Print making is one of the oldest forms of pictorial communication and of artistic expression, dating back to the 19th century in China and the 14th century in Europe.
Yet, despite the fact that most people know what a “print” is, it has become difficult to tell the difference between a ‘Fine Art Print' and an ‘Art Poster' which is a pure ‘Photo-mechanical Reproduction'.
This confusion has intensified over the past twenty years as artists have expanded the definition of a ‘Fine Art Print' to include a variety of new and innovative print making techniques.
One of the primary characteristics of print making is that many nearly identical images can be made by inking and printing the same block, plate, stone, or screen, again and again. This makes it possible for many people to see and/or own an image.
Besides, what needs to be is eradicated is the general notion that anything produced by the artist even in a partial indirect manner such as using the help of assistants or availing printing facilities outside of the artists' studio does not deserve to be seen as a work of art. The human mind can certainly put to use currently available technology to create works of art of a high caliber, but the artist has to ensure that the painterly approach and feel is not diluted in the process. The choice of materials and technique must be made strictly by the artist and the manner of execution supervised by him. This would in any case reveal his mastery over the printing process for overall critical appreciation by collectors and critics alike. Besides what also matters, is the concept along with the manner of execution of the print. The concept would always be original and reflect an individual signature style in the case of each artist.
A painter can, and often does, utilize the services of assistants in the initial stage of preparation of his works or in the case of executing murals. Hence there is no reason why an artist-printmaker should be denied the facility of a practitioner in an allied creative field such as printing to assist him. What matters is the “authorization” of the print, this being the sum total of all the above i.e concept, technique, process and approach. These would be deemed to be accepted by the artist as his by putting his signature on the print, thereby accepting it as a work either executed by him or under his supervision and thus regarding it as a ‘Fine Art Print'.
However, an exception to note in this regard would be the recent instances of ‘Offset' prints being signed by artists and released either as a ‘Limited Edition' or as an ‘Open Edition'. In spite of these ‘Offset' prints bearing the signature of the artist and/or being released in a ‘Limited Edition', they do not qualify as ‘Fine Art Prints' and are segmented as ‘Photo-Mechanical Reproductions' in art markets across the globe. These types of ‘Offset' prints are treated as mere ‘Art Posters' having no value as collectible works of art.
There are various types of Fine Art Prints and they are differentiated by the process or technique by which they have been printed.
The different types of Fine Art Prints that would qualify as an artist's print and the print regarded and accepted internationally as Fine Art Prints or Multiple Original works of art are Serigraphs, Lithographs, Linocuts, Woodcuts, and various types of Intaglio prints such as Etchings, Engravings, Drypoints, Aquatints and Mezzotints.
The Museum of Modern Art ( MoMa ), New York has described and defined the various types of Original Fine Art Prints along with a simplified graphic illustration showing each of the printing processes on its website. This link can be viewed in another window by clicking here.
As explained above a ‘Fine Art Print' is not a commercially reproduced sign or poster printed on a high-speed web press from photo-mechanically produced metal plates. ‘Fine Art Prints' are regarded as ‘Multiple Original' works of art. When these ‘Fine Art Prints' are printed in a limited quantity or restricted in the printing run to a specified number they are said to be printed in a ‘Limited Edition'. This limiting of the number of prints is conceived as such by the artist to make the print rare and add value to it.
Usually as part of the creative process the artist himself or through his assistants creates the printing materials by hand, these could be either the metal plates, stones, woodblocks, silk-screens or other transfer materials. This typically adds an intrinsic value to the print.
“Proofs” of the work are pulled until they meet the artist's approval. The number of prints for the edition is then pulled, print by print, where upon they are signed and numbered by the artist. For example 4/50 means it is fourth impression from the total of fifty impressions. ( Although this does not necessarily represent the actual order of printings ). The artist keeps some ‘Artist's Proofs' for himself, usually marked "A.P." or "A/P". Generally after the number of prints in a ‘Limited Edition' are pulled, the plates, stencils, blocks etc. are meant to be destroyed or defaced making it impossible to reprint or restrike the same image again, thereby genuinely rendering it as a ‘Limited Edition’.