Frequently asked questions about giclée and digital printmaking:

What is digital printmaking?
What is giclée?
How does a giclée print differ from an Iris print?
How does the giclée process at Hunter Editions work?
How do giclée prints differ from lithographs and serigraphs?
Can a print still be "real" if a computer is used to create it?
Why would I want to reproduce photographs using giclée?
Who's making, showing and buying giclée prints?
How can I benefit from making giclée prints?
How much do giclée prints cost to make?

Q: What is digital printmaking?
A: Digital printmaking utilizes computers to precisely control specialized digital printers. Most fine art printmakers use ink jet printers that apply ink to a variety of media, primarily high-quality watercolor papers and canvas. The digital printmaking process is capable of producing exceptional results for both original printmakers and for the reproduction of original works of art; because of its extended color gamut and continuous tone characteristics, digital printmaking is considered a superior technology for printing all forms of art including photography.

Q: What is giclée?
A: Giclée - pronounced "zhee-clay" -French for "that which is sprayed," is the term commonly used for the world's most advanced digital fine art printmaking processes. Giclée prints can be original art works generated with a computer, multiple originals based on art work (created with or without a computer) made with the giclée process in mind, or high quality reproductions of original art work.

Most of the country's giclée machines, including four of the six operated by Hunter Editions, are manufactured by the Massachusetts-based Iris Graphics, and are capable of reproducing paintings, photographs and illustrations with astounding accuracy. Iris giclée printers use saturated, water-based archival inks to produce a combination of 512 chromatic changes, with more than three million possible colors. Prints can be made on most absorbent media, from paper and canvas to silk and leather, on sizes up to 35 x 47 inches. Iris giclée prints boast an apparent 1800 d.p.i. (dots per inch) visual resolution with no "digital signature," a level of clarity such that even artists can have a hard time telling the original from the copy.

Also in use at Hunter Editions are the Roland giclée printers, which we use primarily for canvas and photobase printing. The Roland printers use six highly stable color pigments, compared to four color dyes used by the Iris giclée printer, offering permanence characteristics of 100+ years and an extended tonal range. Using roll stock, the Roland printers can produce prints up to 52" x 180".

Q: How does a giclée print differ from an Iris print?
A: Giclée prints are sometimes referred to as Iris prints, but the piggybacking of terms can be confusing -and misleading. Iris prints usually refer to an earlier process developed for posters and proofs. Iris and Roland giclées represent the evolution of the process used for making Iris prints to the level of fine art, with a more refined system for fine-tuning colors and inks that, on average, resist fading 10 times longer than those used in Iris prints. A good analogy: giclée is to Iris prints what serigraphs are to screen prints.

Q: How does the giclée process work?
A: Once we have determined - with your help - the inks, paper, size and quantity that best suit your artistic and sales goals, the printmaking process can begin.

Typically, we begin with either a direct digital capture of an original work of art or a digital scan of a high quality transparency (slide) of the work. The image is downloaded onto a computer, and brought up on a high-resolution monitor. Using sophisticated graphics software, we crop, size, adjust softening and highlighting, fine-tune color, or possibly manipulate all or parts of an image. A series of proofs is created to help fine-tune the image in preparation for the final printing. Clients are welcome to work with us on-site during the pre-press processes, or let us do the work and send you the proofs.

To print an Iris giclée, the paper or other substrate is wrapped around a large drum in the printer, and the digital file containing the final version of the print is sent to the computer controlling the printer. As the drum rotates at a very high speed, four nozzles traverse across it, delivering highly controlled micro-bursts of ink to the paper surface. The process for a single print is complete in 45-60 minutes.

Giclée printing on the Roland printers begins by loading a roll of paper or canvas on the machine. The digital file containing your final approved pre-press version is processed by the system's computer, controlling six heads each spraying a pigmented ink. The heads traverse back and forth across the width of the paper as it slowly moves through the printer at a rate of about one inch per minute.

Q: How do giclée prints differ from lithographs and serigraphs?
A: Offset lithographs are created by taking a continuous tone image and processing it through a screen. The result is an image created with a series of dots, each one proportional in size to the density of the original at the location of that dot. The human eye is consequently "tricked" into seeing something that approximates a continuous tone image. Most printed material such as newspapers and magazines are printed with this process.

Serigraphs are really screen prints. These prints are made by creating a set of screens, each representing one color. Ink is then squeegeed through the screen and onto the media. For fine art reproduction purposes, the number of screens required to approximate the tonal qualities of the original are typically from 20 to more than 100. The larger the number of screens, the closer a serigraph can appear to be continuous tone and the more expensive it is to produce.

Giclée prints have many advantages over both the offset lithograph and the serigraph. The color available for giclée processing is limited only by the color gamut of the inks themselves. Therefore, literally millions of colors are available and the limitation imposed by the screening process does not exist.

The giclée process uses such small dots and so many of them that they are not discernible to the eye. A giclée print is essentially a continuous tone print showing every color and tonal nuance.

Giclées are printed on beautiful fine art papers, and the result is a print befitting the definition of fine art in every way. Giclée has the additional advantage of being reproducible, allowing you to "print on demand." This means that you only have to print what you need now and can reorder additional quantities as you need them.

Q: Can a print still be "real" if a computer is used to create it?
A: Giclée prints are not "computer-generated," in the common way we know that term. Instead, computers are used to control the complex and technologically advanced printers that create the reproductions, much as computers are used to create offset lithographs and, increasingly, serigraphs. The giclée process is simply a new and significant step forward in the creation of limited edition fine art prints.

Q: Why would I want to reproduce photographs using giclée?
A: Many photographers find the soft, painterly quality of giclée-reproduced photographs on fine papers to be very appealing. Also, photos reproduced in this manner do not have the reflectance of traditional photographic prints, a characteristic that allows you to capture more subtle colors and imagery without fear of losing them in the light-grabbing surface of glossy paper.

Q: Who's making, showing and buying giclée prints?
A: Prominent artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Jim Dine, David Hockney and Andrew and Jamie Wyeth have discovered that giclées are excellent for creating original works, multiple originals or beautiful reproductions. Giclée prints in recent years have starred in shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.

But it isn't just high-profile artists and galleries who are making and showing giclées. Artists at all levels and in a wide variety of media are creating prints using giclée technology, and more are discovering digital printmaking every day. Buyers, attracted by the high quality and dynamic reproduction of giclées, have triggered a giclée explosion; while the fine art print market increases by about three percent annually, the giclée market is growing at more than 60 percent annually. In a $2.8 billion print market dominated by lithographs and serigraphs, giclées now total $160 million annually - and growing, mostly at the expense of much-more-costly serigraphs.

Q: How can I benefit from making giclée prints?
A: The giclée process is faster and more cost-effective than traditional printmaking techniques. Initial costs are affordable, and the fact that prints are stored electronically and can be produced in small quantities on demand means you can reorder whenever you need them and be assured of a consistent product.

Giclées have also opened up new opportunities in how the business of art is practiced. Giclées make it easy for artists and galleries to self-publish the work of an artist or group of artists, to test the market with the work of emerging artists, and for experimenting with smaller editions of works with a narrow market appeal.

Q: How much do giclée prints cost to make?
A: Hunter Editions offers a full range of pricing programs to meet every artist's needs. For a copy of our latest pricing guide or more information on giclée printmaking at Hunter Editions, please contact us at 1-888-278-4747 or send us email.

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Digital Printmaking Glossary


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