In my business A to Z, R is for Reproduction. I am talking about prints. This is what I have gleaned from my 17 years of working as a Fine Artist, but as with most things art, the terms are historical and most of the information is advisory which leads to all sorts of confusion. In actual fact what most people think of as prints are not ‘prints’ in Fine Art terms but reproductions. So here are a few terms and their meanings:
‘Limited Edition Print’: in most instances you will see this to describe a reproduction of a painting or drawing which is limited to a specified number reproduced and each is numbered (eg 10 of 50 or 10/50) and signed by the artist. There should be no more reproductions made than the stated number (run) and any artists proofs, though the image could be reproduced in books or for the artist’s own marketing.
‘Open Edition Print’: as above but there is no finite run. Each one is signed by the artist but not numbered.
An unsigned ‘print’ is actually a poster!
‘Split Run’ a term used to show that an image is printed at more than one size. If this is within a Limited Edition then the total number of reproductions is still no more than the stated number. This is a newish addition and came in with the advent of Giclée presses.
None of the above is actually correct in Fine Art terms unless you substitute the word reproduction for the word print. However, people want to buy ‘prints’ not ‘reproductions’ so in marketing terms artists have to use these incorrect terms if we want to sell any and keep making a living!
Correct uses of the terms print and limited edition refer to non-mechanical printing – the production of a lino-cut, wood-cut, etching, monoprint, etc produced by hand by a fine artist. These artists now have to use terms like ‘original print’ or ‘hand-made print’ as the rest of us have usurped their terms.
Another Fine Art print process is Stone-Lithography. The advent of commercial presses for brochures, newspapers, books etc used a similar technique with metal plates termed Litho(graphy) and art prints were made by specialist printers using this type of press in larger runs, with a maximum of 850 for a Limited Edition. The artist oversaw and quality checked the production, seeing ‘galleys’ (sample prints) and writing remarks on them to instruct the printer of any changes. In the final edition they sometimes hand drew a smaller image on the side of the image which was termed a ‘remarque’ to make them more individual and to command a higher price. The Galleys could be kept as ‘artists proofs’ in numbers up to 10% of the print run and are numbered outside the print run A/P x of x. By convention the Artist’s Proofs are not sold, instead being retained by the artist or given away to friends and collectors. As such they are seen as more collectable.
Litho for Fine Art reproductions has now largely been supplanted by Giclée (literally means ink droplets) – basically a very high quality digital print out of an image on high quality paper and using inks that are ightfast pigment based inks rather than the dye based inks used in your desktop printer.
This is a Giclée press - as you can see, much larger than a desktop printer!
Giclée ink suppliers state that, displayed under correct conditions and out of strong light (any pigment fades in strong UV light, including paint pigment), the inks should retain quality for 80 – 100 years. In addition, a proper fine art giclée printer will have their scanner and output machine recalibrated to their computer and monitor by an engineer at set up. Fine art repographers also recalibrate scanners to their computers monthly. The Artist should should still see and pass ‘galleys’ for quality before the final copies are produced, and the signature on each reproduction in the edition is a mark of that quality control. Some artists still issue Artist’s Proofs, either the true galleys, or additional to the print run. Make no mistake. There is an art to getting the reproduction to match the original as closely as possible. Good repographers are few and far between. They expend time and skill making sure that the reproduction is as close to the original as possible. After scanning and initial set-up I will spend at least 2 hours with the repographer matching and adjusting the galleys so that the colours, colour balance and saturation is as close as we can get to the original painting. I spend many hours getting the balances right in my painting and would hate to see that destroyed by inferior quality reproduction, which can change the focus and atmosphere of the images as well as the colours and tones.
Below is an image of the original and some of the galleys or proof prints for my painting 'Breathe'. The various proofs have very slight colour and balance differences. NB the angle of the photograph (taken on my phone) has produced some lens distortions that make the lower images look 'stretched) - in real life they are the same proportions as the (large image) original painting.
As with most things of quality there is a cost to that, and one which the artist has to spread across the whole edition, so a smaller print run will cost more both from the set-up/repro cost spread and as the prints are more limited and therefore more desirable. There is a trade off to the artist or publisher between Litho and Giclée. The former gives a cheaper unit price ie cost of each print, but the run must all be printed at one time so the full cost of all the prints is paid up-front and can take years to recoup. Giclées can be printed in much smaller batches – even ordered individually - but cost considerably more per unit.
Some paper manufacturers make ‘fine art’ ink jet paper that they specifically market for desk top printers, (like the one you have at home). Some artists mistakenly think it is therefore OK to print and sell their own editions. Hang one of these in even indirect light for a short period of time and it will fade pretty quickly to almost nothing.
So how do you know what you are buying? In short, the easiest way other than asking the right questions is the price. If it is ‘cheap’ it is probably not Fine Art quality.
I would love to hear your views and experiences of prints and reproductions, so please feel free to comment below.