Making Giclee or Art Prints

Is it worth creating art or Giclee prints of your work and what does it involve?

Vincent van Gogh's
Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Night" is a popular painting that many people have prints of in their homes. VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images

Think about all the time and effort you put into a painting. And then the joy of selling it. Trouble is, when it is gone, it is gone. And you have to start all over again. Now imagine selling it over and over again, at a reduced price so that many others can share your work, with minimum effort and high long-term returns. That is what can happen if you make prints of your paintings. The methods available today are very sophisticated and easy, with minimum outlay.

Why should I buy an art or Giclee print rather than an original?
As an artist, I thought that the only thing to spend my hard-earned cash on would be an original work. After all, they are often available for reasonable amounts if you look for them. And, I must admit to being a bit snobbish about it really. Someone once said that when you buy an art print, all you are really buying is the frame... the print is not worth much, and will not usually appreciate in value, as could a painting. But then I remembered when I first began to collect art for my walls. I certainly could not afford originals, and art prints were my only option. In that way, I could look at really great works of art for a minimum amount of money. It’s a bit like writing a song, you don’t sell the song, you sell records.

How did you decide to make Giclee prints?
First of all, I thought it necessary to see if people liked my work and if there might be a market for art prints.

Yes, I had exhibitions and sold quite a few pieces in them. But many of my friends said they liked my work, but could not afford it. So I tested the market and made greetings cards of my paintings on my computer at home. I displayed these at my exhibitions, and to my surprise they all sold. They cost me about 50p each to make, taking into account the card stock, envelopes, cellophane wrappers etc and I sold them for £1.50 each.

Selling them all led me to believe that my work was well liked and that there might be a market for prints.

How did you find a printer who makes Giclee prints?
By accident, really. I requested information from a number of specialist printers who advertised in artist’s magazines and found this to be very helpful. Then, at a networking meeting, I casually mentioned to a friend that I was thinking about having art prints made of my paintings. Shortly afterward I received a call from a local printer who had just seen my friend, who gave him my name. Since he had recently invested in the latest equipment for producing high-quality Giclee prints but had never used it for fine art prints, he asked if he could quote on my printing needs. We met shortly afterward. I found it useful to use a local printer, as I could easily drop by to review progress, but I don’t think this is totally necessary, as they will always send a proof prior to printing.

In giclee printing, no screen or other mechanical devices are used and therefore there is no visible dot screen pattern. The image has all the tonalities and hues of the original painting. Giclee (pronounced Gee’clay) is a French term meaning to spray or squirt, which is how an inkjet printer works.

However, it is not the same as a standard desktop inkjet printer and is much larger. Giclee prints are a little over a meter wide and are often affectionately referred to as a “knitting machine” as they look very similar.

Do Giclee printers use ordinary printers inks? 
No. They use special light-fast inks, which, if kept out of the sun, will remain true for up to 25 years. The way the image is scanned is different also. The original is scanned directly on a drum scanner, in my printer’s case, it can scan flexible images up to 500 x 700 mm. If the image is larger, or cannot be taken off the stretcher frames, then a large format transparency must be taken of the piece, and this is then scanned. I have done one this way, and find that it works quite well, but you must factor in the cost of the professional photograph, and the additional time it takes.

What kind of printing paper is used for Giclee prints?
Giclee prints can be produced on any paper as you wish, and printers generally have several specific ones to choose from. I chose to print onto canvas. My original paintings are on canvas, and I wanted the Giclee prints to be as close to the originals as possible, not only in color, but also in texture. And canvas prints are much more durable than paper as they do not crease when rolled for mailing.

How many Giclee prints did you have to make?
One of the advantages of Giclee printing is that once the scan is made, you can order as many or as few as you wish. My printer has a minimum order of one meter (they usually do charge by the meter as canvas is expensive, and generally comes on a roll a meter wide). I could easily have gone larger, but I sized my giclee prints 11 x 11” (28 x 28 cm). The main reason for this is that this particular size would fit standard Ikea frames which are the best I could find for the money and are very popular here. And as there was spare canvas left over, we printed small ones too…5 x 5” (12.5 x 12.5 cm) to use up the extra canvas. My original intention was to use these small Giclee prints as samples, perhaps to someone who was considering purchasing an original, but surprisingly they have become very popular, so I have included them in the limited edition count. Again, they fit in standard frames.

How much to charge for your Giclee or art prints is the big question. How do we ever decide on pricing art? I took the scan cost plus a meter’s prints and the cost of mailing tubes etc and divided it by the number of prints per meter. I then marked it up to double my cost for my basic price on my website and for selling directly through my exhibitions. The large ones worked out at 45 pounds each, the small ones 15 pounds. I chose to keep the cost low to increase turnover.

How else do you market your Giclee or art prints? 
Besides my website and exhibitions, I have been steadily finding art shops to sell my work.

My local art shop has a mini exhibition every three weeks and I was asked to display in there. I sold eight giclee prints in that time. I have also found another three retail outlets that have been willing to frame my work for their own display. Obviously, they need to make a profit too, and I offer them a discount. Of course, once my initial costs have been covered, then the profit margin will increase. I am also considering venturing on to E-bay.

How did you choose the paintings to print? 
As I had to be selective because of the cost involved, I asked people who came to my exhibition which paintings they thought would sell the best and made my decisions based on the response. My first one was . Many liked that one. I hung a print beside the original in the exhibition, and it did quite well. The colors matched perfectly, although you will never capture the energy of the original in an art print. I then went on to make another three (Two’s company,Silver DollarsLight of Day all of which fitted on to the drum scanner, and then another, Weathering the Storm, which I had to have photographed.

How does the limited edition concept work with art or giclee prints? 
I did some research on this also and decided to limit each edition and sign each one. Usually the smaller the edition, the higher the cost, but you can do any amount you wish. I decided on 500 and kept the cost low. The one thing I have noticed about limited editions is that I have to be disciplined about recording where each one went, how many I have available, etc. and I do this in a simple manual catalog. I use an off-the-shelf order book when I make a sale, and use this to periodically bring my inventory up to date. It is easy to review my sales from this system, and I can reorder when my stocks become low. I do not have to carry a large inventory or have the whole run printed at once as in days of old. I get what I need when I need them. I developed a  certificate of authenticity, which I attach to each print I sell.

Did you have any difficulties in the printing process? 
Yes. It was my printer’s first time for this and we learned a lot together. They were very helpful indeed, and although mistakes were made, we worked on acceptable solutions. It was a joint effort. I am quite picky about these things having worked previously in corporate communications, so I knew what was possible, and would not accept anything less. I am delighted with the results.

Do you plan to produce more art prints in the future? 
Yes. If someone sees one of my paintings that has not been printed yet, I would be willing to consider printing it. And when I sell a piece which I think would work for art prints, I can have it printed before delivery. In that way, the original will finance the art prints, to generate an income long after the original has gone!

About the Author: Denise Macgregor is an artist who produces both paintings and prints. Her website is at www.denisemacgregor.com.