Hand printed, Digital and Giclee Prints Explained

Today, when referring to specifically to artwork, the word ‘print’ is used to describe both digitally reproduced and hand-printed work. It is not always clear to prospective print buyers which process has been used to reproduce the print and the advances and accessibility of digital printing technology has resulted in some confusion.

Please note: I am referring here to the method by which the print has been reproduced or printed — not created. Advances in digital technology and the development of sophisticated design & illustration software means that artists often use digital design and manipulation techniques in the creation of their art. Indeed many artists have even replaced their traditional sketchbooks with a computer! Combining digital elements with traditional printmaking techniques (to make a ‘hybrid’ print) has revealed exciting and limitless possibilities for printmakers today. However a hand-printed print must still have been reproduced by hand.

Handmade Prints

Examples of traditional print-making processes include linocut, woodcut, etching, screen printing, monoprint and collograph.

Creating an original print using one of these processes usually involves many hours in the studio, infinite patience and experience with an array of chemicals, plates and (often ancient) equipment!

 Original hand-made prints are produced from a printing plate which can be cut, etched or constructed by hand or created digitally, or a combination of both.
Lino cut plate  etched printing plate  carved wood printing plate
Inks are then mixed and rolled out by hand and the image is pressed onto paper by hand or passed through a hand-operated press. Each print, although it may be one of a numbered series (or edition) is a unique, original, hand-crafted piece of art.
old etching press  old relief platen press  old bookbinders press

Although the image is the same in an edition of hand-made prints, no two are exactly identical as each one has been individually inked and printed. Slight differences in the amount of ink applied and the pressure on the press make each print unique.

If you look closely at my original hand-made lino-prints you can see differences in texture and sheen between the ink and the paper. The traditional oil based inks I use are slightly raised on the paper and have a soft sheen which contrasts with the velvety matt surface of the paper.

detail of hand printed linocut by debbie kendall

Hand-made prints are an affordable way of owning an original piece of art that is not a digital reproduction.

Digital and Giclee Prints

These are prints that have been reproduced using a sophisticated, professional inkjet printer, from a digital file, onto fine art paper, photographic paper or canvas. They are reproduction prints (copies) which are not considered original works of art and do not fall into the category of printmaking.


Giclee prints (pronounced ‘jee-clay —  from a French term meaning to spray or squirt) are archival quality inkjet prints of artwork from a digital file using special lightfast inks. They are perfect for producing high quality, light-fast, affordable copies of original artwork e.g. oil paintings, watercolours or drawings. All the copies will be completely identical.

The quality of colour reproduction of a Giclee print is exceptional, however whilst a Giclee print will give a convincing rendition of texture (for example the peaks and troughs of oil paint on a canvas) a closer look, or touch, will reveal that the texture is an illusion. The only real texture on a Giclee print is that provided by the substrate onto which it is printed (eg canvas, watercolour paper).

When printed onto an archival quality substrate, a Giclee print can last for many years without deteriorating or fading (exactly how many years depends on the quality of the printer, inks and substrate).

Digital prints may be created in several ways:

The image may have been designed and created entirely on a computer using an illustration & design software program.

Artists may have scanned hand drawn sketches into their computer which have been further manipulated digitally.

Original, one-off art can also be scanned at very high resolution to create a digital file. For example, my Quintessentially British print was originally drawn by hand in pen and ink — the only way to make more than one copy (apart from drawing it from scratch again) was to scan the original and reproduce it digitally.