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Giclee (pronounced "zhee-clay" from French is an invented name (i.e. a neologism) for the process of making fine art prints from a digital source using ink-jet printing. The word "giclee" is derived from the French language word "le gicleur" meaning "nozzle", or more specifically "gicler" meaning "to squirt, spurt, or spray". It was coined in 1991 by Jack Duganne, a printmaker working in the field, to represent any inkjet-based digital print used as fine art. The intent of that name was to distinguish commonly known industrial "Iris proofs" from the type of fine art prints artists were producing on those same types of printers. The name was originally applied to fine art prints created on Iris printers in a process invented in the early 1990s but has since come to mean any high quality ink-jet print and is often used in galleries and print shops to denote such prints.
The earliest prints to be called "Giclee" were created in the late 1980s on the Iris Graphics models 3024 and 3047 continuous inkjet printers (the company was later taken over by Scitex, now owned by Kodak). Iris printers were originally developed to produce prepress proofs from digital files for jobs where color matching was critical such as product packaging and magazine publication. Their output was used to check what the colors would look like before mass production began. Much experimentation took place to try to adapt the Iris printer to the production of color-faithful, aesthetically pleasing reproductions of artwork. Early Iris prints were relatively fugitive and tended to show color degradation after only a few years. The use of newer inksets and printing substrates has extended the longevity and light fastness of Iris prints.
Beside its association with Iris prints, in the past few years, the word "giclee," as a fine art term, has come to be associated with prints using fade-resistant "archival" inks (including solvent inks) and the inkjet printers that use them. These printers use the CMYK color process but may have multiple cartridges for variations of each color based on the CcMmYK color model (e.g. light magenta and light cyan inks in addition to regular magenta and cyan); this increases the apparent resolution and color gamut and allows smoother gradient transitions. A wide variety of substrates are available including various textures and finishes such as matte photo paper, watercolor paper, cotton canvas, or artist textured vinyl.
Artists generally use giclee inkjet printing to make reproductions of their original two-dimensional artwork, photographs or computer-generated art. Per print, professionally-produced inkjet prints are much more expensive than the four-color offset lithography process traditionally used for such reproductions (a large-format inkjet print can cost more than $50, not including scanning and color correction, versus $5 for a four-color offset litho print of the same image in a run of 1000). However, since the artist does not have to pay for the marketing and storage of large four-color offset print runs, and since he or she can print and sell each print individually in accordance with demand, inkjet printing can be an economical alternative. Inkjet printing has the added advantage of allowing artists total control of the production of their images, including the colors and the substrates on which they are printed, and it is even feasible for an individual artist to own and operate their own printer(s).