Talk like an Art Head: the Giclée


When I started working at Eduardo Alessandro Studios, I quickly sized up a collection of my favourite prints. These were images that shimmered in fairytale whimsy: Debbie Phillip’s hand-embellished fields of baby blues and pinks that sparkled; Tracy Savage’s quirky scenes with carousals, ice cream shops, and campervans perched cheerfully on seaside crags, and Quentin Blake’s imaginative prints of Roald Dahl’s Sophie and the Big Friendly Giant.

I learned that all of these prints were giclée prints. But what did this curious word mean? And was it pronounced ‘gick-lee’ or ‘guy-clee?’

No matter. I came to associate giclée with spring carnivals, balloons, cupcakes, and cotton candy – with all that is fairytale wonder. No idea what giclée actually meant, I could tell you one thing: it felt good.

But then one day somebody asked me what it meant, and I couldn’t very well say “gum drops and daffodils.”

“Oh that’s just the kind of print it is,” I said breezily, “…and isn’t it just lovely!”

Luckily for me, the customer was satisfied with this sub-par answer. After she left, however, I decided it was time to get my Art Head schooling and asked my colleague what a “guy-clee” was.

“Gi-clee,” Lee corrected me.

Let’s break this down.

It’s not the ‘i’ or even the long é that will trip you up. It’s that troublesome ‘g’ putting on French ‘j’ airs! That is, the ‘g’ in giclée is pronounced the same way as the ‘j’ in je ne se qoi or the ‘s’ in visual.

(I might mention that the Hungarian language has just such a sophisticated sound represented by the diphthong ‘zs.’ Just so you know.)

And if we really want to get our linguistics on, giclée is phonetically known as ʒiːˈkleɪ.

“What is a giclée?” I asked suavely, the ʒ sound effortlessly rolling off my half Hungarian tongue.

“It’s a type of printing process,” Lee explained.

Aha! So I had been right! It was a kind of print! (Okay, so it didn’t actually take a genius to make this leap considering giclée described the medium on the price ticket.. Still, I was pretty chuffed.)

It turns out that about 90% of the prints we sell in the gallery are giclées. It just so happens that the Debbie Phillips, Tracy Savages, and Roal Dahl prints are labelled as such. So now I did a little more research.

Giclée printing is a very high quality printing process. The term was first coined in 1991 by printmaker Jack Duganne who was looking for a sophisticated word to describe this new, state-of-the-art printing process. Of course, he turned to the French, appropriating the word “gicler” which means to squirt – for, indeed, printers squirt ink. But this technology is so superior that it can create prints that faithfully mirror the original. Printed on high-quality acid-free substrates – such as photo paper, watercolour paper or canvas – giclée prints are the go-to for limited edition printing today. Moreover, compared to lithograph printing, giclée printing not only utilises more and higher quality ink colours to produce richer images, but they produce prints with a longevity that will last over 100 years! Now how’s that for some exceptional technology!

Despite what I now know about the true meaning of giclée, my fond associations with cupcakes remain. And now that I know how to pronounce the word, I am even more enamoured with it. What a lovely name to give a child!

Just imagine: “Mom, why did you name me Giclée?”

“Well, I thought I was naming you after dew drops and fairy dust, but it turns out I named you after a printing process.”

But to be fair, it is a very high quality printing process only for the best!

Now, I’ll just have to explain why I chose to spell her named Zsíkli.