A Short Guide to Buying Art Prints

Calliope 3 - Available as Archival Print

Calliope 3 - Available as Archival Print

When you are considering buying art you may wonder whether it's "okay" to buy limited edition prints. It certainly is! It's a wonderful way to build your collection of art with pieces you love, especially if your budget is limited.  You just need to be sure you know the terminology of the print market and do a little homework. 

Read on to discover some useful terms and things to look for.

Digital Giclee Prints: What's the heck is a giclee? The term "giclee" (pronounced zhee-clay) was coined in the late 1980s by artist Jack Duganne for the fine art prints he made on digital printers. The original giclee prints were created on high end Iris inkjet printers. The term has come to mean any inkjet print and unfortunately is not a guarantee of quality. 

To insure the quality of the giclee print you are buying ask the artist these questions: 

1. Is the paper archival? What paper was used? Good papers are 100% rag and acid free. Some good papers are; Hahnemuhle, Somerset Velvet and BFK Rives, to name just a few. High quality paper has a cloth-like feel. It is usually easy to distinguish between a high quality rag paper and an inexpensive paper by touch. 

2. What kind of ink was used? As of this writing, Ultrachrome was the leader in giclee printing because of its longevity and resistance to fading. Ultrachrome prints should last from 80-100 years or more, depending on how they are handled.

3. How many are in the edition? A limited edition is just that, a limited number. The lower the number the more rare the print and thus, the higher the price. 

Offset Prints or Posters: These are generally mass produced, low quality prints that are, or should be, very inexpensive. They are usually prone to fading and are not considered archival.  Check the paper quality if you are unsure. Most mass produced posters are created on very inexpensive paper. It will feel like computer printer paper or office paper. 

Relief Prints: This type of printing process has been around for thousands of years. Common forms of  relief prints include linoleum blocks and wood blocks. Hand carved wood blocks have been printed in Japan for over 500 years. The Ukiyo-e prints are especially beautiful and can be extremely rare and costly. Vincent van Gogh, along with many of the Impressionists and Post Impressionists were influenced by Japanese prints.

"Loggia XII" Original Artist Pulled Monotype by Tesia Blackburn

"Loggia XII" Original Artist Pulled Monotype by Tesia Blackburn

Intaglio Prints: Intaglio (pronounced in-TAL-ee-oh) is a type of printing wherein the printing plate is incised or cut away. Types of intaglio prints include, etching, engraving, aquatint and drypoint. Usually the artist will create an edition of prints that are all exactly the same. Sometimes however, the artist will hand color the edition or create differences in the prints. These are usually more expensive than an editioned print because of their rarity. 

"Loggia IX" Original Artist Pulled Monotype  by Tesia Blackburn 

"Loggia IX" Original Artist Pulled Monotype  by Tesia Blackburn 

Monotypes and Monoprints: In the above mentioned process of intaglio, when an artist creates a difference in an edition of prints, the resulting print is called a monoprint because it cannot be reproduced again. Monoprints are created on a surface that already has an image of some sort; an etching, wood block, aquatint etc. Monotypes on the other hand are created on a plate that has no other information on it. With monotyping the image cannot be recreated and at most, two prints can be created.  The two terms monotype and monoprint are often used interchangeably, but they mean quite different things. 

Useful Terms

Edition: The number of prints created (or pulled) of that particular image.  It has been standard practice since the late 19th century for an artist to indicate the number of prints in an edition and to number each print individually within the edition. For instance, 2/10 means that there are ten prints in the edition and the number two indicates that is the second print numbered by the artist in the edition. Keep in mind that several prints may be pulled by the artist at once and signed and numbered later. So a lower number in the edition does not necessarily mean that the artist printed them in that exact order. 

Collagraph; A type of printmaking wherein the artist builds up the surface of the plate with other materials (gesso, cardboard, flattened tin cans, etc) to create a texture that is then printed like a relief print. 

Serigraph or Silkscreen: Is a printmaking process using stencils that are painted, adhered or sometimes exposed to light and used with a tight mesh screen stretched over a frame. Ink is forced through the screen to the paper and the resulting print is created. 

Lithograph: Prints are created by drawing on a limestone or metal plate treated to simulate limestone. Artists draw with lithograph crayons or paint with tusche to create the image. 

Original: Meaning one of a kind. In the print world this usually means either a painting on paper or a monotype. This type of art is created by hand, by the artist. Usually without digital means, or if digital methods are involved, the artist has embellished or manipulated the resulting print. 

Embellished: The artist has hand painted or otherwise worked on the surface of the print, usually a digital print.

Hand printed or hand pulled: More and more these terms are used to distinguish between digital prints and prints that the artist has created by hand (i.e. monotypes, wood cuts, etc)

This is just an overview of the myriad of possibilities when it comes to artists' prints. Artists are creating fascinating combinations of digital prints and paintings, painting on unique surfaces that have been printed on and so forth. 

To be sure you get the highest quality ask a couple of questions (see above).

And then? Buy what you love!