When you buy a pre-packaged matted picture of a work of art from a basket or a bin in a retail shop, are you buying a “print”, or are you buying a “reproduction”?
Most people think they are buying a print, and that is because more often that not they are labeled as “fine art prints” or just “prints”. Chances are pretty good, however, that you are buying a reproduction. And that is perfectly fine! If you love it, then it doesn’t matter what you call it; because you probably paid an appropriate price for what it truly is: a good reproduction. Reproductions can be from open editions or limited editions, just like prints. When higher prices come into play and particularly if something is signed and numbered, it can be confusing, so this is my take on what I think will help you make good buying decisions. There’s a lot more to it, so check out the links at the bottom of this post, but here is a very quick primer:
The term “print” actually refers to something that in itself is a work of art, not an image of a work of art. There are all types of prints, such as mono-types, which is one-of-a-kind, and then there are prints that are multiples from other processes, but the key is this: for something to be called a “print” the artist had to have a direct hand in creating the thing you have in YOUR hand. In today’s world of digital processing, the separation between reproduction and print is clearer (see wikipedia link at the bottom for history of the print.) Printmakers are the hardest working and often some of the most accomplished artists I have ever met; they are diligent, patient beyond any measure I could ever be held to, and the end result is exquisite.
(The artist printing an image of his/her painting on a home Epson printer does not constitute a “print”. Sometimes artists will paint into each copy individually – that may be considered a print. For more detail, see link at the end of this post.)
A reproduction is simply that… a reproduced image of a work of art. It has its own value, but on a different scale than an original work of art.
Well-done reproductions are an excellent buy. It allows the buyer to enjoy a work of art that is already sold, or they didn’t have the budget to buy the original. And since all copyrights remain with the artist, it also allows the artist to make additional money from labor they put into creating the original (which especially helpful when you consider that a gallery takes anywhere from 40 – 60% of the selling price of an original work of art).
Limited edition archival reproductions have a higher value than open editions. They have a set limit of how many of that size will be reproduced. The artist usually hand signs each one and numbers them. For example, in the case of the 12″ x 15″ reproduction of “I Rule” that I am offering, once I have sold #125, there will be no more offered at that size – ever. The original painting is 24″ x 30″, and (if it were available) would sell today for $950. Because I am offering a Limited Edition series, I will never offer an open edition of a 12″ x 15″. This allows more people to enjoy the artwork, and yet you won’t see it everywhere and in every store. (Reproduction available at www.patricedrago.com)
“I Rule”, original artwork mixed media by Patrice Drago
Open editions cost less, because they can have printed multiple times at a higher volume, and there is no individual signing or numbering involved.
The best reason for explaining the difference in terminology is so you know what you are buying. If you are tempted to buy a “print” over a “reproduction”, first be sure the print is truly a print – a work of art. It may be a reproduction and then you are comparing apples to apples, and you can buy the one you prefer based on your aesthetic preference. The pricing still varies by artist in the same way original art varies by experience, credibility and demand. But now you know what would be reasonable in comparison.
As the art world evolves, so does the vernacular, but I think this is still a good way to identify the differences as you build your collection and add art to your walls so you can love your space!
(Disclaimer: I’m not addressing fine art photography here… definitions of the term print for photography may vary; … I’ll leave that to the photography experts!)
This article offers more detailed information about prints: http://www.collectorsguide.com/fa/fa082.shtml
Wikipedia listing on the history of Prints: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_printing