Traditional Oil Paintings in the Classical Tradition
by SAA 2x award of excellence signature artist,  Kay Witherspoon, MA, SAA

© Copyright 1997    Kay Witherspoon
All rights reserved 

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Giclée Prints
Definition  *  Terminologies  *  Step-by-Step Guide

A Giclée Print is a digitally produced art image on paper or canvas that has been produced on a computer-driven ink-jet printer that sprays the ink onto the canvas or watercolor paper such that the dots of color overlap one-another, providing more coverage and greater intensity and purity of color.

Giclée (pronounced "zhee-clay" or "gee-clay", a French word meaning "sprayed" onto the paper from many tiny ink jets) describes the most advanced process for fine-art digital printmaking.   The newer giclée printers have the ability to resist fading about 10 times longer than earlier printers.  Using highly saturated, water-based archival inks with the potential for making 512 chromatic changes, newer giclée printers can print more than three million colors.  The prints can be produced on a variety of absorbent surfaces ranging from fine-art papers to canvas, silk, and even leather.  Prints on canvas are protected with a coating that makes them water resistant and allows them to be displayed without glass.

Competition has not only forced the evolution of longer-lasting inks with broader and more saturated color ranges but also brought forward the growing importance of the role of  craftsmanship.  To get the best reproduction possible, to minimize compromises, and to determine the compatibility of media and the permanence of inks, it is necessary to discuss the process and practices involved with the individual printer.   The ability to use the latest methods, materials, and tools makes the difference in the outcome and longevity of the print.  The collaboration between the artist and the printer - the skills and materials materials of the printer and the the goals of the artist - will ultimately determine the quality of the print.

Understandably, true giclée is expensive to produce, thus the higher cost to collectors.    Low-end canvas prints cannot claim to be using colorfast inks, canvas material, nor the high resolution that signals the exceptional giclée prints. 

Witherspoon Fine Art works together with a professional master printer based on their use of the outstanding Roland press; the archival inks (50 - 100 years); UV coatings and archival, non-cracking canvas; and, most importantly, on their rare and invaluable photographic expertise, color sense, and skill as computer technicians.

Printing Terminology

Canvas Prints

Owning a canvas print or canvas transfer may be the next best thing to owning an original work of art. Many of the canvas prints on the market today qualify as true reproductions because they were produced directly on canvas either with offset lithography or digital printing (description follows).

Canvas transfers are the result of technology that has been around for about three decades, but only became commercially acceptable in the 1990's. In a nutshell, through the use of several chemicals, the ink on a limited-edition offset reproduction is literally transferred to the canvas. The result is a reproduction with a lustrous finish like oil on canvas.

Canvas images score other bonus points with collectors as well. For one thing, artists can hand-embellished by adding oil or acrylic paint highlights. Another factor is that canvas prints and transfers can be framed like originals because they don’t need to be covered with protective glazing.

Digital Prints
Fine-art digital printmaking most often begins with an original painting that is photographed by a digital camera and input into a computer. All the manipulation, color corrections and other necessary procedures are done in the computer with specially designed software. The reproduction is then printed out on a four-color Iris or ink jet drum printer.

Although the digital print is made on a four-color printer, the process can achieve millions of colors, most of which appear brighter than the colors of offset reproductions. The reproduction of delicate pastel colors is particularly outstanding and, when done properly, a digital reproduction of a transparent watercolor original can rival the original.

That’s the bottom line for the art consumer. The bottom line for the artist is that digital prints are a less expensive, quality way of test marketing the reproduction without having to invest in an entire edition. Although digital prints have a much higher per-print cost, they can be reproduced on demand, reducing the need for extra inventory if prints aren’t sold. The artist can have one made, then another and more later - and they’ll all look exactly alike.

From the Artist’s Handbook of Materials & Techniques by Ralph Mayer

Archival Inks: Inks used in fine art reproduction that have been optimized for permanence.
Archiving: Images are archived, often on DC-ROM, for a specified period. Information necessary to reproduce the print is also archived, including ink, tables, sizes, and medium used.
Artist Proof (AP): Frequently, an edition will include a number of prints called Artist Proofs, or AP’s. These proofs are normally pinted at the time of the initial printing of the edition and are outside of the numbered series. AP’s frequently sell for more than prints from an edition..
Bon-A-Tirer or BAT (bone-ah-ti-ray): The proof accepted by the artist that is used as the standard for comparing all subsequent prints. Some printers require a signed BAT before production printing can begin.
Coating: A clear coating provides protection from smudging, fingerprints, and water droplets. It does not improve the permanence of the print because most fading is due to visible light. On some material, such as canvas, coating can render a print water-resistant, allowing it to be framed without glass.
Color Management: An advanced technology that uses profiles of the input and output devices to maximize color accuracy. Targets that include over 3000 colors are printed and measured with a colorimeter to create profiles for the various ink/media combinations.
Lithography: The process of drawing or painting with greasy crayons and inks on a particular piece of limestone that has been ground down to the desired texture. Because the printing is a somewhat mechanical procedure, the object of which is to turn out exact copies of the drawing as it appears on the stone, the great majority of artists have this work done by professional lithographers.
Resolution Scan:
Professional scan at an out put resolution of 150 dpi or 300 dpi (dots per square inch) using color tables optimized for archival inks on fine art media.
Iris Print: A print created on an Iris inkjet printer. Also called Iris giclée.
Resize: It is generally possible to resize files so prints can be made either smaller or larger. Significant up-sizing is usually not successful, but an adjustment of up to 20% is acceptable.
Sheet/Substrate: The sheet of paper or other material that will be printed on. The largest Iris printers accommodate sheets up to 35 X 47 inches.
Transparency, Museum Quality: High quality reproduction requires copy transparencies made by photographers experienced in art reproduction. Lighting is very important in terms of evenness, color, and lack of any specular highlights. Transparencies should either be 4 x 5 or 8 x 10 inches. The pre-press process tries to create a print that looks like the transparency, not the original, so the transparency should reflect the original as accurately as possible.


From The Mill Pond Press Companies

Step 1
The artist creates an original image, which the publisher chooses to reproduce in a fine art print edition.

Step 2
Now that we have a painting, the next step is to transfer the image in the painting to the computer. There are two ways to do that. You can photograph the painting and scan the photo on an electronic scanner to create a digital image, which can be digested by a computer. The second method is to scan the painting itself, either with a scanner or a digital camera. When that’s finished, we have an electronic (digital) file of it that can be manipulated on a computer to prepare to make the highest quality reproduction.

Step 3
At this stage in the process, the person who is the technical equivalent of the artist in the print shop takes over. This master color technician, who maneuvers his mouse as effectively as the artist wields his paintbrush, stands the painting on his computer monitor. Constantly glancing back and forth between the image on his monitor and the painting, he manipulates the color in the computer to match the painting more closely. From his years of experience, he knows just what color to add or subtract and just how to change the values, or shades, or dark and light.

Step 4
When he has adjusted the file to his satisfaction, he runs a small proof of the image to judge his work. The proof is printed on the same equipment and on the same paper as the final print will be. He views the proof next to the painting. If he is not satisfied, he returns to his computer for more adjustments. At times, he will do this over and over until he is happy with the proof image. That proof will be sent to the publisher for their critique and then to the master artist for their final critique and approval.

Step 6

The print publisher, whether a publishing company or the artist himself, has a great amount of input in the project. As with any project involving color and images, art reproduction is often evaluated very subjectively. Each person sees color a bit differently and considers different elements to be the most important in the image. At this point, the publisher checks the proof. His comments are reviewed with the master color technician, who must interpret them as corrections to the digital file. When he has corrected and proofed to the publisher’s satisfaction, a final full-size proof is printed. It will be the standard of comparison for all subsequent prints in the edition. This final proof is sometimes called the BAT or bon-a-tirer, French for "good to pull."


Step 6

With the BAT in hand, the edition can be printed. This would be a good point in our tour to explore just how the ink jet printer works. An ink-jet print is created when microscopically tiny drops of ink are sprayed onto a roll or a sheet of paper or canvas (sometimes referred to as the "substrate"). These drops are fixed at a rate of a million per second through tiny nozzles in the print head, which moves slowly above the substrate. The drops arrange themselves into shades of color. This pattern is controlled by the master color technician’s digital files.

As the ink is sprayed through the nozzles, the paper or canvas moves, too. Depending on the particular model of ink jet printer, the substrate will be either on a spinning drum or on a roll that is inched through the machine. As the ink sprays and the substrate moves, an image begins to appear before your eyes. In fractions of an inch, color prints onto the paper or canvas and slowly grows until the entire image has been printed.

The microscopic dots, each no bigger than a blood cell, blend in a pattern so fine that the eye cannot detect the arrangement. To the observer, the image looks continuous - like an original painting. To enhance this effect, the image can be printed on imported watercolor paper, artist’s canvas or any other substrate that faithfully reproduces the original.

Unlike offset printing presses, which print many images in a short period of time, the ink jet printer prints one image at a time, and each image takes at least half an hour to complete, sometimes much longer. At that pace, an edition can be printed just a few at a time over the course of many months or one right after another, as the publisher chooses.

The Final Step
Once the edition has been printed, the publisher has a choice of several finishes. Because they are framed without glass, most canvas prints are coated for additional UV protection and durability. Paper prints can be straight trimmed or hand-torn with a deckled edge. Artists often choose to enhance their print with hand applied brush strokes to highlight fright accents or surface texture. When all of the finishing has been applied, the prints are each signed by the artist and individually numbered, and the edition is complete! The next time the print appears, it will be handsomely framed and look as brilliant and eye-catching as the original painting.