We always hear designers and art consultants referencing the word "prints." It makes us wonder what they are suggesting to their clients to go and buy for their newly decorated homes.
It seems that art is always the last thing on the list to buy, which is unfortunate because the client has usually exhausted their home improvement budget by then. But I digress.
There is such a wide degree of possible options to which they may be referring.
Are they asking for hand-done prints? Maybe they want a series of etchings, or lithographs. Even within that terminology there are different meanings. Did they want a mechanical lithograph or the old fashioned stone litho that is hand-pulled? Do they know the difference between the two?
Or are they suggesting to go for some plain old posters? The kind for which you pay $20 and then custom frame for another $150.
Clearly, there are many semantics within this particular medium that it begs a bit of a tutorial.
Here's a little definition guide for you so that when you want a print, you know what to ask for at your gallery of choice.
A printmaking technique in which an illustration is made by drawing through a wax covering on a metal plate. The plate is then put into acid to eat away the uncovered areas of the metal. The plate is then inked and printed. The prints are usually in editions of small numbers as they are hand printed. This is the real deal. Rembrandt is an artist who is known for his beautiful etchings.
A printmaking technique, in which an illustration is made by carving lines into a surface which is usually metal but could also be wood. The artist inks up the surface and then prints the image by hand. These are also printed in small editions.
Also known as a serigraph, is a stencil method of printmaking in which a design is imposed on a screen of fine mesh. The blank areas of the screen are coated with an impermeable substance and then ink is forced through the mesh on the printing surface. Unlike other printmaking techniques, the process of silkscreening can be done without any machinery and is therefore widely used. Buyer beware as there are both mechanical and hand pulled silkscreens and often it's hard to tell the difference between the two. Better to ask your dealer.
This print-making technique is based on the fact that oil and water don't mix. These prints are created by using greasy crayons to draw a mirrored image on a flat polished stone. After the image is created, an oil-based ink is applied directly to the plate which will bond with the greasy lines. Water is then wiped onto the remaining unpainted surface which will prevent the ink from smearing. The paper can then be placed on the stone surface to print the image.Lithographs are also done mechanically, so be careful and tread lightly in this domain.
Tip alert: Be wary of the lithograph that is in an edition of 2,000; even though it has the artist's autograph gracing its beautiful heavy paper, it's probably not hand pulled by that artist (are they really hand-pulling that many prints?). It's probably been printed on nice paper by a computer and in effect you are paying money for a good quality poster. You may also ask about the original painting from which it was produced. Buyer beware.
A digital printing process in which the prints are produced by an ink-jet printer usually on a high quality paper. These prints are limited reproductions of an original artwork but are not considered originals. Therefore, the price should reflect this.
A reproduction of an original artwork printed on lower quality paper, in an unlimited quantity. Nothing wrong with the poster, it's just not handmade.
Fine Art Photographs
A picture made using a still or digital camera reproduced on a photo sensitive surface or stored digitally. In the old days all fine art photography was developed by hand, but with new technology, photos are printed using ink jet printers as well. It is important when buying photographs, that you make sure they are in small editions (say, out of 20). If they are in unlimited or higher editions, the price should reflect this.
It's important to ask your art dealer or the artist from whom you buy, exactly the process behind the artwork you want. This plethora of definitions that lie within the "print" world can be not only confusing, but should reflect the price you pay for the given art piece. As a general rule, the prints which are more limited in number command a higher price point (usually) and the prints which have the larger edition numbers should have a lower price point (as they are less "limited"). Good rule of thumb to follow.
So there you have it. The decoded world of prints. At the very least you're now armed with your options when your designer tells you to go and find some prints. It's up to you to choose what type of print you like, and as always, have fun with it (remember, choosing art is fun!). Prints are a great way to start your art collection, so whether it's an etching or a photograph, be sure to love it.