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As a giclee printing company we are aware of differing choices an artist has before them when making prints of their artwork. The most popular options for today's artists are either giclee prints or press based prints, sometimes referred to as lithograph prints. Each has their advantages and disadvantages. An artist may want to decide which option is right for them based on a printing company’s production time, efficiency, quality and cost. An educated decision can be made once the artist understands more about each type of print.

First, a giclee print is made by the same process used when someone prints a photo on an inkjet printer at home. Currently most giclee print services use the same name brands people are familiar with such as Canon, Epson and HP.  These are wide format printers which typically have 8 or more colors which can render a photorealistic printed image onto a variety of materials from textured art papers to canvas. These media types normally will be on rolls which automatically feed through the printer as the printer lays out ink in a horizontal motion. 

Giclee printing has been steadily growing in popularity. Artists and photographers are able to take advantage of a growing range of paper and canvas types which might not be as easily available in other forms of printing. In many cases, if the artist is comfortable enough in working with digital images, they can be more involved in the process and do not need to rely as much on the skills of color management expert. Overall what makes giclee printing so popular today is the exceptional print quality and simplification of production which has not been seen in other forms of fine art printing.

Unfortunately because the process uses inkjet technology, the time to print a single image can take up to a minute or more depending on the size of the print. It is not unheard of for a 24x30 inch image printed at the printer’s highest quality setting to take up to 20 minutes. As the technology has improved, the speed of the printers has also increased cutting down on production time of each print. While the printing may see to last a long time, so too will the print. Manufacturers of ink, canvas and papers have invested a lot into making sure giclee prints will stand the test of time. It is not unheard of for these prints to have a rated longevity of 100 to 200 years.

A lithograph print is a much older process, based on utilizing a series of plates and traditional 4 ink colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) to render an image onto paper. The process is more commonly referred to as “Offset printing” which is the same method used by magazine and other industries where high volume low cost printing is necessary. Each plate “stamps” the appropriate color onto the surface based upon the right amount of ink necessary so when all 4 colors are applied, you get a color rich image. Some lithograph printers today have expanded their capacity to include a larger number of colors in order to accommodate the demands of their clients. Unlike the slower printing process a single lithograph can be printed in less than a second however the cost to setup a lithograph print is the same regardless if you are going to print one or many copies. For this reason lithographs will commonly have a fairly steep setup cost but afterwar can be produced at a lower cost per print and have more room for volume discounts. Since the papers are in sheets, more care has to go into making sure each sheet is consistently fed. This might limit what the lithograph company will want to print to. When it comes to actual total cost, the lithograph process makes sense if you are going to have 100s to 1000s of copies made at a time. When it comes to how long the print will last, much is dependent upon the paper and inks used. Most should retain their quality for about 30 years but after that like any printed item, it may start to yellow and fade.

Neither option as any noticeable advantage over production time. This solely relies on the company producing the print and how streamlined their ordering process is. One advantage some giclee companies have is it can easily allow for online ordering with little human intervention. In contrast a lithograph company may need to setup contracts and proof runs. If the lithograph company fails to get it right for the client, they can suffer a loss worth hundred if not thousands of dollars due to setup and supplies used while a giclee manufacturer is not going to be exposed to that sort of risk and may only be out the cost to produce the single print. Both options can provide a proofing print but the artist should contact the company and understand exactly what is expected of them and how the proofing process works.

While there can be some exceptions to the above descriptions, the following generally applies:

Pros of Giclee

  • Able to keep up with the current advances in inkjet technology
  • Ablel to use more colors to match the tones of an original work
  • Uses archival grade inks and media
  • Prints can be produced on demand

Cons of Giclee

  • Slower to produce each print
  • More costly per print, even with high volume runs

Pros of Lithograph

  • Less expensive per print
  • Quick to produce higher volume runs

Cons of Lithograph

  • Not cost effective unless producing 100s or more copies
  • More difficult to match colors of an original

An artist really needs to decide which is better for what they are planning on print and sell. If they plan to sell their prints at lower prices and may be willing to accept less accurate color matching, then the lithograph makes more sense. It will take a greater upfront cost since a detailed setup process is required but if the artist has the customer base it can be very profitable. On the other hand, if they are just testing their market or only want to offer a print seen as a higher end product, the will probably opt for the giclee. A giclee can be produced on demand and there is less fiscal risk for an artist just starting out.

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