What is Giclee Printing?

An illustrated giclee print by the artist Sam Chivers

Giclee is a term that can translate to ‘archival’ or ‘fine art’ when we talk about digital printing. It denotes a certain level of quality associated with inkjet printing.

The term giclee was created by the industry to promote an improvement in a printing process that had a bad reputation early on due to developing technology. These inkjet printers used dye-based inks resulting in poor light-fast qualities and generally awful longevity.

Today, with better quality pigment inks, giclee printing has improved exponentially. With the right paper stock and ink set, you can create archival prints that will last for up to 150 years.

How to Create a Giclee Print.

To create an archival or giclee print, we should first think about what not to do. The greatest enemies of print longevity are sunlight and acidity.

To avoid acidity, you must use a high-quality print stock. This translates to acid-free media that will remain acid-free over time. As certain papers age, like generic office copy paper, they generate acid when exposed to sunlight and air.

Although most papers are made out of wood pulp, this is infact one of the worst materials for fine art printing. Cotton Rag paper however makes a fantastic printing stock.

Acid could also come from a cheap ink set—for giclee printing, your ink set should be chemically neutral, which is rarely standard for a home printer.

With these specifications, your print will be archival. Taken care of properly, it will last for generations, which should be long enough to keep any customer happy.

Giclee prints being trim with a ruler and scapel

The Printing Process

The materials you use and how you treat a giclee print are essential to achieve that desired level of quality, but the printing process itself is perhaps equally as important.

Fine art prints are produced on inkjet printers. The print head races back and forth over the media, spraying ink as the print stock is fed through the printer. This process is how giclee got its name—it’s the French word for squirt.

If the print head is not maintained properly or if the print is rushed through on a fast setting, the print will have flaws called banding. This is why it’s important to have a knowledgeable print tech and a reliable printer that is maintained to have no clogged nozzles.

Mounting a Giclee Print

One goal with giclee printing is longevity, but the other is to show off your artwork. People often ask if they can mount their work on Aluminum or Dibond to hang them in a home or gallery? Technically for your print to remain truly archival you shouldn’t apply any irreversible processes to them. As mounting requires forms of glue not only can you not peel it back off again, but the glue may contain chemicals that leach into the print over time. 

giclee print should really be framed. This will protect the print from the air and help you avoid unnecessary additives.

If you are adamant about mounting your print—or already have—don’t worry. A giclee print mounted onto dibond will still look good for years. It just means that it wouldn’t be described as archival if you were planning to sell the work

Protective Varnish on a Giclee Print

It’s rare to treat the surface of fine art paper stock, since it is such a delicate material. Nothing should ever touch the surface of the print, so you should be sure to keep the acid-free tissue paper your printer provides you with over your print until it is transferred to a plastic sleeve or frame.

Do you still have questions about giclee printing? Give us a call or email