October 26, 2020
Move over ticketed gallery doors and 6 figure prices for fine art!
Now artists far and wide can reproduce stunning, tactile prints with all the pizzaz of their original works of art—from the snuggly comfort of their own homes.
The term for these high-quality digital reproductions: “Giclee,” was coined by the original printmaker Jack Duganne in 1991. Today, Giclee prints (also called fine art prints and archival prints) have expanded to cover most high-quality prints made with inkjet printers, pigment-based inks, and archival paper.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how I’ve made these prints from my work at home, and how you can too:
Most inkjet printers use dye-based inks, but you’ll need pigment for museum-grade quality and longevity. (Pigment-based inks holds color, quality, and vibrancy better than dye, especially when exposed to light).
Research current printer comparison guides to pick the best model for your needs. I selected the Expression Premium EcoTank 7700 because it houses a two-year supply of ink and has a reasonable startup cost.
Pro tip: Check out the costs of inks too—they can be highly specific to your printer. For example, one of the most popular large format printers on the market; the Expression Photo HD XP-15000, is hotly debated as either excellent or an absolute drain thanks to its pricey running costs.
Archival/Giclee prints can be produced using a wide variety of paper types, weights, and finishes—and selecting which you’ll use will heavily direct the look and feel of your art. Let’s start with the basics: materials and weight.
Materials: High-quality prints are typically made from cotton (rag) fiber, wood cellulose, or a combo of the two. You may also select Alpha-Cellulose, which can be less expensive and sturdier even than cotton. Use acid and lignin-free paper as well, to avoid color degradation.
Weight: Paper weight is defined in terms of “GSM.” Typical household printer paper is around 60-100 GSM, and the minimum GSM recommended for art prints is around 210-300 GSM. This provides a weighty and sturdy surface that will endure and replicate the feeling of original paintings.
Pro tip: Check what paper weight your printer can handle—and HOW. In most cases, heavier paper needs to be fed into a rear trey and is best handled with your printer set to “thick paper” mode.
Generally, all inkjet fine art paper will be made with high-quality materials, be acid-free, and minimum weight. Paper finish is really where selection comes in.
Finishes: Paper finishes generally range in forms of Glossy, Semi-Gloss/Luster/Satin, and Matte. (Although nuanced combos/selections are available in all major paper carriers).
Try a sample pack of papers from your printer brand (like Epson’s or Canon’s) to find your best fit. If your seeking to bring out fine details and juicy colors in your artwork, you’ll want to lean towards the glossier side. If you enjoy the textured, more watercolor pastel look—matte may be best.
If you are uploading an original artwork, start by either scanning the piece or taking a high-quality photograph and uploading the image to your computer. (If you made a digital creation—you’re all set for the next step.)
From there, use a digital art or photography program like Adobe Photoshop to make sure your art is a minimum 300 DPI (Dots Per Square Inch) resolution. The default resolution of computer images is 72 DPI and will produce a lackluster or fuzzy image by art print standards.
Pro tip: Are you producing your art on a program that does not allow you to toggle the DPI? (Open-source free painting program Krita, for example, currently does not allow you to change the DPI of exported images made with it). If so, use a free DPI Converter online like Clideo to ready your images for printing.
Next up, color. Programs like Adobe Photoshop will use color models such as CMYK and RGB to describe the color of your image. The colors available on a given printer are known as the printer’s “gamut”— and you’ll need to check if any of your colors on your painting are “out of gamut” before printing. If available, use your program’s “soft proofing” feature to see what your image will look like within your printers’ color range on your screen.
Industry-standard advice: CMK is best for physical prints, and RGB is best for art that stays on a screen.
Kidding. Kind of. But get ready for your first several prints to be not at all what you imagined, smeared, or very ill-suited to your paper choices.
You’ll probably go through several rounds of printing and color tweaking until you get things just right and waste a ton of expensive paper and ink because you’ve forgotten which side is the “printable” side and taken it out of the box already. Printers are still printers, and at times they’ll have you as mad as they did when they refused to print your English essay in the middle of the night for no discernible reason.
Don’t panic, just expect some upfront resistance before you have your perfect process assembly line down pat. Finding the right settings for it all is a work of art in itself.