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UK fine art landscape prints by David Ross

Archival Giclee Printing

Dawn over Carney Fell, Lake District

Dawn, Lake District

I thought you might like to know a bit about how our prints are made, and understand what makes them different from the generic sort of inkjet prints you might find elsewhere.

Giclee is a French word that loosely translates as ‘spurt’ or ‘squirt’. It comes from the French term for a nozzle, ‘gicleur’, and the verb for what an ink nozzle does is ‘giclee’.

I’ve heard giclee described derisively as a fancy term for inkjet, and I suppose in the broadest sense that’s true. In practice, however, a giclee print is an extremely high quality print made with very expensive machinery, using the highest quality archival inks available. It is ‘inkjet’ in the sense that the inks are sprayed onto printing paper, just as your ordinary office inkjet does. Except that your ordinary office inkjet doesn’t use fine pigment inks, or have the same precision. A good quality giclee printer can cost upwards of £60,000, and then you have to have a skilled operator who knows how to get the best out of the machine to produce a top quality print.

Its for that very reason that I don’t print my own fine art prints. You need a very expensive printer and the knowledge of how to use it to get the best giclee prints. So I send my printing projects to a professional printer, a member of the prestigious Fine Art Trade Guild of Printers.

So, what’s the advantage of a giclee print over an ordinary inkjet print?

Balmoral in Autumn

Balmoral in Autumn

Well, let’s take the ink for a start. You might expect ordinary ink to last 20 years if you are lucky. Chances are that if the print is exposed to daylight regularly (like on your office wall or your sitting room) it will start to fade long before that time. So in ten years, or a lot sooner, your lovely print will start to look not quite so lovely!

By contrast, a quality giclee print made with good pigment inks can be expected to last anywhere from 80 to 200 years under ideal conditions. The particular combination of paper and ink that we favour has been tested to last 200 years under ideal conditions. Ideal conditions usually means stored in a dark room, away from the damaging effects of direct sunlight. Since that scenario will probably only arise if you store the print as a collector’s item in a vault, a more likely lifetime of a print on display in a public place like your home or office is 100 years.

Then there’s the paper. Paper manufacturers have made extraordinary strides in the last decade or so; photo paper is so much better than it was when I first got an inkjet printer for our office. But ordinary inkjet paper suffers from the same drawback as ordinary inkjet ink; longevity. While cheap inkjet paper might look good for a year or two, it will eventually yellow and accelerate the fading of the ink. By contrast, fine art giclee paper, such as that made by brands like Hanemuhle, Somerset, Arches, and Museo, is made to a very high standard and will last for centuries if properly cared for. Quality fine art paper comes in several varieties, with different colour tones, and different levels of gloss or matte finish, suitable for different styles of photography. But the bottom line is that this acid-free paper will last a lot longer than you will, or your children, or your children’s children.

We tend to favour Hahnemuhle Fine Art Baryta for my prints. This paper offers a very rich gloss finish, on a bright white base. The ‘baryta’ part of the name refers to barium sulphate, which is added as a coating to the cellulose base to produce the bright white and high gloss finish that baryta papers are known for.  I do use other papers, depending on the particular image, papers such as Hahnemuhle Photo Rag or German Etching for a softer, matte look.

In short, a combination of quality pigment inks and acid-free fine art paper will ensure that your prints look good for generations. Your giclee print will indeed be Fine Art, to be treasured and handed down from one generation to the next.