What is a Giclée? Tips for Describing Your Inkjet Printed Art

A prickly topic between artists, printmakers, dealers and art galleries.

There are no hard-fast rules when describing your digital prints and reproductions. However, the jury is still out on whether or not the high-end art buyers & collectors will accept trade names, like “giclée” for inkjet art prints. Choose carefully how you define and describe your art print—and match your marketing accordingly.

In this post I’ll share with you how Fidelis tackles the “is it a giclée?” name-game and how we have decided to describe our Collection artworks. Also included are some samples of how other artists are describing their art printed using the archival inkjet process.


Inkjet printing machines were first used for press proofing in the off-set printing industry (brochures, magazines, flyers, etc). These early inkjet prints were not archival because they were only meant to last a few days.

Due to their fine ink streams and continuous-tones, art-printing pioneers decided that inkjet printers (known at the time as the “Iris”) would be great for printing (reproducing) artworks in limited quantities. As digital technology improved so did the quality of print that came from an inkjet printer.

How great for artists—a new way to make art, create reproductions, produce artworks with unique effects and results, tap into unlimited passive income was now available! This was an exciting time for the fine art business—a new method for printing art was born and it would change the way art would be printed in the future.

However, with this new printmaking technique the art community was faced with a need to “title the process”. They found their answer with the originators of the technology (see below) and the term giclée was coined.

What is a giclée? (Sourced from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Giclée (pronounced “zhee-clay” from French) is a neologism for the process of making fine art prints from a digital source using ink-jet printing. The word “giclée” is derived from the French language word “le gicleur” meaning “nozzle”, or more specifically “gicler” meaning “to squirt, spurt, or spray”. It was coined in 1991 by Jack Duganne, a printmaker working in the field, to represent any inkjet-based digital print used as fine art. The intent of that name was to distinguish commonly known industrial “Iris proofs” from the type of fine art prints artists were producing on those same types of printers. The name was originally applied to fine art prints created on Iris printers in a process invented in the early 1990s but has since come to mean any high quality ink-jet print and is often used in galleries and print shops to denote such prints.

In the early 90′s, art groups, curators and dealers didn’t think the trade name giclée would stick. Some groups had concerns about the integrity of each reproduction, especially the higher priced artworks that were deemed original prints (in the case of photographs) and small numbers of limited editions. I remember hearing the words “how could they charge that much for an inkjet print?”—coming from a local art professional.

I believe that the negative reception wasn’t directed at the word “giclée”, but at the whole process of digitally created artworks. This technology revolutionized fine art printing overnight and the industry just wasn’t prepared, they needed a term that would signify that these prints were archival, an original or a reproduction.

Some concern was justified. Early ink sets proved to be less than archival, third party papers and generic ink sets were appearing out of everywhere; and every shop and artist that owned an inkjet printer claimed they could print fine art. This was a new market and everyone from HP, Kodak, Epson and Canon wanted their share of printer sales and the $$$$ consumables—it was exciting and scary at the same time.

Coming from the photo lab business (with a large clientele of fine artists) we experienced this all first hand. We jumped in! We had technology hurdles and learned quickly that becoming a respected printmaker of fine art was no easy task—in fact we continue to work everyday at building our brand, perfecting our craft and ensuring the archival qualities of the artworks we create for our clients.

Almost 20 years later . . . .

The professional art selling and buying community has warmed to digitally created artworks. Galleries specializing in fine art photography seem to have a better grasp on the various technologies given 90% of all photographers print digitally. And traditional galleries are catching up, out of the necessity to offer their customers more economical options during tough economic times.

The term giclée is still used to differentiate a digital inkjet print from other traditional prints (c-prints, lithographs, serigraphs, etc.) however, in my observation the term is more commonly used to describe art reproductions. (Not to be confused with a poster print. A giclée reproduction is described as a high quality print that is a generation away from the original and created without artist involvement in the printmaking process.)

At Fidelis, we reserve the term giclée for our décor art editions developed for the retail sector and usually priced under $500. Buyers of decor art have become familiar with this term and use it when searching online. This made using the term a necessity from a marketing stand-point.

Some artists/art sellers choose to give their prints their own term, staying away from using “digital” or “giclée” altogether. The Ansel Adams.com website describes their artworks as “Archival Replica”, noting each Archival Replica is “made using the very latest digital technologies, that they are individually produced and inspected and matched to a master proof.”

When you are selling your art you should disclose how your artwork was created/printed, the archival properties of your ink and media and how many are in the edition.

If you are calling your art an “original print”, indicate how you where involved with the process, if it was hand-embellished, the more detail that places YOU closer to the printmaking process, the better your buyer will appreciate and understand your artwork.

Here are some of the shorter terms we’ve see artists use to describe their archival inkjet prints. The logic here is to describe “what makes up the print, the archival ingredients”. These short terms are also used on the title cards next to the artworks on display, sometimes noting that a longer explanation is available on request.

“pigment on archival paper (or canvas)”

“archival inkjet”

“digital archival print”

I’d like to note, that this article is formed from my opinions about the term giclée and the industry. While I always do my best to provide you with firm answers to questions, experts in the fine art community (curators of museums and art galleries) have still not agreed to an “official” term for archival inkjet art print or digital prints. This may take another 20 years to clarify.

I’ll leave you with these 5 tips for describing your digital art:

1. Whatever you decide to call or label your art, always tell the truth.

2. Do your research. Learn as much about your printmaking technology as possible.

3. Choose a reputable printmaker or print your art yourself using archival inks and media.

4. Choose a term that your market will understand. If there isn’t a term out there, create your own term and educate your audience using your marketing channels.

5. Be able to communicate your printmaking process effectively to your dealer and buyers. The more they understand, the more likely they will make a purchase.

And finally (this really isn’t a tip), your art is not worth more or less because it was printed digitally. Price your pieces fairly and always act with integrity in your business dealings. Ultimately, your art will sell because someone loves it—not how it was printed.

Share with our other readers:

“What do you call your digital art print/reproduction?”

“Is the term giclée good or bad for the art industry?”

Let us know by commenting.