Art Prints 101

While custom and original paintings may not be in your decorating budget, prints of original artwork may be just the ticket to getting a high end look for that low budget wall. 

Anyone with a decent printer can make a custom print on photo quality paper and have it framed for instant artwork.  It’s the best budget decorating trick there is for finding wall art to fit your decor.  But if you’re looking to take a step up in wall art, don’t invest your money without learning the basics of prints.

Original vs. Reproduction

Anything can be called a print, whether it’s from a color copier or an artist’s lithograph.  That makes it confusing for novice print collectors and decorators looking for quality artwork.  What you should look for if you would like a quality print, not just a decorative piece, is an original print.  This is the most important part of purchasing a print and a concept many people don’t understand.

An original print is printed from a matrix, which is an object upon which a design has been formed and which is then used to make an impression on a piece of paper.  The matrix for an original print has a design that was created by hand and issued as part of the original or a connected, subsequent publishing venture.   A matrix can be a wood block, a stone or metal.

For fine art prints the criteria used is more stringent, as it can be considered an original fine art print only if the artist both conceived and had a direct hand in producing the print.

An original print should be distinguished from a reproduction print, which is what you’ll find all over the internet and in discount stores.  The reproduction is produced by a photomechanical process or from a restrike, which is produced as part of a later, unconnected publishing venture.  Many times, the artist is not involved in the venture and received no proceeds from it. 

Reproduction prints are fine for decorating, but don’t spend much money on them, they will never have anything more than a decorative value.  Original prints, on the other hand, offer more than just decorative value, they have a value based on the fact that they are artwork as well as decorative.

An important question to ask when purchasing prints is whether it is an original print or a reproduction.  It is an important aspect of value and price. One method of determining if the print is original is to look for an artist’s signature and edition number.  If the artist signed and numbered a print, he or she had a hand in the production and chances are it is an original print.

While there are a slew of affordable prints on the market today, make sure you know what you’re buying and what it’s worth before you purchase prints.  Don’t forget the most important aspect of any work of art – you should buy what you like and what you find appealing.