centerlogobigAAD logo


Giclee Prints: Reproductions or originals?

That depends on whom you talk to. The term Giclee is French for spray... in other words, the ink jet printing process. According to some academics: “When an artist such as a photographer or photo-illustrator produces digital media, ink jet prints are considered originals. In this case a giclee is just another media, however, when an artist makes a giclee print of a painting or drawing, it's considered a reproduction. Before desktop publishing, artists made offset and photolithography to produce reproductions, this is the same as digital reproductions. If an artist takes a giclee reproduction and then adds to it by hand then it could be called an original”.

One legal opinion states that: “The distinction results when a photographer reproduces a photographic image via a giclee print it is still an original photograph but when a painter reproduces a painting via a giclee print it is merely a reproduction”. Where the line is crossed and the major problem arises is selling the giclee or inkjet printer image as a valuable collectable. The general market discussion suggests that any professional print organization that values its reputation would sever any relationship with giclee / inkjet work.

The argument against recognizing giclee prints is that “giclee prints can't be adequately policed, either legally or ethically”. The thought goes that such quick and easy reproductions are okay for posters in children’s rooms, but are not suitable as investment-grade artworks. This attitude is unfortunate for the 2D digital artists who have no choice but to make inkjet prints of their works, and yet the perceived value in most cases is minimal as compared to other traditional art forms. The concept of "limited editions" of all digital works (computer art, digital photography, digital serigraph-type work) is sketchy at best and will likely always deflate their values.

It must be remembered that the idea of "limited edition" is a 20th century term. According to Wikipedia “In printmaking an edition is the number of prints struck from one plate, usually at the same time. This may be a limited edition, with a fixed number of impressions produced on the understanding that no further impressions (copies) will be produced later, or an open edition limited only by the number that can be sold or produced before the plate wears. Most modern artists produce only limited editions, normally signed by the artist in pencil, and numbered as a fraction 19/100 to show the unique number of that impression and the total edition size”. Any one of the 100 limited edition is considered to be an original print.

There's are collectors who place a premium on a low edition number because they believe it indicates the artist's greater involvement with the actual printing process, so those particular prints may bring a higher price. Giclee prints are never numbered in the historical sense, rarely does the artist know which one was printed when and where in the sequence, and the individual surface nuances that come with intaglio, lithography, and serigraphy are missing. My advise to clients is to buy digital prints if they like them, the price seems reasonable, and to totally disregard the stated size of edition, uniqueness, and/or claimed investment value, etc. ?

About the Author

Lawrence Klepper

Lawrence Klepper

As an artist, Gallery Management Instructor, Gallery Director, Independent Curator, and Special Exhibitions Coordinator for City art museums, college art galleries, and commercial galleries in Califor...