye-based inks found in lower cost inkjets.

Pigment-based inks have a longer life span that can last anywhere from 100 to 200 years without significant fading. The type of printer used to create giclees is usually a larger format printer that specifically uses pigment-based inks and will hold around 8 to 12 different color ink cartridges. The more inks used, the more sophisticated the color range available on final output.

Look for ink names like UltraChrome K3 from Epson and LUCIA from Canon as these are two of the wider know pigment-based inks from the major printer manufactures.

Other standards

The three criteria listed here are the most widely accepted standards for giclee printing. However, depending on the medium being produced or reproduced you will see a few more standards in place.

The advantages to artists producing their work as a giclee print is that it can be created 'on-demand'. Because the process is digital and does not require the larger numbers needed for an offset print order, or the time and cost that goes into traditional screen printing, it can be a good way for artists to produce their own prints rather than requiring a second party printer.

When purchasing a print that indicates it's a giclee make sure that the type of ink, paper, and sometimes printer used, is listed. A giclee print should have a life span of 100 years or more if properly cared for by the owner.

Words: Ben Whitesell

Ben Whitesell is a media designer specializing in a variety of different types of content creation including tradition print page layout, poster design and illustration.

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