The notion of a superb Giclee Print may be subjective but there are several objective aspects one can consider. Do your prints have a wide "gamet" of color? Gamet is the ability to print a wider range of colors. Printers that print with more inks produce a wider gamet. There is a large variety of professional wide format printers on the market capable of making Giclee Prints. However they can vary considerably in terms of the number of ink cartridges they use in printing. The less expensive are 4 color printers that use the 3 basic colors, cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks. The next step up are 6 color printers printers that add an extra cyan and magenta (both a light and darker color). After that there are 8 color printers that have 3 tonalities of cyan and magenta (light, medium, and dark) with 1 black and 1 yellow. Then there are the older 12 color printers like Colorspan with 1 black, 3 cyan, 3 magenta, 1 yellow, 1 blue, 1 green, 2 orange. A variation is a 11 color set that uses 4 tones of black, 3 cyan, 3 magenta and one yellow. All color print simultaneously. Finally there are the new 12 color printers like the Z series from HP and the Canon IPF series that have 12 color lines but only print using the colors necessary for a print.
Two of the most popular giclee printers have been Epson and HP. Epson, in addition to popular desktop printers, makes a 17 inch, 24 inch, 44 inch, and now 60 inch wide format printer and prints in 6 colors. They advertise them as 8 colors but it is still a 6 color printer with two magenta and two cyan's and three variations of black. However they print with two blacks only at a time on different surface media. HP makes desktop printers also but markets wide format printers that are 18 inch, 24 inch, and 44 inch in the new Z series. These have 12 color lines although they only print with the colors necessary for a particular print, not all 12 simultaneously. Canon has the new IPF series also featuring 12 color line technology like the HP Z series which also uses only the color lines needed for a print. Rowland makes both 8 and 12 color printers in 54 to 64 inch widths. HP Colorspan (formerly MacDermid Colorspan) no longer makes an aqueous printer but now specializes in UV curable printers.
The more color variations of ink the smoother the colors will appear and the wider the gamut range of colors. For example if there is only 1 cyan ink the only way to print lighter tones of cyan is to have fewer dots of cyan ink spaced more widely apart. But when there are 3 tones of cyan (light, medium and dark) then in light cyan areas of the print the printer can lay down more dots of light cyan closely together to achieve a smoother tonality. Additionally mixing different tones of inks will allow for more subtle variations of color which more closely matches the subtle gradations of tone in the digital file itself.
It is always a struggle to get a print to match what one sees on the computer screen in an image editing program like Adobe Photoshop. The reason is that in Photoshop if one has a typical 24 bit image this translates into millions of colors. Therefore the job of the printer is to print an image on media that comes closest to matching the original 24 bit image. But the printer is really not able to produce all the tonal gradations of the actual image as it is limited by needing to mix dots of colors (called dithering) to get these variations. The best way for the printer to do this is to have more tones of the basic colors (cyan magenta and yellow) to work with. Consequently it is the printer with more inks that can come closer to duplicating the gamut of the actual digital image. This means that a 6 color printer will make a print with a wider range of colors than a 4 color printer, the 8 color printer will have a wider range than the 6 color printer, and a 11 color or 12 color will have the best range.
Giclee Fine Art Printing by Stan Bowman