Print or Reproduction: What’s the Difference?

We all know what a painting is. It’s an original work, one-of-a-kind piece in watercolor, oil, acrylic or a number of combinations.

But I still hear questions about what the differences are between a print and reproduction. You wouldn’t believe the number of times that someone has asked me to look at something in a frame that turned out to be a poster. First and foremost, take your piece out of the frame. If you see a © or ™ anywhere on the paper, it’s a reproduction, a licensed copy that a museum or company has paid to produce by machine. If you see name of a museum on the image itself, there’s no need to take it out. An artist wouldn’t have included it on an original piece of work. Meaning, this isn’t worth anything except the value of enjoyment you get out of it.

A poster of Adolph Dehn’s Central Park from the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

When an artist or curator speaks of a “print,” they’re talking about a laborious process that includes many steps. There are many types of prints but the most common are lithographs made by drawing on a limestone plate or an intaglio print or etching made by marks on a metal/copper plate that go through multiple steps in acid baths and/or other methods. These types of prints are conceived, produced and managed by an artist that may later pass on the actual execution to an apprentice or assistant. But this type of work is highly controlled and involves extreme workmanship, similar to the way a painting is produced.

An artist wiping her plates after inking them in the intaglio print process. Philagraphika

The results of a lithograph, etching, monoprint, woodcut differ greatly, but each are usually editioned, meaning numbered and signed by the artist. The smaller number of prints, the more valuable a print is. The number that you acquire will be written over the number of prints circulating. For example, if you buy the fifth out of 100, a mark of “5/100” will be written generally in a bottom corner.

An intaglio etching, Johann Wilhelm Schirmer's Aus dem Park Chigi, 19th century

Because digital technology has made a huge impact on art today, there are mediums such as giclées, inkject printed canvases of original paintings or prints flooding the marketplace. They generally will not make a financial return in investment terms. There are rare instances when a popular contemporary artist may offer a limited run of giclées which may garner a financial return. But I wouldn’t count on it.

We sell archival inkjet prints and photographs in our store. All our products are printed on acid-free paper and will last for decades to come. We painstakingly sketch, illustrate and shoot each of our items that are numbered and hand-signed. And because we’re full service, we consult, install and maintain your pieces over time. Enjoy.

Nicholas Azzaro, Winter 013

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