Unlike most FAQs, which are questions which the webmaster thought that people should have asked, this one really is a collection of questions I've been asked.
Why do you object so much to the use of test results to advertise giclées?
There are many reasons, but most of them are based on the fact that the models themselves have never been tested. I have seen too many similar models in much more critical fields, which should have been designed better, which turned out to be invalid. Prospective buyers are not warned that these promises of longevity are based on untested simulations. Some of the prospective buyers probably don't understand what a simulation is.
Allow me to explain the second point.
I have seen models and simulations used in many fields, and when compared to the reality which they are supposed to simulate, they often turn out to be wanting. A few examples:
Models used for earthquake prediction, especially in Japan. All of the large scale research (which I used to track in Science leads to the same conclusion: After decades of expensive research, earthquake prediction is still not reliable enough to be useful, and the money is better spent on hardening buildings. These models are life-critical, and are tested under the sponsorship of governments with lots of money and no ax to grind (we hope), and still turn out to have little predictive value.
The Phase II tests for getting a drug approved for marketing in the United States are real-life tests on real people, under conditions very similar to those under which the new pharmaceutical will be used. They have already be subject to laboratory simulations and tests in appropriately chosen animals. Many (most?) drugs which survive the Phase II tests fail in larger-scale Phase III testing because of unexpected and unwanted results. Enough drugs are withdrawn, or have stringent limitations placed on their use, even after they have been approved for sale, and sometimes after they have been used for years, because of unexpected and unwanted effects. And yet the people touting the longevity of giclees want me to accept on faith that their laboratory projections of what will happen after decades of real-world exposure, even though the simulations themselves have never been tested against a reality of decades, and couldn't have been.
While studying art history, I was of course exposed to forgers' attempts at 'simulations' pretty close to the real world, such as their burying bronze statuettes for several months in order to simulate long-term aging in the ground. Many of the forgeries were exposed. The 'simulations' did not come close enough to simulating what time does to an artwork. People attempting to forge old paintings usually start by buying a cheap painting belonging to the time and place whose work they are attempting to forge, for use as a substrate. They know that they cannot effectively simulate the effects of the passage of time on an artwork.
You can find plenty more of your own examples, but 'nuff said.
How are giclees made?
Since a giclee is printed by a computer printer, it always goes through a stage of being a digital file. The most common method of making this file is first to create a conventional artwork - a watercolor, drawing, or whatever - and then scan it. Some artists use software to create their works directly, using a mouse and keyboard, but they more often call them "digital art" than "giclees". Some draw directly on an electronic pad to enter their work directly into the computer, a method which some claim has more in common with conventional drawing. I would also be tempted to compare it to traditional stone lithography.
Some giclees have additions made by hand, sometimes by the artist and sometimes by a hack whom he has never met. This is usually done to make them seem more artistic and original and thus jack up the price, but some artists have written to me saying that they intended to make such changes with true artistic intent, and that they think of each of these works as a slightly different original. I believe them, but watch out for the others.
I am a starving artist. If you don't want me to sell giclees, how do you expect me to eat?
I have nothing against people selling giclees. I object to people advertising giclees by stating hypothetical projections of longevity as if they were facts, or selling giclees for thousands of dollars to people who don't understand what these 'originals' are.
I am a starving artist who has had a terrible experience with giclees I ordered from one of the companies selling that service to artists, but I still want to eat. What do you suggest? A variation on this question:
I am a starving artist who would like to earn a living by selling something more popular than my oil/acrylic paintings, and which I can produce faster, but I don't like the idea of selling as my own a final product which is or could be produced by technicians in a print shop. What do you suggest?
You might learn lithography, etching, engraving, or some other traditional popular art technique, and produce either original prints or prints after your own paintings. You may end up enjoying both the learning and the doing.
You may have trouble believing that this is a frequent question, but it's true:
Where can I have giclees made from my works?
Your best bet to have good giclees properly made from your works would be to ask other artists working in your medium, and preferably in your own area, who have already done it. I don't know of any good online lists of companies providing this service. The best list I know is the list of Scanning and Printing Services at ODP, but it has problems. One is the fact that it is not up-to-date.
I print my artwork on X paper using a Y-inch-wide Z printer and Q brand archival inks. Can I legitimately call my prints giclees?
We're not only back to underwear and lingerie, but to real estate agents and Realtors as well.
At what level of quality, and after adding how many bows and lace frills, is it legitimate to start calling underwear "lingerie"? After adding how many software, hardware, and chemical refinements is it legitimate to start calling inkjet prints "giclees"?
There seems to be no legal definition of "lingerie", so each person in or out of the underwear business seems to use his own judgement as to what is fair. Similarly, as far as I know, there is no legal distinction between an "inkjet print" and a "giclee", so you will have to use your own judgement as to what is fair. (When some people in the real estate business felt that they had a similar problem, they had the word "Realtor" registered as a trademark, to distinguish themselves from some other people in similar businesses. But noone seems to have registered "giclee", and it's probably too late now.) As far as I can tell, if your printer is wider than a standard office printer, if it uses more than four colors of ink, if it is advertised as being supplied with RIP software, and if the advertising for it is obviously aimed at some kind of professional image-handlers, and not at office workers, you'll be in good company calling your prints "giclees". If you're missing some of those features, your guess is as good as mine. Just try as hard as you can to make sure that each of your customers understands what he's getting and what he's not getting before he buys.
How can you compare a giclee printing system which uses 2989 color values with an ordinary inkjet printing system which uses 50 to 100 color values?
There are at least two questions here. The first is whether the number of color values in an ordinary inkjet printing system is a limiting factor in determining some kind of humanly significant 'quality' or 'value'. At the very best, increasing the number of color values (or any similar parameter) can only make the system's commands to the ink nozzles correspond more closely to the difference in value of the 'original' digital file. Such parameters cannot even add anything to the accuracy with which the system turns the original artwork (if it's not a digital original) into a digital file, much less add anything to the artistic value of that image, or to the physical output on paper or cloth, which is several steps further removed.
To use an analogy from acoustics and music: It's quite likely that even a cheap desktop computer can match a given frequency better than the best musician. But as a matter of fact, not only to the great orchestras of the world make no attempt to match the A 440 standard, they often intentionally tune well above it, because the musicians feel that a sharper sound is perceived by humans as producing better music. So much for mathematically accurate reproduction.
The second question goes back to one of the old fights between the Impressionists and the Neoclassicists. Do we improve the results by providing more and more information, a greater number of colors executed on the work, and more gradual transitions, or by juxtaposing a few strong colors and letting the viewer's brain create the blends and the transitions? If more color values necessarily create a better artwork, then the Impressionists were just wrong. Remember the nasty remarks about the blues on the skin of Renoir's young ladies? If you prefer the question in musical terms, does quadraphonic necessarily produce better music than stereo, or since a human being has only two ears anyway, should we just provide two channels and let the listener's brain provide the presence?
Remember the audio system ads of the 1950s promising an almost flat frequency response up to 25000 Hz? The people writing the ads didn't mention that people can't hear that high, though as Flanders and Swann said, "it ought to please any passing bat." They also didn't point out that no human being's hearing has a flat frequency response, and there's no reason to think that a flat frequency response in hearing would even be better.
A reader pointed out that if achieving largest range of hue, saturation, and intensity is really important, traditional photographic printing processes - silver halide and its descendants - are vastly superior to anything which can be done with giclee, since if one ignores quantum effects (as one should in the everyday world) the values which can be achieved by traditional photographic printing processes are infinite. If one chooses not to ignore quantum effects, the values attainable in a photographic print are probably only millions of times more numerous than those attainable by giclee.
Of course, large photographs are more expensive than $10.00 giclees, but they're a lot cheaper than $1000.00 giclees. But it's your right to pay more for fewer color values if you want to.
I realize that I sound polemical in this section, but this argument is usually presented to me wrapped in attacks on my intelligence, knowledge, and bathing habits. In fact, I don't know the answers to any of these questions; I'm merely pointing out some questions which might be asked before one accepts the claims for giclee printing on faith.
Why don't you mention the difference between the newer pigment-based inks and the older dye-based inks?
I really should have mentioned it, to point out that by carefully calling the newer inks "pigment-based" and the older ones "dye-based", and by implying that pigments are more stable than dyes, some of the giclee marketers are playing another of their lingerie/underwear games. There is no clear scientific distinction between a pigment and a dye, as you will see if you look through the chemical and biological journals. As to pigments being more stable, chlorophyll is invariable called a pigment by biologists. If you think that this archetypical "pigment" is very stable and lasts a long time under real-life conditions, try going outside on an autumn day. If you still think that "pigments" are stable, cook up some broccoli. I suspect that I know what the giclee marketers mean, but haven't been able to get hold of good accounts of the chemistry of either type of giclee ink to check. On the other hand, I have received an email from a seller of giclees, who has every reason to exaggerate the advantages of modern giclees and no reason to disparage them, who performed an experiment and got results he calls "shocking".
Will the colors on my giclee smear if they get wet, like the colors on output of my ordinary inkjet printer do?
I don't know whether the colors on all uncoated giclees will run, though I suspect that they will. I do know that I got an email telling me that one giclee did run when the owner's granddaughter touched it with wet hands. That writer summarized the many environment-related problems I have read of in my email in one short sentence which I liked: Giclees are not user-friendly. I also got a reliable report of a giclee being stained by a sneeze.
What to do about it? You may want to mount your giclee under glass to protect it from many of the ills which art is heir to. If you don't want to do that, you might try coating it with the one of the fixative sprays which art supply stores sell for protecting charcoal drawings and watercolors. I think that I can summarize the emails I've gotten by saying that some fixatives provide adequate protection from both humidity and light damage, when combined with common sense. On the other hand, applying the fixative improperly may damage the print.
What do you think of Company W, which has become famous testing the longevity of giclee inks and systems?
Aside from my reservations about the whole accelerated-model approach of Company W, which I have explained above, one has to take into account the fact that most of that company's "research" is paid for in one way or another by the giclee industry itself, including individual companies and industry organizations (if the information which I have received is correct). The eponymous founder of the company, whom I assume is still part-owner, has also worked as a consultant for the industry, and presumably still does. To what extent, if at all, this might cast doubt on their objectivity and honesty is a question discussed in sources much more scientific and serious than this site.
What do you think of Company F, which sells reviews and other articles about giclee systems, and especially printers?
As to Company F, they use interlinked hyphenated URLs to try to increase their Website traffic. In my associations with certain major Internet directories, I have learned to consider tricks like this sleazy, though legal and not technically false. They also used to call themselves an "academic", "non-profit" body. This may have been legally correct in the country in which they are located, but it is clear that the main (or only) purpose of the site was to make money for the owner. There's nothing wrong with making money by selling one's services, but once again, one can ask if the way in which the information about themselves was presented was completely honest, and if it casts doubt on the honesty of the technical information they provide. I'm glad to say that as far as I can tell, they no longer call themselves "non-profit", and de-emphasize their "academic" status.
It's only fair to note that I have ordered some of the free sample reports supplied by Company F, and found no problems in the reports or in the way the transaction was handled.
And yet another aside: Company F is one of those sources which points out that Company W is supported, and their work paid for, by the giclee industry, and that this might reflect on their objectivity.
Don't you know that in French slang "giclée" means ...?
Yes, I do, but I'm not a two-year-old, and in any case I don't see what that has to do with the marketing of giclee prints.