What is a Giclee Print?

We’ve gotten through the hottest summer in Tuolumne County that I can remember, we gratefully have gotten through The Great Rim Fire. That flaming conflagration lasted 2 full months, was officially out as in snuffed, finished, smothered as of last week. Fire-fighters, police, and the community all came together to keep this monster from destroying a pretty nice community.  We. Are. Grateful!


Today a very nice art patron visiting my studio asked, “What is a Giclée?”


“Funny you should ask. I just happen to be the Content Editor of the newsletter for Art on Main,  an exquisite original art gallery in the charming town of Murphys, California. I wrote an article on that same subject a few months ago.”


As luck would have it I couldn’t find a copy before she had to leave. (Yes that does speak to my organizational skills which fall just south of a hoarder) I promised I would send it to her and I thought the question comes up often enough to make it worthy of putting in a blog.


Here is an edited version of that article which is also on Art on Main’s web site, under “Museletter”


 What Is A Giclée ? Pronounced with a soft G as in Gi Gi with the emphasis on the last syllable (zhee-clay’)

The simple answer: a high-quality print. The longer answer is more complicated

The word Giclée was coined in 1991 by Jack Duganne, a fine print-maker from France who wanted a description of the process without some of the negative connotations the art world was attaching to many aspects of the rapidly changing print mediums. He took a cue from the technology of that time.  For most jet-sprayed prints, an IRIS printer (very expensive I should add) was used. A nozzle was used to spray pigment. Duganne found the French word “gicler” which literally means, “to squirt, spurt, or spray”. The feminine noun version of the word is [la] giclée. Hence a new by-name or moniker was born.


After 25 years, the term has morphed into a more generic meaning than Duganne had perhaps intended. The IRIS printer is no longer exclusively used and many other high-quality jet-sprayed printers are now available. Giclée prints are numbered and limited, usually from 50 to 250.  Unlike the lithograph process where plates are used, the quality of the last Giclée is just as strong and clear as the first. In lithography, the prints begin to fade toward the end of the printing run, so an earlier number is perceived to be more valuable. Lithographs are still a form of offering prints, and should not be discounted by the collector. However, with a Giclée, the first and last are the same.


The other distinguishing feature of the Giclées is they are printed on archival paper or canvas.  In many cases, it is almost impossible to tell the original from the print. Traditionally, the artist signs his/her name in pencil just below the existing signature so that the patron will know it is not an original. A certificate giving it a sequential number and the name of the printer also accompanies the Giclée.


Technology, as we all know, is advancing at an accelerated rate. We now have home copier/printers that can produce high-quality prints. However, those are not considered Giclées and will not be accompanied by a certificate; they are simply prints. There is nothing inherently wrong with this – although the colors may not be as true and pure as the original or as in Giclées. Many artists like manipulating their original painting this way and purposely choose to change the hue and value in their prints. It all boils down to artist’s choice.


In the early nineteenth century when color photography was invented, The Cassandras of the world heralded the demise of painting as an art form. In the 1950’s the demise of museums was predicted. Much later the development of the web – brought about dire predictions that the end of painting was coming.  On the contrary, original paintings are now more coveted than ever   Artistic creation has persevered in the face of these various cultural, social and technical phenomena. For instance, museums have never seen more visitors and art galleries are once again coming back in full force as our current recession draws to a slow close. People want exciting art on their walls! Be it a Giclée, or an original.


So…the upshot is this: original paintings are still more desirable, but personal choice is the only thing that should dictate to the patron what kind of art to buy – be it an original or a reproduction. Only the owner can determine the pleasure of ownership. Purchasing art from a reputable gallery or artist can guide you to make your art choices. And let’s face it, the wallet has a little something to do with it also.