The term 'giclée' originates from the birth of digital art printing in the late 1980's, when companies such as Nash Editions in California began experimenting with Iris Graphics printers, originally intended for commercial proofing applications, in a search for fine-art output for their own images. Early Iris prints were relatively fugitive, suffering from fading and colour degradation after only a few years, but later improvements in ink and media technologies gradually extended the longevity and light-fastness of the prints, until today the life of the print may easily match or even exceed that of the original artwork under proper display and storage conditions.
Those first digital printmakers needed a new description for their prints to differentiate the individually printed and aesthetic works of art they were producing from the proof prints being turned out by commercial printers. In 1991, Jack Duganne at Nash Editions was searching for a term to describe their prints for an upcoming show by California artist Diane Bartz, and wanted to avoid terms like 'computer' and 'digital' because of the negative connotations these held in the very conservative art world. Taking his cue from the French word for inkjet (jet d'encre), he began searching for a word that was sufficiently generic to describe the overall process and, focussing on the most fundamental part of the printer, the nozzle, found the noun, 'le gicleur'. From there, he went on to look up its companion verb, which is 'gicler' meaning literally ' to squirt, spurt or spray'. The feminine noun version of the verb is (la) giclée, (pronounced "zhee-clay") or "that which is sprayed or squirted." And so a new industry-standard nomenclature was born.
Today, despite reservations by many in the industry who consider the term overly pretentious, or object to its alternative usage in the coarser reaches of French slang, it has become part of the printmaking landscape and has evolved into a broader term that describes any high-quality, digitally produced, fine-art print.
At Colourfast Editions we subscribe to the 'pretentious' viewpoint and would much prefer a simpler and more descriptive term such as 'archival pigmented print'. Unfortunately, 'giclée' is the term that everyone knows and uses; so, until someone comes up with an alternative and less contentious shorthand, we're rather stuck with it!