The Real Truth About Giclées
copyright © 2015 Jon A. Pastor
Lin Kerr posted an entry (10/9/2015) on her blog called “The truth about Giclées.” Judging by the work on her site, Linn is a very talented artist, but she is not as informed about “Giclées” as she might be. There are quite a few inaccuracies, and several opinions that are contrary to my experience —and I have been a photographer and photo printer specializing in photographing artwork for over 40 years, and have been printing fine-art reproductions and photographs for the past 4.
My wife is a calligrapher who has been working professionally for over 30 years, and has studied with such luminaries as Reggie Ezell and Sheila Waters; she specializes in illuminated certificates and multimedia works. She also creates fine art in several media, including watercolor, colored pencil, and white line woodcut.
In addition to working for her, I have worked for many of her friends and colleagues (who are calligraphers and artists in multiple media), and for other local artists and photographers.
I'm not trying to drum up business for myself, or pursue any other personal agenda. I just think that artists should have as much—and as accurate—information as possible when they consider having fine art reproductions printed.
Lin says: “[Giclée] is just a French term”
It sounds French, but “is a neologism coined in 1991 by printmaker Jack Duganne for fine art digital prints made on inkjet printers. The name originally applied to fine art prints created on IRIS printers in a process invented in the late 1980s but has since come to mean any inkjet print.” [Wikipedia, verified by me]
It is a marketing term, coined because at that time inkjet printers were generally pretty poor, and “inkjet prints” would not have sold for large sums of money. Since most people still don't know that inkjet printers can surpass the quality of a conventional wet-process photographic print, it's still not a good idea to refer to them as inkjet prints, so different terms are used, capitalizing on permanence and other characteristics of good inkjet prints.
Lin says: “on 100% cotton paper”
That cotton is the only, or even the best, substrate for an inkjet print is a myth. Hahnemühle uses an alpha-cellulose base for many of its printing papers, and other “paper” substrates are made of rice, bamboo, sugar cane, and mulberry. There are also many kinds of canvas, and other substrates, and some of these are considered archival quality.
Lin says: “Apparently they won’t fade in 100 years”
This is totally dependent on both the ink and the substrate; most ink/substrate combinations will not last 100 years without noticeable fading or discoloring unless stored in the dark. Wilhelm Imaging Research, which is universally considered the gold standard for image permanence, publishes tests of ink/substrate combinations under several lighting conditions. If you do get a quote from a printer (person), find out what printer (hardware) and substrate s/he will be using, and you can check its permanence for yourself.
Lin says: “A giclée is usually numbered as a limted edition.”
This makes very little sense, except as a marketing ploy. There is no degradation of a digital image, as there is for a relief or intaglio plate (or, I'm guessing, a serigraph). The 1000th digital print will be just as sharp as the first, and the only possible differences in color or other printing-related factors (such as brightness and contrast) will be due to minor variation in the paper and ink from batch to batch -- and this can be completely corrected.
Lin says: “First of all get the artwork professionally photographed or scanned...”
Photographing a piece for reproduction is generally a very bad idea, and only to be resorted to if it's impossible to scan it. There are several reasons for this, and I'll be happy to explain if you contact me via my website, but the main reason is related to maximum achievable resolution; see next item.
Lin says: “It is usually scanned at at least 1200dpi”
I have never scanned at 1200 ppi (not dpi: dpi is for printers, ppi [pixels per inch] is for images), except when scanning 35mm film. 600 ppi is quite sufficient for even a 2x enlargement, and by “sufficient” I mean that the resulting print is as sharp and detailed as a 1x print.
Lin says: “Colour correction can be really tricky especially when there are yellows involved. Also the printing is going to be limited by what colours are available e.g. you could never reproduce flourescent colours using CMYK printing pigments ”
If the printer is using a color-managed workflow, with all equipment calibrated, and accurate printer profiles for the ink/paper combination being used, color correction is usually not tricky. There is often some adjustment needed, but considering that a printer is attempting to replicate one set of pigments on one substrate with a completely different set of pigments on an entirely different substrate, it's a tribute to the quality of inkjet printing materials and the skill of the operator that there are so few differences.
As far as color accuracy is concerned, this is at least partly a function of the inks used by the printer— their quality and quantity. Both of my printers use 12 inks, and are capable of reproducing any non-metallic* color accurately: fluorescents have non-pigment additives that radiate—rather than reflect—light, so it's unreasonable to expect any pigment or dye to reproduce fluorescents. I tried not to say this, but how much real artwork uses fluorescent paints? None that I've seen.
*Metallics are problematic, because while metallic paints do not use non-pigment additives, there are no metallic inks available for inkjet printers—and this is just a function of the rarity of metallics in artwork: if gold appeared in artwork and photographs as often as alilzarin crimson or burnt umber, my printers would have a thirteenth ink: gold.
Lin says: “Costing of printing is done per square centimeter”
Here in the US, a printer who shows rates per square inch is trying to disguise the fact that they're exorbitant: if you multiply the per-square-inch rate by 144, it's inevitably much higher than the per-square-foot rates most printers provide. If different printers in your locale charge based on different base units, be sure to compare them by converting to one unit.
Lin says: “And what is worse, because the public often don’t understand the difference between a digital print and a printmaker’s print, it has done a lot of damage to printmakers selling real etchings, screen prints, lino prints and woodcuts. The giclée has devalued these which is really sad. Of course, historically the printmaker’s print is worth more, but just as typographic designers, musicians and film-makers have their work pirated, so the giclée has hijacked the value of printmaking.”
There are so many things wrong here that it's hard to know where to start, but the last sentence really crosses the line. The analogy would not be to pirates hijacking typefaces, music, and films, but to type designers, musicians, and film-makers themselves making copies of their own work and underselling themselves.
Perhaps the phenomenon you observe—printmakers selling “real” prints having been hurt by high-quality inkjet reproductions—is valid in the UK, but none of the print artists I've ever met here in the US has complained about this. And I just bought my wife a 15x20 serigraph for roughly ten times what a digital reproduction the same size would bring.
Lin says: “My final dilemma is this: It takes a lot of time going backwards and forwards getting giclées made, checking them and packaging them. Watercolours are relatively quick to produce and you can stay in your studio and preserve a sense of sanity without having to drive around and having done all of that you still have to market them. So, instead of being an artist suddenly you are a taxi-driver, production manager, factory worker (packaging) website manager updating your website, salesperson. Where’s the serenity in this?”
You are clearly aware of the Internet. Other than one trip to the printer to get a high-quality scan, one trip to review proofs (which in many cases, with an experienced printer, will be just right), and another to pick up re-done prints, that's the extent of the going backwards and forwards.
We order packaging materials online, it takes no more time to cut a mat for a digital print than an original watercolor, or to slip the matted piece into a polycarbonate sleeve—which you'd do for the watercolor anyway. Oh, and by the way—even if a digital print did run if you drop water on it, so will anything other than an oil or acrylic, unless you spray it with fixative, which you can have done for your digital prints if you so wish.
If you paint to find serenity, then perhaps this is all too much for you. But if, like most of my artist friends, you also have to make a living at it, would you rather do this small amount of running around or spend 4 10-hour shifts per week waiting tables?
Lin says: “I recently heard some sound advice: Don’t go the giclée route until you are famous and your work sells like hotcakes!”
Just as your credit card bill may contain nothing but $20 and $35 and still mount to $1000 in a month, selling high-quality reproductions—and/or cards— of your work can supplement your income from you artwork. You have more venues, if you're willing to do some legwork, for prints and cards than for original art, because your market is no longer restricted to people who can afford originals.
Art collectors want originals, and I won't deny that when we can find an original we can afford we prefer it; but a fine art inkjet print isn't a poor compromise in terms of quality. We've bought "Giclées" when we wanted to have an image on our walls and couldn't afford the original—or didn't have a place for the full-sized original, but did for a reduced-size reproduction.