Giclée printing, can you see the difference?

The term giclée (pronounced zhee-klay) printing is one that has become widely used in recent years as a shorthand for high quality or fine art printing but what is it?

There is no unique process associated with giclée printing. The term is derived from the French for a jet or a spray (un gicleur) and the verb ‘to spray’ (gicler) and it refers to the use of an inkjet printer similar to ones used in homes around the world. The difference is that giclée prints are produced on advanced ‘large format printers’ using archival quality inks and paper or canvas.

Large format printers are capable of printing very fine detail and use eight or more colours including a variety of grey/blacks giving a better grey balance and tonal control for black and white images plus a very wide colour capability for colour images. They can also print on a wide variety of materials including textured through to very smooth fine art papers, matte through to ultra glossy paper finishes, medium paper weight through to heavyweight card and canvas.

So that’s the basis of giclée printing but is it worth the money? There is no doubt that a well produced giclée print gives a fantastic result in terms of clarity, detail and colour rendition plus the archival quality of the paper and inks means that it will last for tens of years (there are claims of over 100 years) without fading. This, plus the ability to produce in very small quantities, is why photographers and artists often turn to giclée printing rather than lithograph printing when reproducing prints for sale. Also, for the home or for gifts, giclée prints are a great way to display or share images that look fantastic and last for years.

Giclée print 1

I titled this posting, can you see the difference? The answer is a definite yes over a ‘standard’ photo print. Although this is dificult to show on the screen, I shot these images earlier as even at low resolution the difference is evident. One of the prints is a ‘standard’ print on glossy archive paper, the other is a giclée print we produced of the same image. The two shots have the prints reversed to try to reduce the imapct of light reflection from the glossy print in our glass-roofed studio – another advantage of using fine art papers in my mind as they are not ultra glossy and hence do not reflect light as much. I hope you can see the difference!

Giclée print 2

Lastly and maybe most importantly, I am not aware of any standards for giclée or fine art printing. If you want to get some of your images enlarged and printed in this way, make sure you talk to a giclée specialist about the printer(s) and paper(s) they use and because this is not an automated process, the person printing the image has a big impact on the quality of the result. Talk to that person, be happy with who is doing the work and enjoy the result.

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