There seems to be a difference between photo printers and fine art giclee printers.

For example, the Epson top of the line giclee printer is the SureColor system which has 6 colors and 4 shades of gray as part of their "UltraChrome" color system and prints at 2,400 x 1,200 dpi with variable size droplets.

Alternatively there is wet process printing which is lasers on photo papers like Kodak Endura. This seems to be currently called "chromogenic printing". Fujifilm has photo printers such as the Frontier DL650 PRO Dry Minilab which are 1200 dpi with 6 colors. (I don't know why they call it "Dry", because as I understand it Frontier is a wet process system.) Another wet machine is the Lightjet, such as the super high end Lightjet 500XL.

The generalization I have heard from printers is that the continuous tone from wet process printers yields a higher effective DPI than ink jet, however, the color rendition is better in ink jet prints than in chromogenic prints.

Is one process better for prints than another, or is it just a tradeoff (like my printer said) between dpi and color, so it is a matter of taste?

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    Is one process better for prints than another... all depends upon how one defines better.
    – Michael C
    Sep 18 '17 at 19:43
  • @MichaelClark By "better" I mean superior in every respect. For example, my printer says dpi is better on chromogenic, but color is better in ink jet. However, someone else might argue that ink jet dpi is at least equal to chromogenic, so if that were true then ink jet would be better in every respect. So, there are two ways to answer the question: either agree with my printer and say it is a tradeoff, or argue that one technology or the other is better in every respect. Sep 18 '17 at 21:39
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    Rarely in photography is one thing 'superior in every respect' over another. It's almost always a compromise between weighing one or more factor(s) against the other(s).
    – Michael C
    Sep 19 '17 at 1:12

'Giclee' is just a fancy way of saying "that which erupts from an inkjet nozzle" and was coined by Jack Duganne so he could avoid calling his fine art prints 'computer generated' or 'inkjet' prints. With such printing a dye or pigment is sprayed upon a paper to create an image.

In chromogenic printing nothing is sprayed upon the paper. Rather, the paper has three light sensitive layers that are exposed to light projected through a negative or, in the digital age, projected onto the unexposed paper using RGB lasers or LEDs. The latent image on the exposed photosensitive paper is then chemically developed so that the dye couplers in each layer react to the exposed silver halide in each layer to form color dyes. Chromogenic printing is how the vast majority of color images produced in the film era were created.

Which process for making prints is better than the other is a matter of taste and how one wishes the print to appear. It is a little more complicated than the simplistic idea that inkjets gives finer control over subtle differences in color and photosensitive papers give smoother transitions that appear to have higher effective resolution. But the gist of what your printers are telling you is true - it's a matter of taste and deciding which tradeoff is more important to you for a particular image.


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder! I have seen gorgeous chemical based prints and I have seen dazzling inkjet and I have seen stunning dye sublimation. I can’t tell you which method is superior. I can tell you, I think it unlikely that chemical based prints will further advance. That’s because only a handful of dyes work and these are fugitive (fade) and slightly off-hue. On the other hand, new dyes and pigments are popping up. Their colors and archival properties are advancing moment by moment. It’s my opinion that for the foreseeable future, inkjets will dominate.

Footnote on chemical color prints: The dyes must be transparent when initially coated on the paper. Three dyes are needed, cyan, magenta, and yellow. The transparencies’ are due to the fact that all are missing a single ingredient present in the developer solution. During developing, this ingredient combines in proportion to the exposure and the dye blossoms; Volia, a color print. Finding transparent cyan, magenta, and yellow dye needing the same ingredient to make them blossom is a miraculous achievement. What is the likelihood of future advancement?

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