Giclée prints


Dear Artist,

Questions these days seem to come in multiple editions. I have to tell you that this week artists are thinking about going into reproductions — Giclée prints in particular.

Giclées are multiple edition prints that are made on big sophisticated photocopiers. Over the past year the quality of these products has improved. For those who want to know something about the Giclée phenomenon — permanence, technicalities, costs, etc., we’ve prepared an overview at Giclée printmaking for artists.

The question artists have to ask themselves is what they are going to do with the prints. Some types of work lend themselves to the process, others not. Watercolors and flat acrylics look pretty good. Thick and juicy oils tend to look a bit phony. I’ve found that for fundraisers and other charitable works, the Giclée can be ideal. For those artists whose work is essentially decorative, the Giclée is a good way to extend the payback. Folks will always prefer originals, but for extended situations like hotel rooms — and dealing with the interior decorator crowd in general — Giclées can fill the bill. Commercially, they seem to fly better with certain subject matter. Figurative over landscape, for example. Specificities such as wildlife, nostalgia, transportation-art, etc., work well in print form, as they always have.

It’s a two edged sword. On the one hand, by making these reproductions, artists may actually be thought less of. On the other hand they get their images out and around — perhaps building value for their originals. For slow artists, or those who put a large amount of painstaking detail in their work, it may be the only thing they can do to stay alive.

We live in remarkable times. Technology knows no bounds. Some of these giant photocopy machines put down dye-based inks, others, particulate pigments. Machines can make a million squirts a second — some work from as many as 400 different hues. I’m sure that just around the corner there’s an invention of some sort of heat-set puff-paint digital system that will load up a print with convincing impasto. Giclée watercolors currently take experts to tell the difference. Scary. But just as no machine, in spite of many patents pending, has yet been invented that gives a man a decent haircut, we will still continue to appreciate work that is thoughtfully done by hand.

Best regards,


PS: “Artists are immediately taken with the look and feel of the Giclée because of the use of archival stock and rich colours. Also, prints can be produced one at a time on demand in different sizes and substrates, eliminating the need for large capital outlays.” (Ron Ling, owner, ZheeClay Arts.)

Esoterica: The “enhanced” Giclée is the three-dollar bill of the print business. This is where the artist (or her assistant) comes back in with a few juicy strokes to give it a “personal touch.” For some artists these have proven to be a one-way trip to the bank. While it’s conceivable that enhancing may become its own art form, this hybrid is a pretender and will probably never find a market among serious collectors.

The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.


High quality and small editions
by Nick May


painting by Nick May

I have made a few Editions of my Art using the Giclée method, and find the reproduction to be very high quality. I am also able to produce very limited editions, 100 S/N or less. I like the fact that I can print them as I need them, no big inventory to worry about. I have had good response with them so far and my collectors seem to like the low numbers. At a show a while back I had an original and a Giclée on Canvas. I asked folks to pick the original from the print. Most people picked the Giclée. I think it was because of the canvas, an association thing I guess. With my editions I provide a certificate stating the edition size, and the type of print, which I sign. Keeping the numbers low is important, and if I sell out the edition I will not print any more. If a print run is 25, I will only print that many. Prints also give me an opportunity to have my work seen by a larger audience. For an emerging artist this can be a very good marketing tool. When it comes to making a sale, I prefer to sell originals and encourage this with my collectors. Although prints can be very nice, and another source of income, the originals are always better. You just can’t beat the real thing.


More room in the studio without them
by David Oleski, Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, USA


painting by David Oleski

About 3 years ago when I was just starting out, I had a successful and established artist give me some pearls of wisdom. Upon looking over my paintings (and the nicely matted Giclée prints of those paintings), he told me it was obvious that in the next 3 or 4 years I would be well on my way to being a successful artist. The question he wanted me to ask myself was “What do I want to be doing when I reach that point?” Would I rather be trying to factor in print run numbers while stockpiling materials to get the bulk discount on frames, mat board, glass and foam core, spending hours upon hours processing all this material and then dragging around boxes and boxes of duplicate pieces to shows? Or do I just want to paint one canvas at a time, and cater to an audience that can appreciate the value of originals? I could be satisfied displaying a small but solid body of work, ultimately selling one piece at a time. Last year, all of my leftover prints made excellent gifts for everyone on my mailing list, and I immediately had even more room to stand back from my paintings while I worked.


What is a print?
by Sally Haig

I have no problem with ‘reproductions’ as long as the buyer understands that they are buying a very expensive poster that has been signed by the artist. That is the problem with artists or galleries selling reproductions. The naive buyer thinks they are getting an original piece of artwork and they are not. Or they think it is as valuable as an original painting and it is not. When I explained to a friend of mine who has no art background/knowledge at all what the deal is with a Giclée ‘print’ she was shocked. And she is a pretty smart and savvy shopper except not in art matters. I’d be interested to know what real “Printmakers” think of these reproductions that are called “prints” as opposed to a real woodcut, etching etc. But that is another kettle of fish.


Call them what they are — reproductions
by Barbara Mason


painting by Barbara Mason

As a printmaker and president of the NW Print Council I have strong feelings about Giclée “prints.” The word here is print…it should be Giclée reproductions and reputable galleries and sales people will say the hated “r” word when making sales.

Original printmakers are of course stressed by artists who do “limited editions of huge numbers” and sign them and sell them as original prints…what they are of course are posters on very nice paper. Many are not even that — they are made on home ink jet printers or Xeroxes and sold as original prints.

We really have no problem with people making Giclée reproductions of their work as long as they call them what they are — they are not original prints. There is no way we are winning this battle, but we try! We are moving to a new gallery space in January and changing the name of our gallery to Print Arts Northwest. We will be in the heart of the gallery district here in Portland and hope to educate many people about the difference between an original fine art hand pulled print and a Giclée reproduction!


The right to look at quality
by Herm. M. Fleish, Germany

Your arguments for and against the value of print reproductions were interesting. A lot of the purist hand made etchings and engravings are esoteric in nature these days. They often make a personal statement of the artist that the collector cannot relate to. In some ways I think there is a legitimate use for reproductions of really well painted paintings. People cannot always afford the originals but they still have the right to look at quality.


My galleries don’t want them
by Jane Shoenfeld


painting by Jane Shoenfeld

Some of my small (approx 8″x 11″) pastels took so much time. Making Giclée prints of them has been somewhat profitable and kind of makes up for not being able to sell the originals for what they’re worth in terms of work and time and quality… just because they’re little. Mostly I sell them from my studio and at classes and workshops where people want an image of mine but are not up for an original. Only somewhat profitable, but worthwhile I would say. I also have used them for auctions that I wanted to contribute to. Since I’m able to make a limited amount of them at a time, it’s worked out. I don’t really have a gallery for Giclées. The galleries I show in don’t want to sell them.



Appalled at “enhanced” Giclées
by Brad Baucom, Deadwood, South Dakota, USA

Enhanced Giclée? Please tell me you feel much more strongly about the “enhanced” Giclée medium than that it “will probably never find a market among serious collectors.” To say that for some artists it’s a one-way trip to the bank is generous praise for folks like Thomas Kinkade who don’t even make the “juicy strokes” that give it a “personal touch.” There are galleries like “Beth’s Originals Art Gallery & Frame Shop” who sell these lies for him and others. The audacity to have a business name that implies art originals whilst vending this stuff I find infuriating. In short, I’m appalled!


Extending value of original via reproductions
by Karen McConnell, Windsor, Ontario, Canada


painting by Karen McConnell

One of my images has been recently reproduced using the Epsom version of this process. Some of my earlier limited edition reproductions were done using the photolithographic method. There is much to be said for both, and I think you have done very well to present the various reasons for considering each. It was also good to see some discussion of the values of reproductions vs. originals. Each time that I’ve published a reproduction, there’s been an attempt to make very clear to the purchaser that the work’s value is based solely on its appeal to them, and that there should be no assumption that it will be a good financial investment. I’ve been very pleased with the recent reproduction and I gave it consideration because I wanted to keep this an open edition. While per item costs are much higher, it seemed the most acceptable way for me to accomplish the goal of making the image available to those who might want it without exceeding the possible demand.

The original is not for sale. It measures 24 in. by 26 in., and its creation took three months of very long days to complete. I am not willing to part with it for a number of reasons and, if I were, its price would place it beyond the reach of many. The work is done using a stippled ink application alternating with adding layers of colour to the work… very exacting, very detailed work. In this way, at least there will be some financial remuneration for the hours spent. Additionally, I have been able to designate partial proceeds from the sale of the Giclée posters to breast cancer research.


The use of archival paper
by W. A. White

If the prints are going to fade away anyway it seems ridiculous to put them on archival paper and run up the cost so much. It seems the jury is still out on the longevity of Giclée prints as mentioned in your review.

(RG note) Our review is at Giclée printmaking for artists.

It’s important to note that a reproduction using the Giclée method, and other methods for that matter, is not complete until it has been treated to a final UV medium. Much research has taken place over the past while. My rooftop tests were done without significant protection. There is a good article by Karla Witte at Karla is director of research and development at Harvest Production/Bull Dog Products of Anaheim, California, USA. With regard to paper, certain art papers that look very good when you buy them are not classed as “archival.” Some of them oxidize or turn yellowish rather quickly. Beware.


The real thing?
by JanYeb Ypma


painting by JanYeb Ypma

I enjoyed with my favorite sister-in-law a tour of the Central Museum in Amsterdam. We had an argument about whether the Old Masters on display, like Rembrandt’s Nightwatch, are the real things. I maintained that what the public views are copies, with the original works safely vaulted. I had stated that insurance premiums alone would be prohibitive. Among other points, I said that the truth would only hurt public attendance and is thus best kept from us. A clear case of a harmless lie winning over the prospect of considerable potential loss in revenues. Are the great works on display the originals or are they copies?

(RG note) The Nightwatch, in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, is, for the time being, the real thing. However, many museums and galleries are engaged in the making of Giclée copies of rare works, particularly watercolors, if only to put them away for later comparison. Concerns about theft, vandalism, pollution, escalating insurance costs and sun damage are currently driving the Gicléeization of collections.


Will stick with fine art prints
by Cassandra James, Cedar Creek, Texas, USA


painting by Cassandra James

The problems I have with Giclée prints have to do with permanence, integrity and market saturation. It’s true technology has improved in the last few years and permanence now exceeds the original 5 to 7 years predicted before fading that was the case in the early years. But often these prints, which are essentially posters, are produced in editions of thousands and sold as fine art prints to an unsuspecting general public without clarification.

A true fine art print is most often produced by an artist working alongside a master printer in a reputable fine art press, in true limited editions of 25 to 100. Each has been individually selected for the edition and signed by the artist. Each carries some memory of the artist’s hand and written documentation from the press. There’s another pesky issue of saturating the market with images that devalue the original work. One would hate to come across it in a yard sale down the road. Losing the opportunity to learn a new technique and how that process might inform the larger studio work is another issue altogether. Think I’ll stick with fine art prints.

(RG note) Don’t condemn the Giclée system and the potential it holds for the future. Over the past while the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, working together with the well known historic print dealer Kenyon Oppenheimer, has done reproductions of John James Audubon’s 1838 Birds of America. Ben Williams, the librarian at the Field Museum was highly impressed with the quality and the dedication of the technicians at Black Box Collotype and gave the okay for the wider distribution of these American classics. These Giclées were made by direct digital input from a set of choice hand-colored originals. Not all originals are as well colored. The idea is that a wider audience can see and collect appropriately notated la crème de la crème.

In the Giclée business, a lot of very clever technical people have been bending their brains in order to come up with a level of quality never before seen. While we have been quietly bending our brushes, a great deal of creative science has occurred. Incidentally, one of the best designed, tasteful and well organized sites that sells Giclée reproductions online is Here the casual on-line collector may find a supply of classic and contemporary artists and photographers for sale at reasonable prices. This site fits most of my criterion as an effective art site. You might notice something interesting: Right away on the home page it tells and shows you which are the most popular reproductions being sold right now. I know it will surprise a lot of artists to learn that there are some buyers who feel safer when they know that lots of other folks have bought the same image.







Densi, Barocoa, Cuba


“Mi Pollito”
painting by Densi


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