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The association of giclee printing with its conceptual cousin - inkjet printing - has led some people to question the validity of this printing medium as a true fine art system.

Fine art printmaking has traditionally been based on the concept of creating a master plate - known as the matrix - from the original and using this to reproduce a predetermined number of 'editions' of the original artwork. Historically, the matrix was then destroyed by the artist, producing a set of truly limited edition prints. The more traditional printing techniques such as etching, lithography and linocut have evolved into art forms themselves and required a huge degree of expertise to reproduce the original to the artist’s precise demands.

Nowadays, the production of a printing matrix is no longer necessary as the high quality scanning techniques employed by printing companies results in a perfect facsimile of the original painting or photograph. Giclee printing offers incredibly high degrees of fidelity and richness of colour when compared to other 'traditional' printing methods and because no screen or other mechanical device is used, there is no visible dot pattern. The expertise that is employed involves the careful monitoring of the colour system through the use of colour profiling techniques and the understanding of the colourspace that the machine operates within.

The print-on-demand nature of the printing process enables photographers and artists to maintain full control over the artistic integrity of their work which, coupled with the proven archival permanence of giclee prints (when coupled with specifically designed output media and inks) ensures that the artist's work will be enjoyed for decades. Naturally, the understanding between the artist and their customers that the edition is truly limited must be maintained. The matrix is no longer destroyed, but the original scanned file must be deleted or removed from circulation upon reaching the defined number of released editions, but this has always been the case and the advent of giclee printing has no impact on this mutual understanding.

Giclee printing is indeed a fine art printing technique and one that is truly liberating for photographers and artists wishing to share their work with the widest possible audience whilst achieving a quality that was hitherto unobtainable without huge expense.

Please note Giclee prints are almost always reproduction prints and do not fall under the category of printmaking! For an explanation of the difference please see What is a limited edition print?

Giclee prints suffer from the same affliction that besets much creative work in the digital age - in that it is too easy! Creating an original print, be it an etching,engraving, lithograph, screenprint or photographic print used to entail hours in the studio or darkroom with metal plates,chemicals and equipment, years of experience and infinite patience. Reproducing a print from an original painting or graphic was a technical minefield of variables with lighting exposures, colour separations and halftone screening to contend with. Original prints were created directly on the plate, stone or screen in studios astrewn with medieval implements and smelly, dangerous solvents. Photographers relied on cameras that had to be adjusted one photograph at a time for shutter speed, aperture and film speed with a bewildering array of dials that clicked reassuringly as each frame was winched across the back.

Today anyone with a mobile phone, laptop, and inkjet printer can produce prints quicker and more efficiently than a Rembrandt, David Bailey or Guttenberg. The most basic computer notepad can produce documents that can be justified, sized, kerned and spaced at the flick of a button. Fonts can be stretched and distorted cut,pasted and integrated with graphics in a way that only 50 years ago was virtually impossible.

All this has meant a devaluing of the art of printmaking, the skill of printing and the technical expertise that underpinned the foundations of any creative image. Prior to the digital age  a print was valued for the image and the visual skill of its creator , but also for the sum of skills that had brought that image into existence on the paper. The stripping away of most of these skill intensive processes has led many to believe that anyone can become an artist. The accessibility of giclee printing and the proliferation of giclee prints has led to a certain amount of confusion amongst the public and suspicion from traditional artists, galleries and the art establishment. What determines the quality (and ultimately the value) of an image is as dependent on its context and history as it is on the finished image itself. For many professional artists and galleries giclee prints represent a welcome source of income and an  affordable way of reaching a wider public. Unfortunately there is also nothing to stop any image of any quality being reproduced ad infinitum, on any surface and in any size. A photograph of your cute puppy from your mobile phone can be uploaded to a pc, re-coloured and blown up in Photoshop, posted on the internet and printed out on paper, canvas and a T-shirt  in hours. The same image can be given a suitably arty title and be hung in a gallery alongside work by professional artists. Many galleries will not deal in giclee prints for this reason and many professional artists are openly antagonistic. A long and amusing rant by etcher David Beattie on his site: Original etchings is a good example of this. Personally my gripe is “fine art prints on canvas” - how to pass your photo off as an oil painting?

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