What's in a name?
The truth about "Giclée"

(Author's Note: Since this article was first published in 8/2001 the term "giclee" has become more or less synonymous with "reproductions" of art that is originally created using traditional means, such as; painting, drawing, mixed media, etc. This leaves those of use who are using digital means to create original art a bit out in the cold. Since we share the same technical and material means to create our original art that is used to create reproductions some collectors and galleries are confused. Please keep in mind that, today, original digital art may be called a giclee, but not all giclees are original artwork. As such, one should expect original art to always have a premium value over reproductions. For more information on the new terminology that applies to digital art visit: www.dpandi.com/DAPTTF)

Digital Art offers up a lot of unusual names for things, none the least of which is the term "Giclée". "Giclée" (pronounced "zhi-clay") is a French word that translates "to spray forcefully, to squirt". The term was applied to digital print making to differentiate ordinary desktop "ink jet" printing from a more refined and durable form of digital print intended specifically for Fine Art display and collecting. "Ink jet" became "Giclée" to help market the Iris printer and the prints that were made using high resolution print heads and traditional art archival papers. Iris was the first company beginning in the 90's to manufacture and market printers designed especially for making high quality art prints. Before that time, ordinary ink jet printers used inks that were highly susceptible to fading and printed on standard paper with high acid content, which causes the paper itself to break down after a period of time. This is not acceptable for artwork, which must not fade or deteriorate.

Today there are an ever-increasing number of printers, ink sets and substrates, which produce "Giclée" quality prints. One of the most exciting and challenging things about digital art printing, in fact, is the development of new materials that move beyond the traditional print making papers. Today's research shows that most pigmented ink sets produce prints that remain colorfast between 75 to 200 years and specially designed ink jet printers made by Hewlett-Packard, Epson, Lexmark, Roland, Canon, Colorspan... are using these inks to create giclée prints of outstanding and long lasting beauty. Durst-Lambda, a German photographic company, has developed a laser process for making digital prints that moves the image directly to photographic print paper, without a negative. Paper and ink manufactures are engineering substrates for digital printers that are not even paper anymore. Tyvek and canvas and laminating films hold the promise of moving Digital Art beyond the picture frame and onto floors, walls, and textiles. The art created by the Digital Artist stands a good chance of becoming a part of the environment in which we live and the clothing that we wear. In this way, digital art and "giclée" printing are pushing "Fine Arts" to evolve in challenging ways, never before dreamed.

Here are some important topics to consider when making digital art prints: resolution, file size, color gamut, ink longevity and presentation.

Resolution is the systems ability to recreate fine detail. It is measured in "d.p.i." (dots per inch). An artist should consider only those printing systems that offer 600 d.p.i. or better. But, don't be fooled by terms such as, "apparent d.p.i." or "interpolated d.p.i.". The calculation of these figures is often faulty. I had one salesman explain to me that because his printer had four, 600 d.p.i. print heads, that meant he had a 2400 "apparent d.p.i." printer. This simply is not true. 600 d.p.i. is 600 d.p.i. more print heads does not mean finer resolving power. Also, consider that because ink spreads out as it soaks into the paper (called dot gain), you'll probably never actually see 600 individual dots per inch with any substrate upon which you choose to print. 600 d.p.i. is considered "photo quality" and should be sufficient for most artwork originating on the computer. Use your judgement, if your piece replicates fine wood block carving or consists of washes of amorphous colors, you can choose the appropriate printer for the job.

File size is important when it comes to calculating how large the final print is to be. I routinely print 150 d.p.i. files at sizes up to twice as big as the original digital file dimensions. Yes, that's right! An 8 inch by 10 inch file created at 150 d.p.i can be printed at 16X20 with good results on a 600 d.p.i. printer. If you think your final print size is going to be larger that 200% of the file dimensions then, by all means, work at 250 or even 300 d.p.i.; or, better yet, work on a file that is the actual size you want to print, at 150 d.p.i. This is likely to go against much of what you have heard. But, it is a fact that ink jet (Giclée) prints can be made from files this size. Don't be discouraged by printers that tell you otherwise. Chances are they have over 1GB of RAM and want to justify their investment. One caveat is if you are intending to print this image in a magazine or some other form of photographically "fixing" or preparing the image. This process requires at least 300 d.p.i. from the get go. PS ...just re saving (re sampling) or "bumping up" an image created at a lower resolution to 300 d.p.i. or better does not improve resolution. You can not create detail that is not there to begin with.

The most troublesome concern for the digital artist who seeks to have prints made is the difference in the color gamut between phosphorus CRT screen and ink on paper. The CRT creates light and color directly when excited by an electronic beam. It glows with all the brilliance and depth of color that we see in nature because the color mixing system involved is "additive"; that of pure light. The primary colors for this system are red, blue and green, When all these colors overlap they "add" up to white light. Prints are based on the "subtractive" color mixing system; for which the primary colors are magenta, cyan and yellow. This is the world of pigments, which absorb (subtract) certain frequencies of light and reflect others. When all these primaries are mixed together no light escapes and we see "black" (or at least a dark mud, warmish black, if you will). Pigments can not reproduce all the colors that pure light can create. This is why the artist should be of the mind that creating a print is an entirely different art making venture, a separate piece all together, from the light based image used to control the printer. The artist must be willing to tweak the light based image in such a way as to control the printing devise to make something that is pleasing and satisfying, but never expect a total and solid match. You'll be much more pleased with the results if you keep this in mind. And, remember, none of the color matching systems can beat the tried and true process of making a proof and making adjustments, accordingly. This is the way lithographers and photographers have done it for centuries and the same holds true for digital printing. NOTE: You can switch your image to a CMYK view to get a rough idea of how the colors may change and you can preview (in Photoshop) the color gamut warnings to determine which areas may print differently. But, here again this information is not consistent for all inks and or paper combinations. If you want consistency, take lots of notes and, just as in photography, make sure all parameters are the same for prints made after the "artists proof" has been approved.

When it comes to ink longevity the simple, most consistent rule-of-thumb is; pigmented inks will always outlast dye based ink sets for color stability. The substrate or the material you print upon has a huge effect on this, as well. In this case, your best and most current source for unbiased information on the longevity of the various Giclée ink sets and substrates is www.wilhelm-research.com the website of Wilhelm Imaging Research, Inc. Spend a little time there and I think you will be surprised to learn that, today, the most expensive prints are not necessarily the longest lasting. In regards to print longevity, it is a must that you be prepared to offer your client the best, most truthful information and Wilhelm is a good source. The bottom line here is the artists own calculation regarding the appearance to cost to colorfastness ratio. Just let me say here that long lasting digital printing can be affordable and it is important, if Art is to survive in this culture, to pass that affordability on to the customer.

Finally, I want to talk about presentation and thinking outside of the box, a bit. Digital art and Giclée printing represent new and unprecedented art making tools. It stands to reason that digital art prints may be ready for a new method of display and presentation. New materials make it possible for us to break out of the frames that have held us for so long. I am also quite aware of how framing art now costs more than the average artist gets for their work. When thinking about your next exhibit and keeping in mind that most galleries and traditional media chauvinists are going to look on your work as being less than "Fine Art", anyway; why not show people that digital images and print making can be so much more. Think in terms of self adhesive vinyl applied directly to the walls, murals or wall mounted assemblages, textile streamers, lamented pieces mounted on the floor, banners, Tyvek sewn into the shape of a kimonos, prints on Plexiglas. "Fine Art" has gotten itself into a dead zone, a box created by philosophical and monetary inaccessibility. Millions of average people, who do posses an inborn human interest in what art is, have been dispossessed by outlandish gibberish and exorbitant price. Digital art has the potential of awakening this latent interest in art for the benefit of us all. Think outside that stodgy, old, broken down box. Admit that digital art is different and revel in it!

This article first appeared on the Digital Arts Group website 8/01.

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