Giclee Printing, From The Beginning
by Mark Staples

Just what is a giclee and how did the term come about? In a nutshell, Giclee is a high-resolution inkjet printing process, now about 15 years old, and has rapidly become the most popular method of fine art reproduction. Giclee (pronounced zhee-CLAY) is a French term that has a loose English translation of "to spray". Jack Duganne (Duganne Ataliers) first coined the term to distinguish digital fine art prints from commercial grade prints. Jack is one among several early giclee pioneers such as Jon Cone (Cone Editions), David Adamson (Adamson Editions) and myself (Staples Fine Arts Heritage Giclee Studio).

In the last decade the popularity of giclee has skyrocketed in relation to all other methods of fine art print production. This rapid growth has had both a beneficial effect on the fine art market while also causing a few adverse side effects (which I will talk about in my next article). Other more traditional methods of printmaking include Intaglio, Etching, Aquatint, Serigraph or Silkscreen Printing, Monoprints, Lithography and its modern offspring Offset Lithography. All of these methods (with the exceptions of Offset and Giclee) are labor intensive and therefore primarily suitable for production of original print editions and not ordinarily used for art reproduction where large numbers are required.

This leads us to comparisons of the two more modern methods of fine art printing Giclee and Offset Lithography. Offset Lithography has only one real advantage to talk about low per-print cost. Depending on the sheet size, quality of paper stock used and the number of prints run, lithos can easily run under a dollar each to produce. Some commercially popular artists release editions of lithographs that number up in the tens of thousands. Since all of the prints are created in one press run Offset Lithography requires the artist to make a large upfront financial commitment to produce an edition.

The emergence of giclee printing has pretty much leveled the playing field. It has enabled aspiring artists to test market prints of their work with a minimum of up-front investment. Many artists are now even purchasing their own gear and creating their own reproductions. Some have carried the process even further and are using the medium to create digital originals that never see the tip of a brush. (for an example see Joseph Kinnebrew's digital collage series on his website www.josephkinnebrew.com).

Larger professional giclee print specialists typically produce work on large-format equipment from manufacturers such as Roland, Epson or Iris. To produce museum-quality work also requires a significant investment in digital capture equipment like the Cruse or TTI reprographics scanners, profiling hardware and rip software capable of driving all of this equipment in addition to technical expertise combined with a firm understanding of fine art and archival practices. Experienced giclee specialists are usually the print providers of choice for museums, corporate collections and other jobs where quality requirements are critical or where the number of prints required is large.

In my next article I will talk about where giclee printing is heading.

Mark Staples is president of Staples Fine Art's Heritage Giclee Studio and founder of the DaVinci's Crew Creative Network. Over the years he has been a frequent contributor to numerous trade magazines and is featured alongside Jack Duganne in the book "Mastering Digital Printing" by Harald Johnson.

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