Reproduction or Print . . . What’s the Difference?

Today's technology makes for way for variety—and confusion!

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Even though at first glance the words reproduction and print may seem to indicate the same product, a reproduction is not the same as a print. The difference is important, not just to wordsmiths but to artists and earnest purchasers.

A print is an original work of art (including photographs)

A reproduction is a printed representation, a facsimile, or a copy
of an original work of art

How very simple this seems. But there is still confusion regarding the authenticity and value of prints and reproductions because of long-standing misuse of the term "print".

Albuquerque architect and artist Robert Walters was an internationally recognized abstract expressionist during the 1950s. Abstract expressionism grew out of the surrealist, constructivist and German expressionist movements of the 1920s and 1930s. It filled a need for self expression and spiritual healing following the devastation of World War II. Walters discussed abstraction in his North Valley studio.

According to Kathleen Stewart Howe, Curator of Prints and Photographs at the University of New Mexico Art Museum, a print is an original work of art which is "the result of a creative process involving artist and printer." The following information from The Language of Prints, may help illuminate what exactly is an original fine art print.

Original fine art prints are multiple impressions of the same image, created in limited editions (with the exception of monotypes which are one-of-a-kind), with the direct involvement of the artist. Because of the range of printed images that confront us today, the Print Council of America drew up a list of elements necessary for a print to qualify as a fine art print. All of them stress the importance of the artist's involvement:

  • The master image on the stone or plate must be created by the artist;

  • The prints, if not printed by the artist, should be hand-printed by someone under the artist's supervision;

  • Each impression should be approved and signed by the artist.

A print is made by transferring an image from a printmaking surface, or matrix, onto paper or another support. Prints are classified by the type of matrix from which they were produced.

The three main classifications are relief, intaglio, and planographic. The relief process is the simplest method; an image is printed from the raised portion of the printing surface, as with a rubber stamp. Woodcut and linocut are relief processes.

Intaglio is a process which prints the ink that has been forced into lines or areas dug into the printing plate. Engraving, drypoint, etching, aquatint, and mezzotint are intaglio processes.

A planographic print is made from a flat surface to which the ink adheres because of the drawing material on the surface. Examples of planographic techniques are: lithography, the process of printing from a stone or metal plate on which the image to be printed is ink-receptive and the blank area is ink-repellent; and stencil printing, such as serigraphy, the process in which ink is forced through a paper, plastic or glue stencil on a fine-meshed cloth screen, usually silk.

After describing a print in terms of the technique used in creating it, one may describe it further in terms of when it was produced in the printing cycle. A proof is an impression printed as part of the process of developing the completed print. Often proofs are unique and very different from the final printed edition. The terms working proof or trial proof describe the impressions pulled in the development of a print. When the artist decides that the printed image is what is wanted, impressions may be pulled specifically for the artist; these are called artist's proofs. Finally, after all of the adjustments are made, the printer or printshop makes the print. If everything is exactly right on this impression, it is call the bon á tirer, French for "good to pull" (a b.a.t. in shop talk). It means that the edition may be printed. All of the impressions are compared to the bon á tirer; any that do not match precisely are destroyed.

As the edition is printed, the prints are numbered. The notation 12/20, for example, tells the collector that this is the twelfth print in an edition of twenty prints made from that printing surface, and that no more prints were made after the edition of twenty. Most workshops destroy the printing surface after the edition is printed. Many times a printshop will mark the prints it produces with a stamp, the printshop's chop. Some printers also have their own stamps, thus some prints will have two chops. Finally, the artist signs the prints in the edition, certifying that they are his or her work. (From The Language of Prints, University of New Mexico Art Museums, Albuquerque)

The quantity of numbered impressions in an edition is usually decided by the artist and the printshop before the edition is printed. At the Tamarind Institute pic in Albuquerque, a world-renowned center of training, research and publishing of fine art lithography, the number is rarely more than fifty and often considerably smaller. After the artist signs and numbers each impression in the edition at Tamarind, all stones and plates are effaced. Stones are then resurfaced for future use.

To the question "Are prints that are photo-mechanically produced 'fakes'?", Tamarind answers as follows: "Not necessarily. The important distinction here is between the words produced and reproduced. If an artist and a printer agree to use photographic means to print an image originally conceived for that particular print, which is both limited and documented, then it falls within Tamarind's concept of an original print. However, a 'print' that exactly reproduces an existing image (such as a painting) in another medium, would not normally be considered an original work of art."

Commercial, high-volume, mass production printing, as refined as it may be today, produces reproductions—of a watercolor, oil or acrylic painting, a drawing or a photograph - in quantity. The printed results are not legitimately signed or numbered as fine art prints. Ted Rose, an artist and printmaker living and working in Santa Fe, New Mexico, points out that an artist's signature on a reproduction simply verifies that it was actually touched by the artist, in the same way that an author's signature verifies that the particular copy of a book passed through the author's hands.

Rose also acknowledges that the availability of inexpensive copies of original art is, however, of merit. "Process-color offset reproductions provide a way for all of us to own art. In this regard they are 'democratic art.' I recently purchased a reproduction of Early Sunday Morning by Edward Hopper which hangs on my studio wall. It is not a print. It is a well-done reproduction of Hopper's masterful painting." Ted cautions that "if a 'print' looks like a watercolor or oil painting it is probably a printed facsimile—a reproduction—of the original art. If you're moved to purchase a reproduction of a painting, just know that you'll own a reproduction, not a fine art print."

For more information about fine art prints, visit or call
University Art Museum remote UNM Campus, Albuquerque, NM, 505-277-4001
Tamarind Institute
remote 108 Cornell Drive SE, Albuquerque, NM, 505-277-3901


Thanks to the late Ted Rose AWS,NWS, Santa Fe and Kathleen Stewart Howe, Albuquerque

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque - Volume 14


Related Pages

Glossary of Prints & Original Graphics Terms article
Fine-art Etchings and Engravings article
The Tamarind Institute Goes Global article

Tamarind: A Dynamic Past & a Promising Future article
What is a Monotype? article
Digital Fine Art article


Collector’s Resources

Looking at Appraisal altgif Feature article by Philip Bareiss |

Albuquerque

Fermin Hernandez Fine Art rem 328-B San Felipe NW | 505-243-0333

Santa Fe

Alan Barnes Fine Art rem 402 Old Santa Fe Trail - next to The Pink | 505.989.3599
Charles Azbell Gallery | 505-988-1875
The Frank Howell Gallery | 505-984-1074
Carole LaRoche Gallery | 505-982-1186
Nuart Gallery | 505-988-3888

RESOURCE LISTS UPDATED WHEN VIEWED | ARTICLE CONTENT REVISED October 14, 2009

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