by Liana Hayles Newton
As a photographer, I find that many of the images I create end up living either online or on my computer, never to be printed out, and while there is not anything wrong with this, there is something special about being able to enjoy a piece that is actually printed and mounted on a wall. So, whether you want to print your work for your own enjoyment or looking to sell pieces, this guide to Giclee printing process will help to get you started.
What is Giclee (Giclée)?
Giclee is a term for fine art digital prints made on inkjet printers and is typically used in reference to high-quality prints. The term was coined by an American printmaker Jack Duganne in 1991 and describes the way the ink is applied to paper during the printing process. In French, the term literally means “to spurt” or “to squirt”, though French speakers know it also carries with it a sexual connotation. With this is mind you may (or may not) prefer to use other names for the process, such as digital or inkjet print. If you chose to print on archival paper, it could be called an archival print.
While Giclee prints are more costly to produce compared to the commonly used four-color offset lithography process, a higher print quality is not the only benefit. The turnaround time on an inkjet print is faster and the artist often has more control over the outcome through color correction and the type of paper used.
Digital, inkjet, or Giclee photographic prints can be divided into three categories:
- Photographs which are printed directly from the original digital (usually called original digital photographs).
- Photographs which are manipulated or enhanced in Photoshop, Lightroom or another editing software before being printed. Depending on the amount of work done, these may either be called reproductions or original works of art.
- Photographs which are manipulated or enhanced after having being printed. Once again, these may either be called reproductions or original works of art.
Whichever category your work falls into, if you have a piece printed in high-quality inkjet, all may be called giclee prints and sold as either open or as a limited edition, signed or unsigned depending on your preference.
Related Article: What to Consider When Making Limited Edition Prints
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Choose your Paper Thoughtfully
When selecting paper for your giclee print, you will want to strike a balance between how the print will look with how it will hold up. Elements that should factor into your paper choice are finish, brightness, and weight.
A paper’s finish loosely falls into one of three categories: matte, glossy and semi-gloss. Within these categories are a spectrum of more granular variations but knowing the difference between each of the three main categories will prove helpful.
- Matte: Matte papers come in a variety of textures ranging from the ultra smooth to the uniquely textured. These papers will not show any reflection and work well behind glass and in bright light. Fingerprints and dust are less of a concern on matte paper than on glossy, however, matte prints damage more easily from minor handling. Wearing cotton gloves will decrease the likelihood of damaging a print on matte paper.
- Glossy: These papers have a reflective coating which gives prints on glossy paper a bright and shiny appearance. This coating can serve as a protective layer between the actual ink and the oils from direct contact with hands. On the downside, it is also more likely to show those same fingerprints (as well as dust). The coating also creates glare that can be distracting, particularly when behind glass in a frame or under bright lights
- Semi-Gloss: Semi-gloss papers are a mid-point between glossy and matte though their high points are less distinctive. They showcase rich colors, resist fingerprints and produce less glare than glossy papers but they do have less shine. They’re also more durable than matte paper though do not produce the deepest blacks that prints on matte paper can achieve.
Spend some time thinking about the pros and cons of each of the options, but remember: whatever paper stock or type you choose, the paper must be of archival quality. Prints made on non-archival paper will only hold up for about 10 years. After this time, expect inks to fade or change, and paper to begin to crack. A professional series paper that is archival quality will typically be labeled for easy recognition so it won’t be a guessing game when you go to make your selection.
While all white paper appears bright to a certain degree, there is a difference which is expressed as a number between 1 and 100 from least to most bright. Brighter is not always better, though, and the image you are printing will help determine which paper brightness is right for the job. Below are some general guidelines, but remember, there are no right or wrong choices, it is all to be decided by you to get the look you want for your work.
- Use paper high on the brightness scale when printing very bright and bold colors. These types of colors will appear more vibrant on paper that is quite bright.
- Use paper low on the brightness scale when printing very light colors. If very light colors are printed on very bright paper they will appear washed. Paper that is less bright will create deeper, richer images.
- Use paper medium on the brightness scale when your work has a blend of light and dark colors. Again, it is all about striking a balance.
Whatever you choose, be aware that paper brightness will have a greater impact on matte papers than it will on semi-gloss or gloss.
If you are printing images for use in your portfolio, using a thinner paper is often the way to go as it will be easier to turn pages when the paper is less stiff and takes up less space.
When you are printing giclees, a thicker paper is often preferred as they are less likely to tear or wrinkle and are better for framing. Use even thicker paper when printing large scale images to prevent sagging over time.
Know Your Inks
If you want your prints to last, it is important to understand the characteristics of the different types of inks and how the finished product should be cared for to extend the print’s lifespan. This information should also be passed along to the buyer of the piece. Some inks, particularly dye-based inks, may fade overtime and should be kept out of direct sunlight or at very least behind some kind of UV protection. Use the best (pigmented) inks and papers you can afford and let the buyer know how to protect their purchase in the Special Instructions category of the artwork’s Certificate of Authenticity.
Important Article: Documenting the Sale of Your Artwork.
Pay Attention to Resolution
You have found a good printer in your area who has helped you chose the right paper and the right ink, but the last – and arguably most important part of the equation – still lies in your hands. In order for the print to come out as accurate and vivid as you wish, the file you send must be the correct resolution for the size that you chose to print.
The rule of thumb tends to be that 300DPI is a safe resolution for most standard size prints. To determine if your image meets the criteria, you must first know the size at which you would like the print to be. For example, using the 300 ppi criteria, if the longest side of your image is to be 12 inches, then your digital image has to be a minimum of 4,800 pixels in that dimension (4,800 pixels / 300 ppi = 12 inches).
Considering the factors that go into a giclee print may feel overwhelming at first, but don’t get too caught up in the details. After going through the process once or twice, it will start to feel like second nature to make the selections that will take your print from good to great, and experiencing the pleasure of enjoying your work as a hard copy or passing it along to others who will enjoy it will be well worth the effort.
Join the Discussion: If you’ve been working with Giclee prints for a while, please share your pointers with us!
Liana Hayles Newton is a Greenwich CT-based professional photographer and a writer who enjoys travel photography, portraits, and getting to know subjects through photographing their homes. Her recent exploration into the world of film has opened up a new creative channel which she is excited to continue to explore. Liana is a contributor writer for Architizer and Apartment Therapy magazines.
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