What Is a Gicleé?

Printworks Gallery is part of Moab Printworks, LLC, a source of high quality fine art prints known as Gicleés. We can produce beautiful, museum quality prints from digital files made from hundreds of our artist’s original works of art. Want to know more? Read on.

What are gicleé prints? Simply stated they are inkjet prints with a pedigree. The French word itself means “to spray,” and gicleés are made by the process of using high quality inkjet printers to spray tiny dots of colored ink onto paper or another medium. When made with care using state-of-the-art printers and archival inks, the result is gallery or museum-quality prints that capture the beauty of the originals or bring out the best in photographs.

It all started in the late 1980s with the introduction of the Iris printer, a machine originally intended to make check-proofs for offset printing presses. The machines used four inks similar to those used by the printing presses, the familiar CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) color sets. Unfortunately, the Iris printers didn’t do a good job of matching the results seen on the presses. However, it was soon discovered that while the Iris machines did not have a bright future in the pre-press market, they could be used to make striking reproductions of scanned photographs or digital files made from artwork.

Graham Nash, of the music group Crosby, Stills & Nash, saw an opportunity and in 1989 purchased an Iris printer to reproduce his photographs. Two years later he founded Nash Editions to produce high quality fine art reproductions using the Iris system. One of Nash’s printmakers, Jack Duganne, adapted the term gicleé to describe the results.

Although gicleé prints made on the Iris printers were pleasing to the eye, they were not very stable. The inks were water-soluble and a single drop of water could easily ruin a fine print. Efforts were made to solve this by spraying or laminating a protective layer onto the prints. Later, inks were improved but the Iris system was never able to produce prints that could be described as truly archival, able to hold up for the long term.

Around the turn of the century Iris printers were overtaken by large format printers made by other companies, notably Epson. These printers use pigment inks that are more durable and able to resist the ravages of time and the environment. While most of today’s versions still use ink sets based on the classic CMYK model, additional ink tones have been introduced to further improve the quality of reproduction. For example the Epson fine art machines used at Moab Printworks print with eight to eleven archival pigment inks. When printed on acid-free papers, 100% cotton rag art papers, these inks are rated to remain bright for a hundred years or more with proper care.