guide to buying art prints neicy frey.jpeg

If you are shopping for art prints, this article is for you. All prints are not created equal…different printing techniques produce a wide array of quality and longevity of art prints. Here is some info that will help you understand the differences so you can make savvy decisions with your print-buying! I’ve used some images of my new Sunprints collection for examples for you too.

what’s a giclee?

Giclee (say “zhee’clay”) is a French word that means “to spray”. Giclee prints are art prints made with an ink jet printer, which sprays pigments onto canvas or paper. Giclee prints can reproduce any form of 2-D artwork, like a painting or drawing.

four things that define a print as a giclee:

1. resolution

Original artwork is professionally scanned or photographed at a high resolution, 300dpi or higher

2. inks

Ink used for giclee is pigmented, not dye. The printer uses at least 8 different colored pigmented inks in the printing process

3. paper/ canvas

Material that is printed on must be 100% archival. Giclees can be printed onto canvas, gloss paper, matte paper, velvet paper, watercolor paper and specialty artisan paper

4. printer

Giclees are printed on a wide format ink jet printer

sunprints giclees and digital prints by neicy frey.jpeg

{Top image is digital print, lower image is giclee print}

digital printing

Basically, any print that’s missing one of these criteria is considered a digital print and not a giclee. The main defining difference in quality between giclee and digital printing is the longevity of the prints. The quality of the materials and process of digital printing are not archival and you may see natural deterioration caused by sunlight and humidity fairly soon after the initial printing.

Because the technology for high quality printing is so much more accessible than it used to be, many artists are able to make their own giclees or digital prints instead of sourcing out the work to a specialty art print shop.

Digital printing is easy and convenient to do yourself, and the prices of digital prints compared to giclees reflect this. In order to cut down costs, non-archival materials can be substituted in the printing process. The buyer ends up getting the short end of the stick if they aren’t aware of the differences and of what they are buying.

Often times artists will outsource their printing to online companies that handle high volume digital printing, which is not fine art printing. Some of these companies drop-ship directly to the customer, which also makes it so that you can’t get an artist-signed print.


be a wise art print buyer

Here are some great questions to ask the person you are buying your art prints from:

  • Where was the print made?

  • What kind of ink was used to make the print? (giclee = pigmented inks)

  • Is the paper or canvas archival quality?

  • Is the print signed and dated by the artist?

  • How many prints have been or will be made of this artwork? (This is called the “edition”. When a print is ‘limited edition’ it means that there are a limited number of prints of that artwork, which makes it more valuable and collectable. If there is no limit to the edition, it is called ‘open edition’. Your limited edition print should have the number of the print and edition written on it)


something for everyone

If you are collecting art from a professional artist, it is worth the investment to get the highest quality, most archival print you can buy…in other words, a giclee print.

If you are looking for something that doesn’t necessarily need to be Fine Art, like a poster or decorative art, where longevity isn’t of the utmost concern, then digital prints are a great value and you can get a lot of short-term bang for your buck.

what’s in my Printshop?

The first round of prints I’ve offered in my new printshop, “Sunprints,” are giclee prints. They are beautiful reproductions of the original work and they will last a long, long time. I will eventually be carrying more giclees, but may also offer digital prints at some point too—smaller pieces at a great price point! I will always be clear on whether a print is digital or giclee…and now you know what the difference is!

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My dear friend Kate modeling a beautiful 20 x 24 “ GICLEE print on archival paper