Giclée (pronounced "zhee-clay"), taken from the concept of French verb "gicler" meaning "to squirt" or "to spray", is the process of making fine art prints from a digital source using ink-jet printer.
Giclée printing has been most commonly used for the reproduction of art. This is, by far, the closest piece of art to an original one. Different from the traditional lithographic print, which is commonly printed with an offset printer, Giclée prints are literarily squirted or sprayed with vivid color inks intelligently through the nuzzles of and ink-yet printer designed for that use. The quality of print results in a gamut of vibrant colors that penetrate the fibers of the media fusing into a perfect archival chemistry.
The advantage of a giclée print for art reproduction is that you are most likely to get a super close result to it's original (if the digital image comes from an original painting), not only in color fidelity but in medias as well. If you have an oil painting and you would like to get reproductions from it, you can get those giclée prints made on canvas! the same is with watercolor paintings, you can get the giclée prints of a watercolor printed on fine art paper with texture or smooth surfaces. The possibilities are endless and you will never ever, compromise quality. And the great news is that the inks and surfaces are 100% archival.
Fine art prints of original digital art and digital photography can be made using the giclée printing process. Products, such as, greeting cards, bookmarks and any other form of stationary can be also made using the same process but keep in mind that these will still be considered as a fine art prints and the cost of making them is higher than the same products printed with regular offset printing, and of course, the quality will also be higher due to the archival property of the materials used.
A true giclée print is made with archival inks and medias of museum quality.
Be aware that giclée printing is an extremely detailed and delicate labor and that there are many places who think they make giclée prints but they don't. Giclée printing is not "Fast Art" , it is not easy nor fast to make. I use the same concept of food quality to illustrate what I'm trying to say; fast foods are of less quality and poor nutrition compared to home made or slower cooking foods in restaurants, which ingredients are fresh, and the cook puts time into a great meal, different from fast food which is made in seconds with processed ingredients.
Giclée services are not cheap, therefore it is important to select a good source for this service to make your investment worth the money. If you ever own a giclée print well made, you will enjoy it for about 95 years or so. Due to the archival advantage in materials, giclée colors will look as vivid through all the years as when you first saw them; if proper care is given, that is. For canvas prints it is recommended to be either stretched or mounted on acid free surface and for prints made on fine art paper it is recommended to be mounted behind glass using Acid free materials as well.
The process of giclee printing may vary and can be subdivided into many steps due to it's complexity, but briefly and simplified, the big steps usually occur like follows:
1- Capturing the image - Digitalization
For the capture of an original art piece, devises such as, drum scanners, flat bed scanners, camera backs, can be used. Sometimes a professional digital camera can work fine. It all depends on factors such as, the size of the original art piece and the desired size of the reproductions. I would always strive for the most professional choice of input for best output results. The digital format of the capture can be saved as tif, jpg, pdf, etc. I personally prefer .tif For it's high digital quality.
2- Digital Imaging - color correction
This step consists in correcting the digital image in the computer against the original art piece (if available), making adjustments in color, dusting and cleaning up the image, and if needed or requested, retouching and enhancements can be also made. Color correcting is time consuming and can take many hours of interrupted work.
Once the image is cleaned up and corrected, it's time for testing. This can be the most tedious and challenging part of all giclée making steps, specially if the digital artist and the client are too meticulous to let a small detail pass. Proofing means going through a series of tests prints in small scale with small color variations, then compared to each other and against the original (if available). This can take as little or as many proofs until you finally achieve the best match. In proofing we are looking for things like color fidelity, resolution quality and visual aspects that will give you a glance of the final print you are looking for.
As you can imagine, this process far from being tedious and time consuming is very expensive as materials such as, papers, canvas and inks are being used; but equally crucial and necessary if one wants to have a close result, specially in colors to those in the original art piece.
4- Printing the final prints
After the best proof is finally chosen, it's time to print the final. The best part of all, to my taste, not only for the fact that the best quality print is in place to get printed, but for the fact that an artists will soon be smiling seeing his or her giclée prints made.
After printing is complete, there are other tasks, such as, cutting, trimming and UV protection coating for canvas, but for the most part, these 4 steps are the most popular and the most relevant of the giclée making.
Great results are achieved with dedication and passion for what you do. A museum quality giclée print is one of those things you can't make without either of these.