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What is a FineArt (Giclee) Print

Updated: May 10, 2023

Key takeaways post reading this. What is Giclee - How is this different from a regular print I get done at the lab - What is the process here - Do I understand inks better - Do I understand archival papers better. #fineart #giclee #printing #archivalpaper #ink

[Question] What is Giclee (or) a Giclee print?

[Bit of History] 'Giclee' as a word, has its roots in French. This word was coined by 'Jack Duganne' in the 1990's in order to represent high quality ink jet prints that were formed by way of spraying on paper. As per Wikipedia "Duganne wanted a word that would differentiate such prints from regular commercial Iris prints then used as proofs in the commercial printing industry. Giclée is based on the French word gicleur, the French technical term for a jet or a nozzle, and the associated verb gicler (to squirt out)."

Simply put - "Fine art (or) Giclee can be used interchangeably while referring to high quality prints. High quality prints are those that are produced by using 2 key components that make these prints long lasting - use archival inks used (in an inkjet printer) and printed on archival papers.

[Question] Can you define high quality? Isn't it relative, how do I judge quality say if I need to compare a so called fine art print, with something I print online, get from a studio etc (always cheaper!)?

Good question! One that is the most fundamental to ask before proceeding in this blog :)

Let us step back and first define 'quality'. Then maybe you can relate back to the sources of your print and find out more about how they meet this quality standard. I would define the quality of a print by simply evaluating the following.

  1. Does the image reflect true colours? How relatable is the print to the scene you captured in terms of the details (sharpness..), tones (dark/light areas) and colours?

  2. How long will the print last? I mean in terms of years without showing signs of ageing and colour loss.

Ok, the answer to the first one is something you can easily validate yourself (of course if its your image). That would speak about the source and their output. If you still want to qualify your source there are 2 easy ways to do it - check the cost variance (archival fine art prints are expensive) and have a dialog with your print shop on archival prints to know if their process deals with what you are about to understand from the next section in this blog.

Mostly if you have someone who can talk at the detail of inks, papers tailored for your specific image then its a good sign, they are intent on producing best results possible (and hence tad more costly for their knowledge investment).

For the second one, you need to understand the sections below to get familiar with inks/papers that define this print longevity period (or) permanence.

[Question] Ok, I now sort of see that fine art is high quality long lasting prints. Can you explain more about the inks/printer and paper as they seem to define the permanence of a fine art print?

A print is made when ink is deposited on a paper surface. If this resulting output needs to last long then we employ the following:

  1. Archival inks - Inks (in the context of inkjet printing) can be of 2 types (a) Dye based (2) Pigment based. Dye based inks are water based and Pigment inks are made from suspended particles in water. Effectively both are good, but the printing community does agree in general that pigment based inks have an edge due to a few reasons

    1. Dye based inks are water soluble and get damaged easily with water

    2. Dye based inks are little less fade resistant (in terms of longevity)

  2. Archival paper - Papers used for printing are key to qualifying the print as archival. Archival prints need to last and that depends on the paper being:

    1. Acid free - Acid is a key reason for prints to deteriorate over time giving it a brown colour.

    2. OBA free - Some paper manufacturers add Optical Brightening Agent (OBA) to make the paper look very white. OBA can break down gradually again leading to colour fades as they age.

In summary, archival prints last because pigment inks on acid-free paper provide the highest longevity for prints. The image next to you is from test and produce permanence reports for different archival prints (combinations of ink and paper). The image shows the same for Epson printer P900/P700 for Epson papers.

Next time you talk to your printer, print shop do understand the printer and the paper they use. With that and links like above (and of course google) you should get a fair idea of how archival your print is (and why you are paying so much for it!).

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