February 2010

Fine Art Prints: What they are and what they are not.

Printmaking is an old art form and continually changes into new art forms. The sales of fine art prints comprise 10 to 17 % of the entire art auction market. There are many reproductions, giclees and offset lithographs that are not fine art prints, and unfortunately, being marketed as such. They are only prints and copies.

Investing in fine art prints is an inexpensive way to buy quality originals of collectible artists that will appreciate. As a collector, it is important to know about prints and how they are created as well as how to detect the imposters and the fakes of the print world.

A good way to acknowledge fine art prints is to know that printmaking requires the process to be appropriate for the image. This means that the image is designed for the medium that creates it, not a photo taken of a painting and printed by offset presses or inkjet printers onto paper or canvas.

Sometimes referred to as “multiples” or “hand pulled prints” of works-on-paper or graphics, the repeated images create an edition. Editions are usually limited to 100 prints, more than 250 in an edition signals that they are probably reproductions and not fine art.
David Alfaro Siqueiros
Fuga (Escape), Stone Lithograph
The process categories are relief (woodcuts), intaglio (etchings, engravings), planographic (lithographs, monoprints) and stencil (serigraphs). Fine art printmakers create a master plate or the matrix. The plate transfers the image onto paper. The paper used in fine art prints is generally 100% cotton and watermarked. The printmaking process is generally a complex one, using a variety of different techniques and mediums.

Look for an impression into the paper from the metal plate with intaglio prints. Notice how the ink sits upon the paper with hand pulled lithos and stencil methods. See the wood grain qualities in the woodcuts. Fine art prints are usually (but not always) signed and numbered in pencil beneath the image. If the signature appears in the image and again beneath the picture, it is probably a reproduction.

Printed images and print techniques often lie at the heart of international contemporary artists that are not printmakers. Artists working in a variety of mediums sometimes design the artwork for the work-on-paper and commission a printmaking studio or atelier to print the edition. The artist oks the proof (noted with “AP” or “PA”) then signs and numbers the edition. Even though the artist does not do the printing himself, he has designed the artwork for the medium and oversees the production.

When buying multiples, obtain as much information you can about the work. As always, invest in works that appeal to you. If displaying the print, choose conservation framing. Invest in fine art prints and appreciate the quality and artisanship. Buy giclees and reproductions for decoration only, they will most likely be worth less than you pay for them.

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