A Gicleé print is, simply put, a mechanical reproduction of an original work of art. Often referred to as “Fine Art” prints, gicleé prints are usually produced in limited editions and signed by the artist in pencil, as are original prints (etchings, silkscreen prints, litographs, etc.), which tends to confuse what is already the fairly murkily defined world of printmaking. I still occasionally function as a printmaker… that is, using printmaking methods to create original works, rather than reproductions… so the practical and ethical issues of producing and selling gicleé prints were problematic for me in the beginning, and still govern how I produce and market them.
As I am given to understand, “gicleé” is simply a French term meaning “sprayed on.” It sounds a lot fancier than “inkjet print,” but that is essentially what it is, albeit a high-end, high-resolution, archivally printed inkjet print. The term implies pigment-based inks that have been tested for lightfastness, and papers that are designed to be archival, as well, being either made of acid-free materials like cotton, or buffered to render them acid-free. When digital printing first began to be used to replace offset lithography as a method of reproducing paintings for the print market, inkjet printers used dye-based inks, which were not lightfast. They tended to fade fairly quickly in sunlight, dramatically compromising the longevity of the image. Pigment-based inks for inkjet printers are a fairly recent development, and they have made archival printing from computers possible.
It is common for artists to contract their giclee´prints to professional studios, who photograph the work, convert the image to a digital file, and produce an edition of prints of the image, which are then numbered and signed by the artist. Most commonly, the original painting is signed, and each print is signed in pencil just below the reproduced signature. The edition number looks like a fraction: “5/120” would indicate that the print is the 5th in an edition of 120. In traditional printmaking, this edition number has actual significance, as original prints, being handmade, tend to vary slightly from print to print, whether hand-printed by the artist or by a studio under the supervision of the artist. In mechanical reproduction processes like gicleé, the edition number serves only to establish that the edition is limited, presumably raising the monetary value of each print. It’s not uncommon, though, in certain areas of the “Fine Art Print” market, to see editions of 25,000, which tends to stretch the phrase “LImited Edition” toward meaninglessness.
For purposes of quality control, I make my own Gicleé prints. This limits the sizes of reproductions that I can make, but allows me to control, for better or worse, all steps of the process. Whenever possible, I do direct digital scans of the image. This often means scanning the work in sections and piecing them together in the computer, using Photoshop to match and blend the seams between scans. This is an exceedingly laborious process, often taking more time that the original piece took to produce, but it allows me very high-resolution files for printing. When the size of the work prohibits direct scanning, I rely on digital photography to record the image, and use Photoshop to clarify and color-balance the image.
I print on an Epson photo printer, which uses Pigment-based inks, and allows three sizes of paper. My prices are based on paper size, and the image is printed as large as the interaction between image format and paper proportions allow. For aesthetic reasons, I generally will not reproduce an image larger that its original. A 4″ x 6″ drawing, for instance, is offered only in small (8.5″ x 11″) format, while a larger image will be available in all three sizes.
I offer Gicleé reproductions in open editions, which allows me to print them on demand, and allows me to offer reproductions of hundreds of images, as opposed to a few select pieces. I sign them in pencil. I guarantee my prints against fading for 75 years. If they fade after that, I’ll be 135 years old, so good luck getting a replacement.
The question of whether the computer is merely a means of reproduction or another legitimate tool in the printmaker’s arsenal is much debated in the printmaking world. I use the computer and printer interactively with more traditional methods of drawing, painting, and printmaking. The drawing entitled “Come, Dance,” for example, began as a series of dancing figures doodled on copy paper with a ball point pen. I scanned these doodles, reduced their size, arranged them into a composition, painstakingly erased the necessary overlaps, and printed them onto archival watercolor paper. I then proceeded to develop the image in drawing ink and gouáche (opaque watercolor). The resulting original is a hybrid of digital printing and traditional drawing and painting, and can then be used to create Gicleé reproductions.