Making Prints the "Giclée Way"

This often mispronounced, maligned, abused and to some, meaningless term is just a fancy word for an inkjet print (inkjet on steroids compared to your desktop printer). The word is of French language origin, but  was coined by an American digital printmaker, Jack Dugannne, in 1991. The story was that he wanted a word to represent the newly emerging digital Printing

technique, something that would make "digital print" acceptable in the fine art world. Starting with the French word jet d'encre (inkjet), he evolved his thinking down this path: nozzle – gicleur, spray ink – gicler, verb to noun– giclée. The literal meaning apparently is "that which is sprayed." This word is variously credited by others with meaning, in French, "to spray," "squirting liquid," even "spraying dots." Another source said none of these were true and the word had something to do with being a "feminine past participle" or some such. Apparently there also is a slang meaning in French not typically used in "polite" company, so that's for another discussion. Regardless, Giclée has become the commonly used term for fine art, archival inkjet printing.

So just what makes a print a giclée print? The following was established some years ago in attempt to create a specific intent for the giclée term:


First, the print must be a signed.

Second, the edition of prints is limited, not open. The size of the edition doesn't seem to matter, only that there is a finite number.

Third, the print be of archival standards, meaning that it remain color stable for at least some number of years.

Fourth, that a signed certificate "authenticating" the printing method and materials be provided to the buyer.


​​​​​In reality though these "rules" are only sometimes followed. There is no association or certification process to force compliance. It's an honor system where the printer and artist choose to follow some, all or none of the points. Another sticking point is the term "archival." There are lots of claims about prints lasting for up to 200 years and all too often this number is thrown out with little regard. There are some testing organizations, the Whilheim Institute being one of the most notable. They have devised testing methods that accelerate aging and these tests are applied to various combinations of inks and substrates in order to establish some expectations for longevity. The great qualifier, though, is how the print is handled post printing. If it's on paper and is not framed to conservation standards then its color fastness will probably be shortened, especially if exposed to smoke or UV light. If on canvas it should be sealed with varnish to provide the best protection. In the end it all comes down to "buyer beware!"

At Island Printing & Imaging we use  "pigment inks" as opposed to dye inks or solvent inks, neither of which have the long term color stability of pigment inks. We print with a Canon 8300 44" wide printer using substrates that have been tested for longevity. Lastly, all this talk about pigment inks and archival substrates is just so much talk if the workmanship is second rate. Our approach is simple: pigment inks on tested substrate with a policy that no print is delivered unless we're proud of the quality of workmanship, period.

CPP, Capture, Process and Print. Using high-resolution digital photography or scanning for smaller originals, we employ a "color management" approach that helps us to achieve prints that are very accurate to their original.

Put simply, we know how to print photographs well, color or black & white. Our own involvement in photography puts us on both sides of the "photo fence" so as we do with art prints, no print is delivered unless we're proud of the quality of the end-result.


We take a very customized approach to our pricing. Our goal is to create long-term relationships with artists and photographers and recognizing that budges vary, instead of taking a one price fits all we prefer to work to find a mutually beneficial approach. That said, going back to the CPP approach, Capture (photograph or scan) and Process (file "work" through the first print proof) is a labor charge billed at $85/hour (one hour per image is average). We also photograph groups of paintings for archiving priced on an hourly basis where the price per capture typically is under $20.

Printing on photo and "watercolor" type papers ranges from $9 to $13 per square foot, depending on how many square feet are in a given edition of prints. The range for canvas is $11 to $16 per square foot. Varnishing on canvas is $2.00 per square foot regardless of quantity. 


We frequently hear from customers who have worked with "others" that when requesting all their files from that service they don't always get all of them or they don't get them at all. Our approach is simple, you paid us to capture the image of your art or to process your photo file to make a print. If you want those files they are yours. We'll gladly put them on a disk for you.

Now check out our Sample Gallery.


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