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What is a print?

A print is a work of graphic art that has been transferred from a matrix to a support. They are produced by drawing or carving an image onto a hard surface (matrix), which then gets inked to be printed. Often these prints as artworks are called "original print" or "fine print." "Printmakers" or "printmaking artists" make original art printed by hand, either by artists themselves or by printers / print technicians. There are mainly 4 types of printmaking that are further categorized by techniques and materials used.

4 Major Categories of Prints

Different print techniques of printmaking will involve different steps in between matrix making and inking. For example, etching is produced by marks scratched on (or to be more precise, "off") a metal plate, then put into an acid bath for incision of those marks, then inked. Depending on the type of printmaking, the way artworks are printed is different as well. For example, etching or other type of intaglio has to go through a printing press, but linocut and woodcut can be printed by hand. Japanese woodblock printing, is printed by hand using a baren.

Left: Etching Press

Top: Barens

Because the printing process can be labor intensive and time consuming, usually less than 100 editions are printed. If a printmaker printed 50 editions of an artwork, and you have one that was printed 15th, you'd see 15/50 in pencil at the bottom of the artwork.

Digital Prints

There are so many labels for art prints. Fine art prints, limited edition prints, fine prints, original prints, archival prints, etc, etc. Most of these are marketing terms, and it can be confusing for buyers. For example, I only found out doing this research that "Fine Art Prints" are professional photographs printed on very high quality paper, using archival inks. I need to be careful I don't call my prints Fine Art Prints..

And there are Giclee (pronounced zhee-clay) prints. Giclee prints are digital art such as computer-generated images, photography, scans of original artworks, digitally enhanced, reworked, or altered images / photographs / artworks printed with ink jet printer. According to "The Art of Buying Art" by Alan Bamberger, giclee prints were started by Adam Adams, of Three Star Printing Company. Giclee prints generally are high quality copy of the original artwork, and some are signed by the artist and some aren't, but it does not mean the printing was overseen by the artist. Being digital copy, it is a lot more affordable than the original artwork. If you'd like to know more about how to spot original vs copy, I recommend reading above mentioned "The Art of Buying Art."

Now I am not against digital artwork at all. I used to work digitally, and many artists now work digitally as well. Original digital artwork printed to make available to public is still an original artwork. What I want to caution is the "copy" of artworks with flurry of marketing words attached to them. If I want a Van Gogh, I would get a giclee, if I want an original painting or a print, I need to do a little research.




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