I'm trying to figure out why I would want to print giclee.

Let me set some background. I'm a gallery represented artist entering my third season. My sales are good. I print with Bay Photo (via SmugMug) and I'm quite happy with the service and print quality. I print mostly glossy or on metallic paper (using the Kodak Endura paper) and I've dabbled a bit with their "print on metal" service. (Gorgeous but expensive.)

So an photographer friend of mine is looking into giclee. Now I know what it is, I know the history of it (indeed, I'm a software engineer with a background in color science and there is a decent chance that the early Iris printers had some of my code in them, at least in the pre-press arena) but I'm surprised when I see the pricing of traditional photo sensitive paper printing vs giclee.

what advantage does giclee have over traditional photosensitive print making? From smugmug.com, I see an 11x14 is $7.95 on glossy or metallic paper, but $44.20 for a giclee watercolor.

Now I understand perfectly that giclee can make it easy to go large, but a 30x40" glossy is only $66 while a 30x40" giclee is $178.50. So there's no advantage there.

One possible advantage is of course, paper, giclee lets you put your ink down on all sorts of surfaces.

So, aside from paper choice, what advantage does giclee have over traditional photosensitive print making?

  • Does anybody actually do giclée anymore? It was a technology we used back when inkjets printed at around 300 dpi if you were lucky; the irregular dispersion of giclée (for those unfamiliar with the term, the ink was spit and atomized rather than applied as neat droplets) was a sort of mechanical dithering necessary to give the appearance of smooth tonality. As far as I've been able to determine, it's now just a marketing term for "inkjet". – user2719 Jan 16 '12 at 1:59
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    It is just a marketing term for inkjet, but extremely high quality inkjet is possible, I've seen it. – Paul Cezanne Jan 16 '12 at 2:17
  • You can do it at home if you want -- all of the current crop of pro-level printers are up to the task, and can handle watercolour rag, etc. The problem is that wide-carriage printers are rather expensive, and you need to print something -- at least an 8x10 -- just about every day to keep them working properly. – user2719 Jan 16 '12 at 2:28
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    @Stan, as I understand it, the name was intentionally chosen to cover inkjet technologies in general — the inventors of the term wanted a brand that would apply to something more than just the Iris printers they were then using. (From this.) – mattdm Jan 16 '12 at 4:13
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    @Stan: As far as I know, mattdm is correct here...Giclée was always meant to refer in general to a high quality form of inkjet printing, not just the specific form utilized by IRIS printers. While I agree the term Giclée in average conversation has become a bit too diluted to refer to any form of inkjet printing, I think in the professional print world it still has a pretty strong connotation with very high quality, durable, archival printing. – jrista Jan 16 '12 at 4:29

Stan's answer about the archival qualities of a [giclee | inkjet] print (and I won't get into the semantics between the two words) is right on. Inkjet-printed images can be of far greater longevity, considering color-fastness and substrate color constant. This is all a long way of saying, if you are trying to sell something that will last a lifetime, Inkjet/Giclee is a better bet than a Type-R or Type-C print.

The other interesting advantage of using the inkjet technology is that you can apply it to far more surfaces that it would be practical to apply traditional photo-process to. People take it for granted now that they can get prints on canvas and prints on acetate and prints on art paper, etc. That wasn't the case 20 years ago. If you want to see some really fine examples of Giclee printing, track down some by Nash Editions (Graham Nash's company). They really are in a league of their own and their black & white images are particularly compelling.


Colourfastness and archival stability would be the main two advantages. The best we had in the old days (and the best that can still be done with light-sensitive methods) was Cibachrome (or Ilfochrome, as it became). It has pretty good colour stability over time, but the synthetic ground does not have known archival properties, and the dyes, while the best that have ever been developed, are still quite fugitive in comparison to stable pigments -- and you're not getting Ilfochromes when you opt for optical/chemical printing.

Printing with stable pigmented inks on paper with a proven record (cotton or linen rag -- not that the brand sold as paper for inkjet/giclée printing would have much of a history) makes the work sound as an œuvre d'art rather than a bit of ephemera. With the right paper and inks, and framed and displayed properly, there's no reason why a pigment print shouldn't last as long as a watercolour. (And the pigments being used these days are much better behaved than any of the brighter colours that watercolourists were using in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.)

Of course, there's quite a cut being taken for providing the upgrade in permanence -- even though the papers are relatively expensive, the inks are far from free, and it takes a lot longer to print, that's not enough to justify the size of the price jump. There is a prestige tax attached as well. It's not about the quality of the print per se -- a photographic print can have greater depth and vibrance (as can an inkjet print on a synthetic ground) -- but longevity, and the importance that implies. If you are selling prints as fine art, then longevity is a reasonable customer expectation.

  • It sounds like you are saying that giclee has an archival advantage over photosensitive printing. Am I reading that correctly? – Paul Cezanne Jan 16 '12 at 10:29
  • No, I am saying that inkjet printing, done properly and using materials appropriate for archival processes (rag papers and stable colourfast pigments) has an archival advantage over photosensitive processes. Again, giclée has a meaning outside of inkjet printing for processes that extend back to cave paintings; it should never be used for discrete-drop (dithered) printing. – user2719 Jan 16 '12 at 12:34
  • Stan, do you have some references for that? It's contradictory to everything I've seen. – mattdm Jan 16 '12 at 15:48
  • Contradictory in terms of word usage or permanence? – Paul Cezanne Jan 16 '12 at 16:54
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    Giclée is just a term used for a subset of ink-jet printing. The distinction is more about marketing or prestige (which commercialization can monetize more easily). The reference is to the subset of ink-jet normally associated with the higher end subset. It's not really a different technology. It's more a case of diligence in choosing better elements of the technology to achieve better results. Think of it as "premium ink-jet". – Skaperen Jan 16 '12 at 21:51

There no comparison to its exquisite fine-tuned detail in reproduction to an ordinary digital copy. There is a methodology to every step of the Giclee' process which includes calibration (CMS- color management system) and repeated massaging of minutuae areas on the file of a single painting in order to keep all features- colors and shadow detail, concise and true to the original!


There are two types of inks for inkjet printers. All home printers and some pro printers use dye inks which has a short life expectancy. Some pro printers and many of the large format printers use pigment inks which could last 100 years under good archival conditions. I would expect commercial Giclee printers to use pigment inkjet inks.

  • Many home printers use pigmented inks. – JenSCDC Aug 27 '14 at 19:02

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