Frequently Asked Questions
Giclee and Digital Printmaking


All the cutting-edge digital technology in the world means nothing without the highest quality inks. In recent years, significant advances in Giclee inks have resulted in prints with broader, more saturated color ranges, as well as dramatic improvements in color permanence. At Hunter, we realize that the best results for your work can only happen using the best combination of ink and paper, which is why we make it a point to stay current on all advancements in digital printing technology.

One of the biggest drawbacks with early Iris prints was the durability of their inks; the colors were rich and beautiful, but tended to fade noticeably in only 2-3 years. As Iris Giclees evolved out of the Iris print process, however, the permanence of the inks improved steadily, to the point where a typical Iris Giclee now withstands fading for 30-60 years. Ongoing advancements in ink technology are yielding remarkable results, including new inks that remain stable for up to 75 years.

With the advent of the Roland printers, the technology has advanced even further. Roland printers use six highly stable color pigments - the traditional CMYK, plus a light magenta and a light cyan - that achieve substantially better highlight detail over the traditional four ink systems, and offer archival characteristics exceeding 100 years.

What is digital printmaking?
What is Giclee?
How does a Giclee print differ from an Iris print?
How does the Giclee process work?
How do Giclee prints differ from lithographs and serigraphs?
Who's making, showing and buying Giclee prints?


What is digital printmaking?
Digital printmaking utilizes computers to precisely control specialized digital printers. Most fine art printmakers use ink jet printers that apply ink to a variety of media, primarily high-quality watercolor papers and canvas. The digital printmaking process is capable of producing exceptional results for both original printmakers and for the reproduction of original works of art; because of its extended color gamut and continuous tone characteristics, digital printmaking is considered a superior technology for printing all forms of art including photography.


What is Giclee?
Giclee - pronounced "zhee-clay" -French for "that which is sprayed," is the term commonly used for the world's most advanced digital fine art printmaking processes. Giclee prints can be original art works generated with a computer, multiple originals based on art work (created with or without a computer) made with the Giclee process in mind, or high quality reproductions of original art work.

Most of the country's Giclee machines, including four of the six operated by Hunter Editions, are manufactured by the Massachusetts-based Iris Graphics, and are capable of reproducing paintings, photographs and illustrations with astounding accuracy. Iris Giclee printers use saturated, water-based archival inks to produce a combination of 512 chromatic changes, with more than three million possible colors. Prints can be made on most absorbent media, from paper and canvas to silk and leather, on sizes up to 35 x 47 inches. Iris Giclee prints boast an apparent 1800 d.p.i. (dots per inch) visual resolution with no "digital signature," a level of clarity such that even artists can have a hard time telling the original from the copy.

Recently arrived on the market are the Roland Giclee printers, which are used primarily for canvas and photobase printing. The Roland printers use six highly stable color pigments, compared to four color dyes used by the Iris Giclee printer, offering permanence characteristics of 100+ years and an extended tonal range. Using roll stock, the Roland printers can produce prints up to 52" x 180".


How does a Giclee print differ from an Iris print?
Giclee prints are sometimes referred to as Iris prints, but the piggybacking of terms can be confusing -and misleading. Iris prints usually refer to an earlier process developed for posters and proofs. Iris and Roland Giclees represent the evolution of the process used for making Iris prints to the level of fine art, with a more refined system for fine-tuning colors and inks that, on average, resist fading 10 times longer than those used in Iris prints. A good analogy: Giclee is to Iris prints what serigraphs are to screen prints.


How does the Giclee process work?
Once the artist has determined the inks, paper, size and quantity that best suit his artistic goals, the printmaking process can begin.

Typically, one begins with either a direct digital capture of an original work of art or a digital scan of a high quality transparency (slide) of the work. The image is downloaded onto a computer, and brought up on a high-resolution monitor. After using sophisticated graphics software and highlighting, fine-tune color, or possibly manipulate all or parts of an image, a series of proofs is created to help fine-tune the image in preparation for the final printing.

To print an Iris Giclee, the paper or other substrate is wrapped around a large drum in the printer, and the digital file containing the final version of the print is sent to the computer controlling the printer. As the drum rotates at a very high speed, four nozzles traverse across it, delivering highly controlled micro-bursts of ink to the paper surface. The process for a single print is complete in 45-60 minutes.

Giclee printing on the Roland printers begins by loading a roll of paper or canvas on the machine. The digital file containing your final approved pre-press version is processed by the system's computer, controlling six heads each spraying a pigmented ink. The heads traverse back and forth across the width of the paper as it slowly moves through the printer at a rate of about one inch per minute.



How do Giclee prints differ from lithographs and serigraphs?
Offset lithographs are created by taking a continuous tone image and processing it through a screen. The result is an image created with a series of dots, each one proportional in size to the density of the original at the location of that dot. The human eye is consequently "tricked" into seeing something that approximates a continuous tone image. Most printed material such as newspapers and magazines are printed with this process.

Serigraphs are really screen prints. These prints are made by creating a set of screens, each representing one color. Ink is then squeegeed through the screen and onto the media. For fine art reproduction purposes, the number of screens required to approximate the tonal qualities of the original are typically from 20 to more than 100. The larger the number of screens, the closer a serigraph can appear to be continuous tone and the more expensive it is to produce.

Giclee prints have many advantages over both the offset lithograph and the serigraph. The color available for Giclee processing is limited only by the color gamut of the inks themselves. Therefore, literally millions of colors are available and the limitation imposed by the screening process does not exist.

The Giclee process uses such small dots and so many of them that they are not discernible to the eye. A Giclee print is essentially a continuous tone print showing every color and tonal nuance.

Giclees are printed on beautiful fine art papers, and the result is a print befitting the definition of fine art in every way. Giclee has the additional advantage of being reproducible, allowing you to "print on demand." This means that you only have to print what you need now and can reorder additional quantities as you need them.

Giclee prints are not "computer-generated," in the common way we know that term. Instead, computers are used to control the complex and technologically advanced printers that create the reproductions, much as computers are used to create offset lithographs and, increasingly, serigraphs. The Giclee process is simply a new and significant step forward in the creation of limited edition fine art prints.

Many photographers find the soft, painterly quality of Giclee-reproduced photographs on fine papers to be very appealing. Also, photos reproduced in this manner do not have the reflectance of traditional photographic prints, a characteristic that allows you to capture more subtle colors and imagery without fear of losing them in the light-grabbing surface of glossy paper.


Who's making, showing and buying Giclee prints?
Prominent artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Jim Dine, David Hockney and Andrew and Jamie Wyeth have discovered that Giclees are excellent for creating original works, multiple originals or beautiful reproductions. Giclee prints in recent years have starred in shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.

But it isn't just high-profile artists and galleries who are making and showing Giclees. Artists at all levels and in a wide variety of media are creating prints using Giclee technology, and more are discovering digital printmaking every day. Buyers, attracted by the high quality and dynamic reproduction of Giclees, have triggered a Giclee explosion; while the fine art print market increases by about three percent annually, the Giclee market is growing at more than 60 percent annually. In a $2.8 billion print market dominated by lithographs and serigraphs, Giclees now total $160 million annually - and growing, mostly at the expense of much-more-costly serigraphs.

Giclees have also opened up new opportunities in how the business of art is practiced. Giclees make it easy for artists and galleries to self-publish the work of an artist or group of artists, to test the market with the work of emerging artists, and for experimenting with smaller editions of works with a narrow market appeal.