What is a giclee print? How do you make yours?

There’s a saying that ecotourism advocates use to convince locals that preserving their trees, rather than logging them, is worthwhile: “You can cut a tree down and sell it once, or you can leave it alone and sell tickets to see it over and over again.” Artwork poses a similar opportunity: you can sell the original once and it’s gone forever, or you can have it digitally scanned before you let it go, and produce and sell cards and prints of it indefinitely!

So, what is a giclee print? Basically, it’s an inkjet print made with archival inks on archival paper. Here is the best explanation I’ve read of the history of the term and why such prints are legitimate and desirable.

I produce my giclee prints with an Epson Stylus Photo R2880 printer, and I use Epson Velvet Fine Art Paper, which is archival, 100% cotton, acid-free. The results are outstanding, with perfect color fidelity when set up correctly. Then I mat and mount the prints with equal care: archival mat and mounting materials, and a polyester sleeve for protection.

There are just two drawbacks for me on the producing end: the ink and paper is super expensive, and these printers can be very temperamental! A set of ink tanks (six) runs about $130, and just 20 sheets of 11″ x 17″ Velvet Fine Art Paper runs $70. Because the ink nozzles are extremely small (we’re talking picoliter quantities–a billionth of a liter), they are known to clog easily. I haven’t had that happen (yet), but I have had it refuse to take the paper, over and over and over again. It can be pretty frustrating, but the results make it worthwhile.

You might wonder “Why not just use a cheap all-in-one printer? Those are inkjets, too.” Well, if you could see the results side by side, you’d understand immediately–the quality difference is obvious. They accept paper only up to 8.5″ x 11″. And the inks they use aren’t formulated to keep their color and character for 100-200 years. I want my print customers to feel like they’re buying the next best thing to the original artwork!

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