A PRIMER ON PRINTS

All the bases covered.

In a world of inkjets, the act of printing something seems as immediate as it is common. But when it comes to art, printing is its own practice requiring a great deal of patience and skill. So what exactly makes prints special, and how are they actually made in the first place? Here's a breakdown of the fundamentals.

Isn't printing a straightforward practice with modern technology? What makes art prints different?

In contrast to mass printing methods, art prints are made using any number of specialized printmaking techniques whereby ink is applied to a surface – a plate, screen or block – worked by tools or chemicals, which is in turn pressed onto paper. Some of the most common printmaking techniques include woodblock, lithography, engraving and screen printing. Whichever process an artist chooses, the final composition is carefully considered as every color must be applied individually and in perfect alignment to create the desired image.

I see prints of artwork all the time. Are certain prints more special than others?

Prints are not posters! Artists typically conceive of prints as their own specific forms of creative expression. This sets them apart from most of what's available on the commercial (poster) market, which are copies of works originally created in other mediums and reproduced.

Are fine art prints made using special materials?

Yes! Quality prints are made with premium acid-free paper containing a high percentage of cotton or other natural fibers. The acid-free feature of the paper is critical for the work's longevity as it will help ensure the materials don't corrode over time. This paper is also selected for its ability to appropriately absorb any pigment applied to its surface, which often comes in the form of archival inks. Archival inks are made to be especially resistant to environmental factors (like sunlight) so they retain the richness of their colors and don't fade, even over a long period of time.

I've seen that prints come in editions. What does that mean?

Prints are made in batches by the artist, and each batch is referred to as an edition. Each edition has an edition size, which is the total number of individual prints it includes. Every edition is numbered and each individual print within that edition (known as an impression) usually is as well.

If prints can be made in batches, is there any limit to how many prints of a work can be made?

Though there is no technical limit to how many prints can be made, artists often set limits for how much they produce – for both the number of editions as well as the number of impressions within each edition. After a predetermined run, it isn't unusual for the printing plate or block to be destroyed. This scarcity adds to the value of fine art prints with first editions generally considered to be the most coveted.