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Just what is a Giclèe Print ?

You’ve seen this term on websites and in galleries but just what does it mean? Pronounced Zhee Clay it is a French term that means ‘the thing that got sprayed’.

It simply means it was printed on an inkjet printer. That could be the end of the story but usually the inkjet printer is not like the one you have at home. Common usage of the word in galleries and with artists is that the term is used to denote a work printed on a high quality professional inkjet print.

Three differences in a good giclèe

Professional giclèe printers have 8 to 12 cartridges of ink and very fine nozzles to apply it. This means a couple of things: the number of colours allows finer and smoother gradients of colours and a wider range of colours. The inks are pigment based rather than dye based. Pigment based will outlast you, dyes will fade. A professional printer will use a high grade of paper that will not affect the print over time nor will they yellow over time.

So what is a poster print?

You sometimes see this term as well and it will usually just mean it is an inkjet print (so technically still a giclèe) but on a lower grade of paper. It may also be made on a lower grade machine and therefore use lower grade inks and not have been done with the fine control over colour. A poster print is generally not intended to last as long so is more suited to a piece of decor art

Just a note on fading...

Any print will fade if it is put in direct sunlight – the difference will only be the speed of fading. You will have seen the blue toned prints at the charity shops – a cheaply done giclèe will eventually look like this whereas one done on archival grade paper with good inks will probably outlast you.

Prints v Reproductions

The term ‘Print’ in the art world was traditionally reserved for a piece of art where the print IS the art;; so the art piece is an impression from some sort of printing process – say an etching that is inked and then pressed to paper. The plate that has the etching was not intended as the artwork but the print off it was. That is the true meaning of ‘print’ if we are going to be technically correct.

A ‘Reproduction’ is a copy of the artwork – to do a giclèe of an oil painting the artist will get a very high end photograph or scan of the work and reproduce that. Both the artwork and the reproductions exist as intended marketable pieces of art.

This distinction has been dulled a lot by common usage of the term ‘Print’ to mean either of them.

Digital art further confuses it where, again, the original is not commonly sold as the art – a impression of it sold.

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