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The low-down on MY "prints."

Okay, first of all, they are "reproductions," not "prints." For my lame excuses why I keep abusing the poor ole language, see elsewhere.

My reproductions are:

  • Scanned by me
  • Proofed and corrected by me.
  • Printed by me, on an Epson R1800 photo-quality ink-jet printer. The inks are rated to last at least 100 years. The support is heavy-weight, archival paper.
  • Virtually indistinguishable from the original, except where the size has been changed.
  • I fall into the camp of artists who consider these to be the equivalent of giclee prints. For a discussion of this issue, see the giclee entry in the Glossary.
  • When you buy my reproductions, you are paying for: cost of materials, cost of labor, and a portion of my living expenses. You are NOT paying for the cachet of owning something called a "limited edition print." For a discussion of THIS issue, see the limited edition entry in the Glossary.

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    Do you know what you're buying?

    Q: When is a print not a print?
    A: When it's a copy!
    -- and other hoary jargon meant to confuse you.

    If you'd like to skip all the editorializing and jump straight to the jargon, click here.

    Okay, so we all know what is meant by "original artwork," right? Well, so I thought until someone approached me at an art fair, and asked (rather crossly); "What's the difference between an original and a print? I always thought a print was a copy, but I see artists here selling them as if they were originals!"

    This was a pretty astute observation, but in this case, no, the print in question was NOT a copy. It was, in fact, in some sense, an original.


    That's right; properly used, the term "print" refers to a "hand-pulled" print; that is, an image that is created on one surface, then transferred to another, by the artist. Usually the artist will "pull" several prints, not just one. However, because they are "hand-made," each image is slightly different from the other, and is, in that sense, an original.

    Those mass-produced things we typically call "prints" -- such as photocopies, posters, limited editions -- should really be called "copies" or "reproductions." Why? Because the original was produced in a one medium (such as oil paint), then "re-produced" in another, usually ink.

    So why do we persist in misusing the term prints? A host of reasons, really. Ignorance is one; deliberate misdirection is another. Also, the other words available are freighted with other meanings; "copy" conjures up a dim, blurry xerox; "photo-mechanical" is too obscure; and a "poster" is a photo of Kanye West on cheap, glossy paper.

    "Reproduction" is the best choice, but at 12 letters and 4.5 syllables it's a bit cumbersome. For instance, at certain resolutions it's too long to use as a heading on my web pages. And artists busy writing out price tags at an art show often resort to the much shorter "print" just to avoid hand cramp...

    I can hear some people -- artists especially -- saying, "As long as the buyer likes the image, what difference does it make what it's called?" To which I reply, that depends on the buyer. Personally, I don't mind paying $50 bucks for a high quality ink jet reproduction, but if I discover later it's really just a xerox copy from Kinko's, I'm going to be a little ticked off.

    So where does that leave us? CONFUSED! My best advice -- ask the artist exactly what s/he means, if it's not clear to you from the label.

    To help you understand the answer you get, I've started compiling an Opinionated Glossary of terms. Look below....


    The Opinionated Glossary

    Why opinionated? Heck, if you just want to know the dictionary definition, look it up in a dictionary! But over the years I've discovered the dictionary doesn't always answer the question I'm really asking; and I've also discovered I don't always agree with the answers I get. You might not agree with my answers either (gasp) -- but as I've said elsewhere, it's MY web site....

    In the interest of having SOME free time in my life, I've limited this Glossary to terms related to prints and reproductions. It's still under construction.

    • Acid-free. Acid (in art materials) is found in products derived from wood. It can damage artwork, so there is a big push now to use acid-free materials. Some materials are naturally acid free, like paper made from cotton; others are treated to be acid free. The former is archival, the latter is not (because, in theory, it might become acidic again someday).

    • Archival. Naturally acid-free. Archival is important if you want the art to last for generations; not so much if you plan to be cremated with it. My originals and reproductions are archival, my framing is only acid-free, which is one of many reasons why I sell unframed art only off this site.

    • Copy (1). In a sense, all reproductions are copies; a copy of an original. However, copy these days generally refers to a photocopy, or "xerox." Personally I have no problem with these as long as they are well done and accurately labelled, but many art venues eschew them. "Copies" can be equal or superior in appearance to other reproductions, but because they use toner instead of ink, their longevity is suspect.

    • Copy (2). Another type of copy which I have rather more issues with is the mass-produced oil paintings which are sold in department stores and the like. My problem is that they are marketed as originals, even when there's ten identical ones sitting right next to each other. They may be "hand-painted" -- but originals they are not. They are copies.

    • Digital prints. Legitimate digital prints originate in the computer, not in another media. I don't know enough about it to discuss it intelligently, except to say -- watch out. Many "artists" have started using the computer to manipulate an original photo or painting, print it out, and call it a print. It's not, it's a digitally-manipulated copy. Fine if you like the results, but you shouldn't be paying more than a few bucks for it.

    • Edition. A run of prints. The first print of a run of 250 prints would be numbered 1/250; the second one would be numbered 2/250; etc. This would be called a "limited edition." If there is no limit to how many may be run, they are not numbered, and are called "open edition." My reproductions are open edition.

    • Giclee. (Pronounced gee-clay.) High-end ink-jet reproductions. Since Iris printers were the first used to make giclees, some have argued that only Iris printers can make giclees. That notion, however, seems to be losing ground. I use an Epson printer. I leave it to you to decide how much the brand of printer matters.

    • Limited edition prints. If anything in the art biz gets me going, it's the mystique that some have attempted to build up about limited edition "prints." These are promoted as high-end, signed and numbered, "collectable" art. Well, maybe. But one thing they are NOT; they are not prints. They are reproductions. If you are paying more than a couple hundred dollars for them, you are paying for the name, not the product. Your choice.



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