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Jan 01, 2017
Here is a little blogblast on a term that can be misunderstood by art buyers and maybe even some photographers. As a photographer who is trying to grow my print sales I am very interested in customer satisfaction and clarity of brand. People like to know what they are getting when they buy something-whether it be a Snickers or a photograph. Imagine how sad you would be if you bit into a Snickers only to find it was a Butterfinger? Major letdown. Who honestly eats Butterfingers anyway? So today we discuss the oft-used term giclee (zhee-klay). Or if you are a photographer in Brooklyn you pronounce it (jay-zhee-klay).
You may now don your berets for the rest of this conversation.
First off which do you think costs more to produce?
1) pigment inkjet print
2) giclee print
3) dye ink print
It is a trick question as the first two choices are the same thing. This could be the end of my blogblast, but my fingers are still moving.
-Sample of pigment ink print sitting on my Walker Evans book (captured with iPhone to demonstrate the look of a pigment ink print). Photo Credit: ©Vincent Versace
I often think terms like giclee are used to make prints sound more expensive or valuable. It is a branding and marketing tool that is as old as sin. But a giclee print is simply a pigment inkjet print on paper or any other substrate. What was once a highly specific term in printmaking is now a generic term that covers a large segment of the printing world.
The word itself is French for spray or spurt. This is exactly how the inks are delivered-- only the spray of ink comes through tiny micro nozzles that deposit dots of highly specialized ink on the paper. Pigment inks are known for their longevity (100+ years if used with correct paper) and for that reason they are now preferred in fine art reproduction and photo printing. Normally pigment inkjet prints will be compared to dye ink prints. Dye ink prints can offer a wide color range (gamut), but they fade and sometimes fade dramatically.
The development of this printing technique was a major revolution in the fine art world--on the order of the creation of the mouse for the personal computer. It democratized fine art printing for artists. You no longer had to commit to huge print runs or work with large printing or reproduction companies. Like any technology, there are levels of refinement in pigment ink printing and many long winded gallery descriptions will go into great detail about how their giclee print is "official giclee" or "fine art giclee" versus regular blue collar giclee. There are even many associations and labels that set up rules for use of the word...pass me a Snickers. The bottom line is that the cost of pigment inkjet printing has fallen so dramatically that many photographers are now able to print their own work on demand and without a master print maker. Artists can create amazing giclee prints in their own studio with printers that cost less than $1000 and major museums hang and collect pigment ink prints made on printers you can actually afford. This is a good thing.
Yes, using the word "giclee" sounds much sexier than "pigment inkjet print" when you are adjusting your beret and talking ART. And there is nothing wrong with the word as long as your customer knows exactly what they are getting and are satisfied with it. I think it is often misused to give the impression that giclee denotes a special edition or exclusive process that mere mortals may not understand. From a marketing perspective it is also true that people feel "inkjet" is too close to "bubblejet" and also too common a word when it comes to describing something as important as art, hence the word devalues the perceived worth of a print. But again, as long as your customer understands the product and you can define it, then you are headed in the right direction.
It can be a challenge to be consistent with terminology when selling your art on multiple platforms or when using third parties. I have spent this month refining my own definitions and partner selection with the goal of greater customer clarity. I hope it helps. You can see an example of how I describe my personally selected Signed & Numbered Prints on my site.
I will be exploring the even more treacherous world of actually signing and numbering those pigment inkjet prints or using the term "limited edition" in my next article, but I have to remove my beret and consult with my lawyer before posting.
I gotta 99 problems but a great jay-giclee printer ain't one.
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