What is a Giclee?

The number one question I receive at my art shows is “What is a giclee”, (pronounced “zhee-CLAY”, or gee-clay if you are short on sophistication like me). Giclee is a French word that means to spray or squirt ink. Giclee art reproductions are created from an extremely detailed digital file of the original artwork that is sent to a specialized, high end ink jet printer. However, these specialty printers are a far cry from your personal desktop printer. Giclee printers are usually very large, and capable of handling different forms of media such as painter’s canvas, heavy bond watercolor paper, and other specialized printing material.

Giclee printing produces extremely accurate reproductions. In fact, it is nearly indistinguishable from the original oil or watercolor painting as it has all the color variations, tonesĀ and textures of the original painting. The colors are brighter, last longer, and are so high-resolution that they are virtually continuous tone, rather than tiny dots, (a characteristic of the lithograph). Manufacturers of ink, canvas and papers provide archival grade products and boast longevity of 100 years or more. Most museums and art experts now agree owning a giclee is the next best thing to owning the original painting.

Of course higher quality comes with a price. Giclees are generally priced somewhere in between original art and regular limited edition lithographs. Limited edition litho prints are usually produced in editions of 500-1000, or more, while giclee editions are usually much smaller.

A lithograph print is a much older process, based on utilizing a series of plates and rollers with traditional 4 ink colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) to render an image onto paper, more commonly referred to as Offset printing. This is the same process used by magazine and other industries where high volume low cost printing is necessary. Each plate stamps the appropriate color onto the surface and creates screen patterns (dots) to reproduce full color range.

Even though more artists are producing giclees now, because the artist can print on an as need basis, the lithograph still has it’s place, as many lithograph printers today have expanded their capacity to include a larger number of colors. Almost all lithographs are produced on acid free papers(generally smooth or gloss texture) with non fading inks. The lithograph still remains the less expensive route per print and yields high volume runs quickly.