What is an Art Print?

Original paintings are sometimes reproduced in what is known as art prints. These prints are often produced in mass quantities using certain methods like a photo-mechanical process that captures an image of a particular painting in the exact dimensions as the original painting and creates a print that is virtually a duplicate of the original.

While the original painting is a hand-painted work from the artist, an art print is a mere copy. Sometimes artists release a limited number of prints modeled after a specific painting, or there are many thousands of prints created of a single work. However, to the naked eye, a print might look just like the real original upon first glance.

What is an Art Print?

An art print is a reproduction of a original piece that is created by several methods of printing and can be printed onto a variety of different mediums or surfaces.

It’s typically easy to distinguish a print from an original painting as the painted work will have subtle differences in surface layers, brushstroke patterns, and irregular edges.

Many art critics can quickly spot a print as they will always have the dot matrix pattern that is visible on any photograph or other printed material. Prints will also typically have a copyright symbol somewhere on the outer edges of the work.

While the original painting is always going to fetch a higher amount at auction, prints sometimes carry a significant value of their own. This can be especially true if the artist released a limited amount of prints of the particular work it is based on. Prints are often highly sought after depending on the artists they are associated with and when the print was produced.

Open vs Limited Runs

When an artist releases prints of a particular work or even a series, they have the option to either release a limited amount of prints, which is known as a ‘limited run’ or they will release an ‘open’ number of prints, which is an unlimited number of prints of a given painting.

Limited runs will also sometimes place a limit on the number of prints that are produced in a certain size. Limited runs are especially popular among modern artists who work in photography or other mediums, including painting.

Many times, a limited run of a particular work will be produced, sold, and distributed by an artist or an agency that is closely associated with the artist. There are many different online destinations that offer prints from a wide range of artists. Some of these online sellers deal specifically in high-end paintings and other artwork and others will sell prints from a large inventory.

The level of quality in limited runs as opposed to open runs is another point of difference that should be noted. Limited runs are often produced as much higher quality prints that very closely resemble the original work. Open runs that involve many thousands of prints based on a single work can sometimes lack the same quality as limited edition prints. Producers of limited runs will use high quality canvas material and high-grade ink that mimics the same tones and coloration of the original painting.

Art Prints vs Posters

When comparing fine art prints to posters, it becomes abundantly clear to the viewer that the art print will have a much higher level of quality compared to the poster. Art prints are done on a variety of materials that include canvas prints, fine art paper prints, and gallery photo paper prints.

Canvas prints are made to resemble the original painting as closely as possible. They are often described as ‘museum quality’ prints that are created through an ink jet printing process that are designed to mimic the exact tonality and coloration of every part of a given work of art, they are commonly referred to as a Giclee print. The range of colors that can be produced by a high-end inkjet printer are said to be more than 30 million.

Printed posters are often done using a much more limited range of colors. The highest quality prints are done on canvas that is high-quality bright white material—closely resembling the type of canvas used by many painters.

Paper prints are done on a lesser quality material that is sometimes noticeably different from canvas prints. Finally, photo paper prints have a very glossy appearance, which makes it quite easy to distinguish them from canvas or paper printed works.

Simply put, the main difference in posters vs art prints comes down to the level of quality of the paper material that the work is printed on, as well as the ink that is used. Art prints are produced in a way that much more closely resembles the actual work in coloration, as well as texture on the canvas. While advancements in printing technology has come a long way in recent years, poster print of a specific painting is still done using lesser quality paper and ink.

Print vs Lithograph

Lithography is a very unique type of printing method that was developed in the late 18th century and has largely remained the same ever since. Lithographs are works that have been drawn onto a stone or metal surface and then worked over with various chemicals to develop a surface that is able to produce many duplicates of a single work.

A lithograph often carries a special value for many art collectors as the material itself has to be printed from an image that was drawn by the artist first hand onto the stone or metal surface. Traditional lithographs are often more expensive than the modern method, which is known as offset lithograph production.

Offset lithographs are able to be produced with significantly less cost than traditional methods and commercial offset printers are capable of producing much greater numbers of a specific work. Lithography is based on the concept that oil and water are not capable of being mixed, therefore the ink that is used to represent the original work is imprinted into the stone or metal surface and then bonded to the surface using various chemical agents.

Once the lithography preparation process is complete, an artist can simply press the paper down onto the stone or metal surface to leave an impression of ink which clearly shows the original intended image.

A lithograph differs from a print in a few different ways. Lithographs can usually be spotted by those who know what to look for, especially signs of small irregularities in dot patterns of modern lithography prints.

Since original lithographs are often more closely associated with the artist themselves, they will typically have the artist’s signature somewhere on the outer edges, the most expensive of which is referred to as an artists proof, as well as a production number since the amount of lithography prints are often very limited when compared to prints.

Prints are sometimes easily duplicated by the thousands compared to lithographs. The differences in both lithographs and prints are sometimes perceived to be minimal to the untrained eye, but the machined print is often easily identified by those who understand the lithography process and how it compares to printmaking.