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Insider Tips on How to Work with a Giclee Printmaker


Choosing the right giclee printmaker is critical to your success marketing high quality fine art prints.

— Barney Davey

Fine art reproductions, aka giclees, help artists expand their marketing to a broader audience with more price points and sizes. With giclees, artists sell multiple copies of their original artwork, making them more profitable and secure in their art business.

For those reasons, I’ve continued to write about giclee printmakers and marketing giclees over the years. And as an example, you’re reading an extensive and comprehensive update to my original 2008 post providing insights and advice on how to make the most of working with a professional giclee printmaker.

Finding and Working with the Right Giclee Printmaker.

I began promoting art prints as a business concept in 2005 when I published the first edition of How to Profit from the Art Print Market. Having it included as a North Light Book Club selection was a thrill. In 2012, I penned a definitive article for The Artist’s Magazine titled, “Are Giclees Right for You?” My efforts continue through today, helping you with advice on how to find and work with a giclee printmaker.

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Giclees are an excellent way to increase sales because they allow you to offer your work at lower prices than if it were only available as a traditional fine art reproduction.

Marketing giclees works for emerging artists or artists with limited experience selling their work. And established artists can utilize them to expand their reach. Giclees give all artists new ways to grow their audience and increase profits.

When you create giclees for your artwork, there are essential things to know, especially when working with a giclee printmaking studio. The suggestions here intend to inform your decision on how to get the best results by adding digital fine art prints, aka giclees, to your portfolio.

Much of the insider advice for artists in this informative blog post is courtesy of Barry Glustoff, master giclee professional printer and owner of Digital Arts Studio in Atlanta, GA.

What Is a Giclee Print?

A giclee print is produced by spraying microscopic ink droplets with exacting precision directly onto substrates like canvas, paper, metal, wood, and other art materials. The giclee printing technique delivers superior quality reproductions of the original painting when rendered by masters.

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These artisan giclee printmakers integrate technical skills, science, color theory, technology, and art to get extraordinary results, which is what to expect when working with a fine art giclee printmaker atelier.

The following definition comes courtesy of the Digital Arts Studio website:

Giclee definition

Giclee:

“[ zhee-KLAY] n. 1. An archival, fine-art print created via digital inkjet printing utilizing museum-quality papers and canvas and using pigmented inks. AKA: Archival Pigment Print 2. Most often associated with reproductions, a giclée is a copy of an original work of art created by conventional means (painting, drawing, etc.) However, photographic or computer-generated imagery printed using this method can be considered an original print, since they are not reproductions but museum-quality prints created from a digital image file.”

How to Pronounce Giclee.

I wrote this post, How to Pronounce Giclée | A Word to Describe a Digital Fine Art Print in 2007. It continues to get steady traffic from visitors who want to hear how the word is spoken.  

How to Find Yourself in the Art Business
Success leaves tracks — learn to find and follow them here.

The Giclee Origin Story.

Giclee is a borrowed French term coined by Jack Duganne in the 1990s at Nash Editions, the digital art printing pioneer. He sought to add pizazz to a new, at the time, printing process that creates art using a digital printer. The artworks were previously referred to as “Iris prints” or the disparaging “computer prints” moniker, neither of which helped market the new product.

Giclee has become a generic term to describe all levels of quality in digital art prints. So much so that many in the art industry never use giclee to describe their work. But it’s still a good word, even if much of the initial glam in usage from 30 years ago has worn thin.

The Benefits of Giclee Printing.

There are many benefits to giclee printing. First, it produces incredibly realistic results. Second, archival quality inks and substrates are used with conservation methods, so the prints last longer than traditional methods. Third, it provides a higher level of detail than other types of printing. Fourth, it gives artists more options when selecting a substrate material. Fifth, it provides artists with another way to make money selling their work. And finally, it is environmentally friendly.

The Print-on-Demand Advantage.

Print-on-demand has forever changed how fine art print reproductions are created and marketed.

  • Operates on just-in-time demand that avoids the costs associated with inventory.
  • You don’t pay to print until you have sales.
  • Creates a high-quality, marketable faithful representation of your original artwork.
  • Print on various substrates, including paper, canvas, metal, Mylar, wood, and more.
  • The color gamut range is higher than with traditional offset printing.
  • Multiple sizes are efficiently made within equipment and aspect ratio capabilities.
  • Custom projects for collectors are easily and affordably fulfilled.

The print-on-demand aspect offers financial benefits when marketing giclee prints. It’s significant to alleviate thousands of dollars in upfront investment required when producing art prints by other methods, such as offset lithography, aka four-or-six color printing press technique.

Creating Digital Fine Art Prints (Giclees) Is a Refined, Complex Process.

Producing the highest-quality giclees requires expert skills to yield accurate color and exquisite detail when reproducing original artworks. The best giclee printmakers demand quality care for each phase of the complicated multi-step printing process. It takes extensive knowledge and experience to expertly manage the digital data flow and match it to the handling and processing of the physical product, i.e., the fine art substrate, simultaneously.

A lot goes into creating fine art giclee prints starting with intricate, finely-tuned, digital image capture scanning. The next step in producing high-quality fine art images requires processing the resulting scanned and digitized art file with professional image manipulation software that runs on high-powered computers connected to state-of-the-art monitors precisely calibrated to the output of a top-of-the-line 12-color fine art inkjet printer. Finally, post-printing involves applying archival preservative treatment, careful proofing, and packaging.

Advice for Getting Good Results from Your Giclee Printer.

Image Capture

Quality is essential to compete in the high-end art print marketplace.

The best result for your final output starts with your initial step, which is your image capture. Quite simply, the most critical part of producing the highest quality finished work begins with obtaining the highest caliber digitized file of your work.

The adage, “garbage in equals garbage out,” is a proven fact. Creating the best possible quality file from artwork requires a professional’s skills, equipment, and expertise. Although technological advances have decreased costs, professional-grade digital scanners and cameras for fine art reproduction are still cost-prohibitive.

Scanning for image capture makes a marked improvement. Image courtesy Digital Arts Studio.

Controlled Lighting Is Crucial to Scanning for High-End Giclee Printmaking.

It is vital to the overall process that specialized filtered lighting is used to properly illuminate artwork, capture its subtle textures and details, and eliminate glare from canvas varnishes and glossy paints.

Equipment matters because even the biggest megapixel digital cameras use flash or outdoor lighting and cannot capture enough data to create the highest quality image. Capturing the entire image in a fraction of a second does not compare in finely detailed results to what you get by methodically scanning an image’s perfectly lit surface line-by-line. For instance, using constant professional lighting, a top-model scanning back or flatbed scanner can take up to 2,000 seconds (33 minutes) to capture a 12,000 x15,990 pixel (40 x 50 inch) full-color image. 

Selecting a Digital Fine Art Giclee Printmaker.

Finding the right giclee printer is potentially more important than locating the nearest giclee atelier.

  • When shopping for a giclee printmaker, look for those that do their digital capture and printing.
  • Prices for scanning services range from $50 to $300 per image for color-corrected and proofed files ready for print. However, costs can fluctuate for various reasons. 
  • Some printer companies waive scanning fees with a minimum print purchase causing you to weigh the pros and cons of paying a setup cost versus ordering more inventory than you need.
  • Most giclee printmakers use the square inch formula to price individual prints.
  • A first-hand recommendation or warning from someone else’s experience might be the best criteria for finding your ideal giclee printmaker.
  • Make every attempt to contact other artists who have or currently use a printmaker you are considering to learn about their experiences with the types of prints you wish to use.
  • Some printers, especially those that operate exclusively online, might appear full service or less expensive than others. Still, they may be unable to provide the attention needed to “get it right.” Or they may be shipping work offshore without your knowledge.

More Tips for Working Well with Your Giclee Printmaker.

They may be the experts, but you must maintain control.

 Your giclee printing service should strive to establish a cooperative, working collaboration with you, understand your needs and goals, and easily communicate with you in “non-technical” language.

  • Maintaining an actual print in your portfolio of each substrate you print on as a reference sample is highly suggested.
  • Don’t let any fine art printer hold your artistic property “hostage.” If you’re unsatisfied with their print quality, you can move on.
  • You must archive your backup copies of your digital files for safekeeping.
  • Whenever possible, get proof copies of your work printed on the canvas and paper type you intend to use. Don’t be “fooled” by companies who refuse to provide this option.
  • Every giclee printer attempts to match your work accurately, but depending on equipment, types of inks, papers, and skill, it is not always possible to get 100% accuracy. Situations like this occur when attempting to reproduce one media with another, such as by printing a copy of an oil painting with water-based, pigmented inks.
  • The color range of the pigmented inks used in giclee printmaking is not always equal to the colors achievable with solid, pigmented oil or acrylic paint.
  • Seldom, if ever, will the original and the reproduction be displayed side by side. That said, a competent giclee printmaker will have an excellent understanding of color control and correction techniques and should attempt to make any corrections as directed by the artist until satisfied.

Questions for Artists to Ask Giclee Printmakers

How long have you been working in the digital fine art reproductions industry?

Businesses with five or more years reproduc­ing art as giclee prints have the experience to have found the best solutions working through technical and equipment issues. 

What printers, inks, substrates, and finishing materials do you use and why?

Most current, high-quality inkjet printing apparatuses from well-known manufacturers like Epson, Canon, or HP utilize water-based (aqueous) pigments designed to produce prints to last for decades under standard storage and display conditions that keep them from direct sunlight when on display under normal indoor light conditions. 

A qualified digital art printer will offer various options for printing surfaces, including texture, weight, composition, and color. Expect them to have sample prints on the different substrates they use. Canvas prints should apply conservation clearcoat protection to make the image more durable and resistant to abrasion, airborne pollutants, and fading. Archival treatment for paper prints may include UV protective coatings, archival inks, and unique papers.

How will you capture and convert my original artwork into a digital file?

As detailed above, image capture is the most critical step in producing digital fine art reproductions. It determines how many details, tones, and colors will be available in the print file. For example, creating large prints to match the capacity of the inkjet printer requires a massive digital file because dots per inch matter in giclee printing significantly.  

Some giclées printers utilize unique “scanner back” cameras for ultra-high resolution capture with minimal risk of damaging the original. Compared to a 100-MP Hasselblad professional camera, a scanner back camera captures images at up to 416 MP of data. Cruse flatbed scanners can create image files larger than a gigabyte.

What types of fine art papers do you use?

For fine arts reproduction purposes, paper types include cotton rags, canvas rags, polyester fibers, matte boards, and vellums. Each paper has unique characteristics; cotton rags are soft and absorbent, while canvas rags are durable and resist tearing. A polyester fiberboard is sturdy and lightweight; matte boards are strong and handle easily, and vellum paper is flexible because it is thin. 

What type of ink do you use?

Inkjet printers use aqueous pigment-based inks, which dry quickly and provide vibrant colors. The ink used depends upon the substrate being printed. For example, oil-based inks are often used for canvas prints because they adhere better to canvas. Water-soluble inks are also used for canvas prints because the canvas absorbs the ink and prevents bleeding between colors. Inks vary in their permanence depending upon the printed substrate, so choosing ink that matches your intended purpose is essential.

What unique treatments do you apply to your prints?

Your giclee printmaker must protect the surface of an inkjet-printed artwork against damage caused by dust, fingerprints, moisture, and other contaminants. This procedure applies a coating called a “conservation clearcoat.” Conservation clearcoats protect the print from ultraviolet radiation, humidity, and other environmental factors that cause deterioration over time. They also help prevent unwanted image discoloration from contact with food, drink, or cosmetics.

Canvas prints require additional care because they are porous and absorb water. Preserving the integrity of the image needs it to be sealed with a protective coating called a “UV varnish.” Varnishes seal the canvas’s pores, preventing water absorption and allowing the print to retain its original appearance.

How will you store my art, and is it insured while in your care for scanning?

It’s essential to trust your giclee atelier to care for your artwork. However, it’s good to know how your artwork is stored in a secure space to protect it from damage and theft. But confirming your printer is adequately insured against theft or damage is a must.

How do you archive digital files with my captured image?

Printmakers should treat your art like a valued resource after scanning it. Some printmakers offer digital files with lower-quality images to use with websites, social media, and printing promotional material. Your printmaker has an investment in creating the master file that it will want to keep to continue to provide prints as you sell them. It should be automatic, but it’s worth learning that your print provider has redundant backup systems to protect your stored files.

How can I see a proof of my artwork before printing?

If possible, view your proof under color-correct lighting conditions. That’s because inks and paint pigments appear differently under different light temperatures, with blue lights cooler and yellow warmer. It’s standard procedure for a digital printmaker to store an approved proof to make color-matching simple when ordering additional prints.

While the above questions are helpful, you will likely have more to ask. It would help if you inquired about additional services, such as traditional offset lithographic printing. Or, you may learn your giclee atelier offers marketing services. For example, the FineArtMarketplace.com site is an exclusive online store that represents the artwork of Digital Arts Studio clients. 

It makes sense that artists would own copyright over their original creations, but when printmakers produce new versions of an artist’s original, those prints can legally be considered “derivative” art. Find out more by reading Circular 14, available online at http://www.copyright.gov/.

While this suggestion is not qualified legal advice, it is reasonable to have your printmaker reassign all reproduction rights incurred under US copyright law by the printmaker back to you as a prerequisite for doing business with their company. If you have further questions, seeking legal counsel is advisable. 

A New Way to Get Insider Info and Art Marketing Concepts.

You’ve read this far, so I appreciate your interest and trust you feel better informed about giclee prints and working with a giclee printmaker. The goal of sharing an in-depth post like this is to put meat on the bone with real value.

I want to share something else with you. As good and helpful as the information is in this post, I reserve some of my best inside information and marketing concepts to publish as guides and in-depth reports exclusively for Art Marketing News Extra subscribers—its nickname is AMXtra.

Affordable Subscription with Priceless Advice.

They get access to the guides and reports through the twice-monthly AMXtra digital newsletter. We do a live session about the topic and post the recording in the newsletter, so everything is together only a click away. It’s only $5 per month to subscribe, and there’s even more.

Subscribers join a private community of artists seeking to build their lives and art business to work together in harmony and balance. I’m in there to answer questions and help you too. And you get access to an extensive library of art marketing training on need-to-know- topics.

I invite you to get the details and subscribe at AMXtra.com. Hit reply to ask questions.

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  • Great advice! I actually just uploaded the first jpeg from my first Giclee to my site. I had never dealt with a Giclee printer, as my work has mostly been commissioned. I did alot of research on many sites, and referenced Barney’s book (my copy is dog-eared and highlighted to the max! LOL) and then went to the printer’s studio to see his set-up in person. I know this is not always an option, but even in my new town of Bend, Oregon, Pop. 80,000 we have several printers. I chose the one I am using by quality of his work, his answers to my questions, and his personality to deal with, NOT by the pricing. I figured that even if it is a bit more per print, I know that I couldn’t put a price on the “headache factor” of dealing with a discount printer. I have a collector base to build, and getting an upfront cheaper price could mean potential problems down the road. Keep in mind that there are limitations to each printers sizes, scanning abilities, etc. My painting is 36″ x 48″ which isn’t too big to scan, but being on canvas, it would have needed to be removed from the stretchers, and it was a gallery-wrap. I chose to have it photographed by a professional he recommended and then he scanned the transparency, so this added an additional cost. As my painting has high contrast between the sky and the dark passages in the mountains,I was then made aware of the fact that a camera can’t make as many “clicks” as they called it, which is the exposure adjustments as a direct scan is able to. In my case, it was alright, but for anyone painting high drama lighting, it is something to keep in mind. In the end, I am looking forward to a long working relationship with my printer, and the upfront time and research I am sure will pay off in time saved in working with a professional.
    Thanks for all your information…I read it religiously!

  • This is the best outline on giclee printing I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing how often these things are not understood. We have been providing giclee services for 7 years. Our production staff truly has a color science background providing skills that few giclee printers offer. The results for our artists have been stunning. The new Epson 11880’s improvements have also made achieving this much easier.

    One comment about this explanation is that artists should be sensitive to the challenge of making money in this business when producing prints in low quantities. Artful Color charges between $75 – $150 to scan and proof. That work is done at a loss. If the artist then prints the minimum $300 in prints and no more, the company has operated at a loss on this job. We produce the finest quality digital capture and proof till near perfect. The investment is greater than the gross margin for these jobs. Giclee printers make their living on artist who print full editions either to begin or over time.

    Artful Color is located in the Raleigh NC area where not too many highly successful artists are located. Our challenge is getting the word out on the quality of work and very competitive prices we offer. We are looking for some of the artist who need a high volume of prints and are not happy with the value they are currently receiving. We are confident we could make them very happy. We have the references and are willing to print a sample to prove it. http://www.artfulcolor.com

  • This is the best outline on giclee printing I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing how often these things are not understood. We have been providing giclee services for 7 years. Our production staff truly has a color science background providing skills that few giclee printers offer. The results for our artists have been stunning. The new Epson 11880’s improvements have also made achieving this much easier.

    One comment about this explanation is that artists should be sensitive to the challenge of making money in this business when producing prints in low quantities. Artful Color charges between $75 – $150 to scan and proof. That work is done at a loss. If the artist then prints the minimum $300 in prints and no more, the company has operated at a loss on this job. We produce the finest quality digital capture and proof till near perfect. The investment is greater than the gross margin for these jobs. Giclee printers make their living on artist who print full editions either to begin or over time.

    Artful Color is located in the Raleigh NC area where not too many highly successful artists are located. Our challenge is getting the word out on the quality of work and very competitive prices we offer. We are looking for some of the artist who need a high volume of prints and are not happy with the value they are currently receiving. We are confident we could make them very happy. We have the references and are willing to print a sample to prove it. http://www.artfulcolor.com

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