What is a Fine Art Print?

“An original print includes successive impression created through the contact with an inked or un-inked stone, block, plate, or screen that is directly worked upon by the artist…and must meet [that artist’s] criteria for excellence…Printed reproductions of art works in other media – gouache, watercolor, oil, and so on – no matter how aesthetically pleasing, are not to be considered original prints.” –Printmaking Today by Jules Heller

When purchasing a print, the buyer should be aware of what kind of print they are purchasing and understand a few important terms.

Original Print – A work of art created by the artist with the sole purpose and intent of being a print. Each print is considered an original work of art. The artist is involved in each step of the printmaking process, from conception to execution. The artist pays special attention to each and every print in order to ensure the quality throughout the entire edition. The original print is not a reproduction or duplication of a piece of artwork initially created in a different media (such as watercolor or oil) by a professional printer. Original prints can become valuable investments over time.

Reproduction Print – A reproduction created from an original drawing or painting. Even if the seller or artist refers to the print as an original print, produced on acid-free paper and signed and numbered by the artist, it is still similar to purchasing a mass-produced poster. These types of prints have no artistic value and typically the artist has no involvement in the printing process. Thus, reproduction prints are less expensive than original hand-pulled prints by an artist who is an experienced printmaker. Reproduction prints do not typically appreciate in value.

Limited Edition – A set of numbered “impressions” usually less than 200, which are printed from the same block, plate or stone. The number of prints is pre-determined by the artist. Each print is signed by the artist in the lower right-hand corner, the edition number is marked in the lower left-hand corner and the title is centered. All markings are made in pencil. The edition number will look like this: 45/100. The first number (45) indicates which number the print is within the edition. The second number (100) indicates how many prints are available in the edition. 45/100 refers to the 45th print in an edition of 100 prints. The quality of print #1 should be as good as the quality of print #100.

Proof or Artist’s Proof – The first few prints pulled by the artist serve as “test prints” in order to obtain a feel for what the final edition will look like. If the proof pulled is good enough to begin the edition, it is called the bon tirer, French for “good to pull” or b.a.t. in shop talk. The artist is typically allowed 10% of their final edition in artist’s proofs, which the artist keeps. The artist may label these proofs as an “A/P” or artist’s proof.

There are four basic printmaking processes or methods:
1. Planographic (Lithography)
2. Relief (Woodcut, Wood Engraving or Linocut)
3. Intaglio (Etching or Engraving)
4. Stencil (Serigraphy or Screen Printing)

Information was obtained from
Glossary of Prints and Original Graphic Terms. Pamela Michaelis.