"Buy Old Masters. They fetch a much better price than old mistresses." Lord Beaverbrook

What You Should Know about Prints and Reproductions
© 1998 Nita Leland

Prints are images printed from an original work of art created on a printing surface by an artist and signed and numbered as evidence of the artist's hand in the process, for example, etchings, engravings, woodcuts, serigraphs and stone lithographs. Print editions are usually small limited editions--as few as one (monotype) or as many as 100--because wear on the printing plate may degrade the image. When the print run is complete, the plate is destroyed. The lowest-numbered prints are considered more desirable because they may be the sharpest images. A few proofs are pulled in the early stages and marked AP for Artist's Proof. Genuine prints are valuable to collectors because of their rarity.

With modern four-color-process printing, artists can produce thousands of copies of an original artwork with no damage to the printing plate. These images are actually reproductions of the original, not prints in the original sense of the word, but they are often called prints. Although the plate may be destroyed, the original art is sometimes still available to be reproduced. Often value is added by the use of quality rag paper or lightfast inks that are color matched to the original art. These are frequently called limited-edition prints and are signed and numbered by the artist and sold at collectors' prices, although it is quite inexpensive to reproduce large quantities.

A relatively new process, called Gicleé, allows the artist to print high-quality images in small editions. While the color can be matched well, developers of this process are still working to improve the life-span of the prints, which is alleged to be about 70 years. The advantages of Gicleé are the sharp image, accuracy of the color and the capability of printing small editions (no pile of prints collecting dustballs under the bed). The high cost of printing results in a high retail cost, as well. Whether this process results in a print, a reproduction or a replication is an unresolved argument.

If you're a collector of limited-edition prints, be sure the publisher doesn't pad editions with multiple sizes or unauthorized duplicate numbers. Choose the art because you like it, not as an investment. The most affordable print is an open-edition unsigned reproduction or a poster. If you're an artist having prints or reproductions made for sale, be sure you're straightforward with your customers about the process used and the numbers in your editions.

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