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What is giclée printing?

Updated: Feb 3, 2021

At Studio74 we use a printing process known as Giclée. Translated from French it stands for spray or squirt. It’s the first clue of a high quality printing process, using a sophisticated, large format, inkjet printer. At Studio74 we use a 12 colour Canon printer, but aside from the printing itself, Giclée stands for a number of factors, which, together differentiates giclée prints from lesser quality prints.

The inks

Unlike small domestic inkjet printers, which use dye-based inks, a giclée printer uses high quality, pigment based inks. Whereas a dye is essentially a broken-up pigment, pigment based inks consist of a whole pigment, typically in a water based carrier fluid. This makes the prints extremely fade-resistant.

Most light sources, including outside sun light and indoor electric lighting, emit UV rays which are harmful to pigments. If UV light encounters a whole pigment, rather than colours produced from a dye-based ink, it will take much longer for this colour to be susceptible to fading. Based on age testing, it is estimated that giclée prints will not show any signs of deterioration for up to 100 years, provided they are not exposed to extreme lighting conditions.

Whereas dye-based inks easily soak into the paper, pigment-based inks tend to settle more towards the surface of the paper they’re printed on. For that reason giclée prints are more fragile and need to be handled carefully. As with most products, even pigment based inks differ in quality. At Studio74 we only use original Lucia pigment based inks, which guarantee the widest colour gamut and prevent scratching as a result of the coating applied during the print process. Also, amongst the 12 different inks, used by our printer, are inks that are specifically used for lustre papers, ensuring good adhesion to the coating present on these papers.

The Paper

Papers are traditionally made from wood and one of the issues with using wood is that it contains Lignin, an acidic material that damages paper, causing discolouring with age. It is possible to remove lignin and, therefore, the paper’s acidity. However, a better option would be to use papers, manufactured from cotton, which does not contain lignin in the first place. Most of our top quality papers have cotton as a base material.

Another factor to be aware of whilst choosing your papers is the use of optical brighteners. Optical brightening agents (OBAs) are additives used in the paper industry to enhance whitening in papers. These chemical compounds absorb light in the UV and Violet regions and re-emit lighten at a lower frequency, thereby giving the impression of extra brightness. Although they may initially seem to provide a clean, bright tint to the paper, they can degrade paper quite quickly and cause yellowing as a result of oxygenation.

Paper Weight

As we spray ink onto paper, paper has a natural tendency to cockle. The more fluid that is added to paper, the more it will displace the fibres and loose its shape. The easiest way to counteract this phenomenon is to use heavier paper. The Fine Art Trade Guild oversees printing standards in the UK and its guidelines state that giclée prints should be printed on papers that are at least 250gsm. Heavier papers will obviously be less affected but they can also crease easier as they’re stiffer, so a happy medium is to be found. One other possible flaw associated with this rule is the fact that some coated papers are, in fact, heavier than uncoated papers of a similar thickness. Generally speaking, though, it is advisable to use a good weight paper (250-300gms) and if the nature of the artwork suggests that a lot of ink is laid down onto the paper, then consider to use a heavier paper. Choosing papers is very subjective. The varying finishes and weights is something that’s best seen, felt and tested before venturing into ordering large amounts of prints. Remember, giclée is designed for small print runs at high quality. At Studio74, we always advise our customers to come and see us to experience the available range of papers and, perhaps, order a small test to see how your image performs on our papers and printers.

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