Giclee and the Process

The Giclée fine art print virtually captures every nuance of an original painting, be it a fine art photograph or an original watercolor, oil, or acrylic.  Because no plates are used, the prints have a higher resolution than lithographs. The dynamic color range is greater than in serigraphy.

In the Giclée process, a digital scan or transparency is first taken of the original work. The printer controls four million individual deposits every second. A droplet is four times smaller than a human hair. Each of the four colors of ink: black, cyan, magenta, and yellow travel in a continuous stream of watercolor or pigment based ink while a crystal frequently causes a wave pattern.

This wave action breaks the stream up into tiny drops of equal size and regular spacing. Each piece of paper or canvas is directly hand mounted onto a drum that rotates during printing. Exact calculations of hue, value, and density direct the ink from the four nozzles. This produces a combination of 512 chromatic changes, with over 7 million colors possible, of highly saturated, non-toxic, water- based ink. The artist's color approval and input are essential for creating custom settings for an edition.

This latest advancement in fine art printing has captured the imagination of many of today's artists. The method is particularly well-suited for artists who have a wide variance of color and tonal ranges. The best of these prints achieve a level of accuracy and richness of color previously unavailable.

Why Collect Giclee?

Because prints on canvas looks exquisite, beautiful, and elegant, their museum quality gives ones the prestige of a serious fine art collector. Canvas prints do not need to be framed with protective glass so the image can be seen clearly without the bothersome glares. The natural texture of the canvas gives the print the feel of an original and they are far tougher and more durable than paper prints.

What is a fine art print?

Fine art printmaking is based on the concept of creating a master plate, known as the matrix. This is used to transfer the image onto paper. Nowadays printmaking is an art form that has many subdivisions, each of which is an art form in its own right: etching, lithography, linocut, etc. The printmaking process is generally a complex one, using a variety of different techniques, and medium, depending on the type of print. The artist creates different surface textures, color effects and forms, just as in painting, producing a unique work of art, defined by the artist’s style and personality.

Most times the process of transferring or printing the image can be repeated numerous times, creating editions of the same image. Sometimes each individual print is retouched or added to afterwards, making it unique or one-of-a-kind.

What is an edition?

When all the prints are created from the matrix to be identical, this is called an 'Edition'. The artist generally limits the edition to a certain number of their choice. He or she then indicates in pencil (usually in the bottom left hand corner) the number of each individual piece and the total number of copies in the edition, for example, 5/40.

What is a Lithograph?

Basically, it is a print made by using a press to transfer an image that was created initially on stone or metal plate to paper

Although the term can refer to commercially reproduced images - such as those on posters or in magazines - at The Artists' Press a lithograph is an image made by an artist who works closely with a professional printer.

How does a lithograph differ from other fine art prints?

Lithographs differ from etchings, engravings, serigraphs and woodcuts in materials and process. For example, etchings and engravings are printed from a metal plate with incised lines while a lithograph is made from a chemically treated, flat surface. A serigraph is a silkscreen print, and woodcuts are printed from blocks of wood carved in relief.

In each case, what distinguishes the print as original is that the artist participates directly in the creation of the image and approves all impressions by signing and numbering each print.

How is a lithograph made

Artists are invited to work with a highly skilled printer who has been trained in the technical and collaborative aspects of printing for artists. Although some artists do print their own lithographs, many have neither the time nor inclination to learn about the complex chemistry of the medium. Artists who work at The Artists' Press are free to concentrate on creating their images while the collaborating printer attends to the technical requirements. Often, artists rely on the printers' expertise to achieve their aesthetic goals.

First an artist draws an image, in reverse, on a fine-grained stone or aluminium plate. For a one-colour lithograph, this will be the only drawing. Each additional colour will generally require a separate stone or plate.

Artists use the same kinds of tools they would for images on paper or canvas. However, since the basic principle of lithographic printing is the natural repulsion of grease and water, the crayons, pencils, and washes used in lithography have a high grease content.

Once the artist has finished drawing with the greasy black pigments, the printer takes over and chemically treats the stones and/or plates to stabilise the image for printing.

The printer first sprinkles resin on the surface to protect the drawing. Then he or she powders the surface with talc which helps the chemical etch lie more closely to the tiny grease dots which compose the drawing. A solution of gum arabic with tannic and phosphoric acids (called an "etch") is applied to the stone and left for about an hour to combine with the greasy particles and the calcium carbonate of the stone. Often a second layer of gum arabic is applied before the original drawing materials are removed with a solvent and asphaltum is rubbed in.

This process causes the image area, which is now barely visible on the stone, to accept the greasy printing ink, and at the same time, causes the stone's blank areas, when moistened with water, to reject the ink.

At the press, the printer sponges the stone or plate with water, rolls it with ink, and prints a series of trial proofs for the artist to see. The printer continues to make proofs with different colour and paper combinations until the artist is completely satisfied with the result. This final proof is signed by the artist as the bon à tirer ("good to pull"). With this as a standard, the printer is ready to pull the edition.

What do you mean by "Pull" and why do you refer to prints as "impressions"?

To pull a print simply means to print an impression, and impression refers to any one of a number of nearly identical images pulled from the same printing elements

In a multicolor print, how does the printer get the colors in exactly the right places?

Generally the same piece of paper must pass through the press as many times as there are different colours. This process requires exact registration with each run, or pass, through the press.

Registration ensures that each colour or component of an image is printed in exactly the right area. The printer makes tiny pencil marks on each sheet of paper to be printed, and lines them up to correspond with marks on each stone or plate. This way, each impression in the edition is consistent.

What is an "edition" of prints?

Edition refers to all impressions of a particular image that are printed after the artist has given an approval to print. At The Artists' Press, the edition includes all numbered prints, the artist's proofs, the bon à tirer, which is given to the printer, and three impressions for The Artists' Press' archives. All impressions, including the trial proofs, colour trial proofs, and artist's impressions, are documented.

What are artist's proofs and how many are there?

Artist's proofs (sometimes designated A.P.) are impressions just like those in the numbered edition. They are set aside for the artist's personal use. The Artists' Press limits the number of artist's proofs to a maximum of five or up to ten percent of the signed and numbered impressions.

Who determines the quantity of numbered impressions?

Generally the artist and the workshop decide together before the edition is printed. The number is rarely more than fifty numbered impressions and is often considerably smaller.

If all the prints in the edition are sold, do you print more?

Never! After the artist signs and numbers each impression in the edition, all stones and plates are effaced and regrained for future use.

What do the numbers on prints mean?

Usually there are two numbers separated by a slanted line - like a fraction. The bottom number tells you how many impressions there are in the numbered edition; the top number is simply the specific designation for that impression.

Are some prints in the edition more valuable or better than others?

No. In contemporary print editions, an impression with a lower number is no more valuable or better than an impression with a higher number. This popular misconception probably stems from the time when very large editions of prints were made and impressions were sometimes pulled after the printing element began to wear out, resulting in impressions that were not as "crisp" as the first few printed.

It is also true that prints are not signed and numbered in the order in which they were printed. Uniformity among impressions at The Artists' Press is assured because the curator checks each impression against the bon à tirer. Only those impressions meeting The Artists' Press' standards are embossed with the identifying symbols, called chops, of the workshop and the printer; any flawed impressions are destroyed.

If I'm buying a print, should I make sure it has chops?

The chops are important identifying features, but not all original, limited edition prints will have them. Artists who print their own work may not use them. You should always ask for documentation.

What kind of documentation should I ask for?

Most reputable printshops have a documentation sheet for each of their prints, giving a complete description of the print and the steps involved in its making. These documentation sheets are available to anyone who asks.

Do documentation sheets guarantee a print's originality?

Not necessarily. Unfortunately, documentation sheets can be misleading. Read the sheets carefully and ask questions about anything that is unclear. If you are in doubt about a print's authenticity or value, it's best to check with a reputable dealer or a museum print department.

How do you define originality?

Originality is difficult to define; it is a complex concept and has become almost meaningless with respect to prints because it has come into such broad and general use. The term is often used in order to imply that the print is more valuable than it may actually be. An important consideration is the degree to which the artist has participated in the concept and execution of the image.

Are prints that are photomechanically produced "fakes"?

Not necessarily. The important distinction here is between the words produced and reproduced. If an artist and a printer agree to use photographic means to print an image originally conceived for that particular print, which is both limited and documented, then it falls within The Artists' Press' concept of an original print. However, a print that exactly reproduces an existing image (such as a painting), in another medium, would not normally be considered an "original work of art."

What does that mean - "archival" materials?

Basically, the framer is assuring you that everything that comes in contact with the print is pH neutral, or acid-free. This means that nothing in the framing materials will alter or destroy the paper or inks of the lithograph.

How could non acid-free materials harm my print?

Matboard which is not chemically inert and free of acid transfers its acidity to the paper, which over time causes it to turn brown (known as mat burn), become brittle, and even to disintegrate when removed from the mat. Museums recommend that mats be made from 100 percent cotton rag matboard, at least two-ply in thickness. A less expensive alternative is "conservamat", or conservation board, which is made from highly purified pH neutral wood pulp. Some fabrics like linen, cotton, and silk are also safe to use.

Do I need to have a mount around my print?

No. A window mount is a matter of personal taste. Often a print with a large border is simply hinged to a backing - this is called "floating" the print - and requires a spacer, hidden by the edges of the frame, to keep the print from touching the glass in the same way that a window mount does. A window mount may cover the edges of the paper if you prefer (although the edges are considered to be an integral part of the print) or the print may float within the window.

You mentioned hinges; what do you mean?

Prints are never glued or taped directly to a backing with double-sided tape; hinges made of linen or fine Japanese paper hold the print to the backing with non-acidic, non-staining, reversible adhesives.

Why shouldn't my print touch the glass

Both glass and acrylic sheeting (perspex) condense moisture from the air, and if your print touches either, it may actually stick to the surface and be ruined.

Which is better - glass or perspex?

Both will protect your print and filter some of the harmful rays of light. Glass is cheaper, but it breaks easily. Ultraviolet filtering glass and perspex are available at a higher cost. Since glass is heavier than plastic, it may be impractical for very large prints. Always use clear glass and not the non-reflective type. Perspex although lighter, is more expensive than ordinary glass, scratches easily, and carries an electrostatic charge which causes it to attract dust. With time, perspex also tends to sag in the centre, possibly touching your print.

How can light damage my print?

Bright daylight and even bright artificial light can cause colour to fade and papers to discolor and become brittle. Too much light is harmful even when ultra-violet rays are filtered out, so make sure your print is exposed to moderate light for limited hours at a time. Think, too, of rotating your prints from time to time to give them a rest.

What if I want to store my prints?

When handling unframed prints, make sure you work with gloves or very clean hands. Finger smudges, dirt, or dents and tears caused by carelessness will affect the value of your print. If you must handle your print, lift it by diagonally opposite corners to avoid creasing.

Prints should be stored flat, either in or out of mounts, layered between sheets of non-acidic interleaving tissue. Never put your prints on surfaces like corrugated cardboard or wood; not only are these materials acidic, they also have textures that can imprint themselves on your artwork.

Needless to say, your storage area should be clean, dry and protected from insects and vermin. Cockroaches, fishmoths and mice are common despoilers of paper. Simple, relatively inexpensive non-acidic boxes will protect your prints from environmental damage; they are available from art and preservation suppliers.

What if i need to transport my prints?

If a print can be transported flat, it is best to place it between two sheets of acid-free tissue paper, sandwiched between two sheets of stiff corrugated cardboard cut larger in size than the print to be packed. If prints need to be packed in a tube for mailing or airline flights, use a large diameter tube so that the print won't be rolled too tightly. Sandwich the print between two sheets of thick card, which are bigger than the print, and roll them up together. Tape this roll closed to prevent it from springing open in the tube. Detailed packing instructions are available on request.

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