Things Artists and Buyers Need To Know About Prints

The Things Visual Artists and Art Buyers Need to Know about Prints 
things artists and art buyers need to know about prints
Each week I write a new article for members of our three wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, and The Artist Hangout. This week we kick off a new series of articles looking at some of the things that artists really do need to know. Over the coming weeks and months I will be sharing some of the things that I have learned from my more than thirty-years in the business of creating and selling my own art. This week we take a look at prints and editions and we look at what to know if you are buying art prints and what artists need to know about selling art prints and editions.
Scarcity…
Scarcity of art is just one of the elements that can influence the price of an artwork, and it is so easy for art buyers to become confused about what they should be looking out for when making a purchase. But editions are not always what they seem and often it is down to interpretation of the artist, the seller, or indeed the buyer. 
Many artists today sell their work either as originals or prints, and often prints are made available alongside sales of the original work. Some artist’s especially digital artists will only ever sell prints of their work but not all prints are created equal, not all editions are created equal, and is a signed print really going to make a huge difference to the price?
As we head towards Christmas many artists will be considering offering something a little extra special to their clients, often in the way of limited editions or special editions, it’s a great way for artists to offer something of value and bring in much needed revenue.
As buyers, the art world can trip you up if you are not exactly sure what you are looking out for. What might seem like a bargain might fade within a week, or it might not quite be what you expected. So this week I will try to give you a few pointers to purchasing beautiful art prints, and give you a few little tips to help you understand exactly what you are getting for your money. 
So what exactly is a print?
Prints are works of art that are made or can be made multiple times through various processes, and each of the processes for producing prints can significantly affect the final price of the work along with a number of other factors. There are so many different types of print and values and prices can and do vary greatly. Some prints are highly collectible and even some open editions are worth collecting especially if they are signed. Whether you are a buyer or an artist a quick run through of the most common print types is needed.

popular art prints for collectors
Giclee…
Most artists today will be familiar with giclee printing especially if they are selling their work through print on demand. Essentially Giclee is another way to describe works that have been printed using inkjet printers, although on a much larger scale than the printers you would usually find in the home or the office. Giclee printers offer a quality that you just wouldn’t get from low-end printers and the process is a lot more complicated and generally uses high-end archival inks, papers, and canvases which mean that your print won’t fade over time, with the right care. 
Giclee itself originally referred to fine art prints created on IRIS printers back in the 1980’s. These were large wide format printers but technology has moved on significantly since and what once would have needed a printer the size of a whole room would be much smaller today and offer much better quality. The wide format printers of today used in professional giclee printing don’t come cheaply and a lot of them still need considerable space, but they produce prints that are way beyond what the earlier models could ever produce. 
Professional giclee printing uses inks that have been proven not to fade and contain large volumes of colour pigment, and especially when they are used with professional grade paper, card, and canvas stock. Many of today’s professional giclee prints will be scratch and water resistant too, just as the printer technology has moved on since the early years of giclee, so have the inks and papers which are often born out of years and years of research carried out in labs and high volume pigment in an ink makes the ink even more expensive.
Etching…
Etching is still used to produce prints in some art disciplines today, where an artist will scratch the image of the art onto a wax covered metal plate. The plate is then dipped in acid and eats at the exposed metal not covered by the wax. 
Once the plate is cleaned and has just the right amount of ink in only the exposed wax free etched lines, a protective cloth and damp paper are used to cover it and the plate is then fed through an etching press. 
The pressure then forces the paper into the groves containing the ink and the result is that you will find that the artwork has a slightly raised surface. That’s the easiest way of figuring out if you really are buying an etching.
Intaglio is a word that really describes etching but it can also be used to describe engraving, drypoint, and wood engraving. If you are starting out in collecting art then etchings might be one of the best places to start looking. Whilst they can go for significant sums, it is still possible to buy something from an unidentified artist for under a few hundred pounds/dollars, but if the artist is identified then expect to pay much more. 
Lithography…
Usually a specialist lithographic crayon or greasy ink which is called a tusche, is applied by the artist on to a stone or plate which is then treated with a chemical solution that ensures that the stone or plate will hold the printing ink and that any blank areas repel any water. 
Solvents are then used to fix the image and an oil-based ink is then applied covering only the image. Once this has been done the stone is placed onto a lithographic press, covered with damp paper and an even force is applied across the entire image. 
The image is printed in reverse and whenever you see lithographs the process will have been done for each of the colours in the image. Lithographs have been a constant since around 19th Century and even artists such as Picasso and Hockney have used the process. 
The process relies on the fact that grease and water don’t mix which essentially means that anywhere that does not have grease applied will show through on the finished work. Offset lithography is also a process that is still used today where the printing plate does not come into contact with the paper, and this preserves the quality of the plate which when used in a non-offset manner would degrade the more it is used. In the past, prints created at the end of a production run would be much poorer quality than the initial prints. 
Lithographs are good for those wanting to delve into owning art on a budget but it depends on just how many copies of the print had been made and finding out that kind of information isn’t always easy.
Screen Prints…
If you have seen Warhol’s work then you will already be familiar with screen prints. The image is cut into a sheet of paper or plastic film to create a stencil which is then placed into a frame with a fine mesh covering. Essentially this is all we ever did in the art classes at school, we would quite literally screen print everything back then. 
It is a process which is still used to this day and can produce some stunning results. A photographic image can also be reproduced using similar techniques by using light-sensitive gelatins, and where a squeegee is used once again to scrape the paint or gelatin over the mesh leaving the image on the paper. 
Once again, the number of prints available and the quality of the work alongside the artist will make a difference to the cost of the work, but again these are great options when starting out collecting art but not if you intend owning a Warhol because they are going to cost a whole lot more.
Wood cuts…
The oldest of print making methods, the wood cut print is produced by sketching the image onto a block of wood and then carving the image leaving the detail raised. Ink is then applied to the block usually with a roller and then pressure is applied to transfer the painted detail onto the paper. 
It is still used today as a process for some artworks and the likes of Damien Hirst and Donald Judd have used the process in their works, as for the collectability of wood block prints prices can and do vary but it is possible to get something for a moderate amount of money but if you go for one from a well-known artist you could pay thousands. 
Digital art and Prints...
It can be difficult for digital artists to sell an original, although not impossible. I have sold a number of original digital artworks that will never be available as prints. Usually by creating a proof print and signing it and then handing over the files used in the creation of the work to the buyer. The buyer will also receive a limited edition signed giclee with an edition run of one, and they will receive documentation to confirm that no other prints are available or will be made available together with a certificate of authenticity. The Giclee’s are usually handled by me and either printed by me, or one of my trusted suppliers. 
There’s a myth that digital art is never anything more than just a print, and yes there is an argument or at least a debate that files can be reused, shared, downloaded, and there is never any way to truly know exactly how many pieces have been created. But when you are looking to buy prints there will be a few things that you can look out for and if you buy from reputable artists they will usually know exactly who else owns an official print of the work or whether it has been reused anywhere. I can tell you exactly how many people purchased any one of my artworks and I keep tight control over where the prints are offered for sale, most good digital artists will be able to give you the same information and will do the same kinds of things to protect their art. 
Anyone purchasing one of my prints through an official route can bring me evidence of purchase together with the print and I will sign it, those I produce and sell directly are always signed, as are the proof prints I use at various stages of creating each artwork and the final image. 
A print is not just a copy…
Fine art prints are never just copies of work, whether that work was produced electronically or with traditional mediums. Fine art prints are usually sold with oversight of the artist who will need to know exactly what the production facility will be producing, or they will handle the printing themselves. 
All of the prints I sell unless they are expressly sold as ‘digital only downloads’ (yes, they are a thing for me now too for a few artworks which I make exclusively available as digital only downloads), are only produced in approved production facilities or they are produced by me or a small handful of print partners who offer me the quality my buyers demand.
Whilst open edition prints (we’ll come on to editions shortly) do have the potential to be recreated over and over again, the reality for many independent visual artists is that there won’t be too many prints that have been produced at all. You can easily purchase an open edition print and still be the only person to ever buy it or own it.
Prints from independent visual artists don’t always attract huge numbers of casual buyers (although there are exceptions), and for the most part they are not made in huge quantities. Buying a print from an independent artist who offers their work for sale through print on demand services such as Fine Art America might only ever sell a handful of works or maybe at best in the low hundreds. It is rare that POD artists will sell thousands of prints through these types of services although it can occasionally happen. 
There is a difference between original art prints and fine art prints and not all giclee prints can be classed as fine art prints, so that’s something else that both artists and buyers need to be aware of. 
Why do artists produce prints?
Artists produce prints for different reasons. For some it is a way to make their artwork accessible to more people and in many cases make it more affordable, for others it can be because the work they do produce works better as a print, or because it offers more flexibility and they are able to offer different sizes. 
For some artists it is purely a commercial decision, and there are other artists who will work solely in the decorative art market selling low cost prints which are again, not the same as fine art prints in terms of quality or cost, but equally they can be just as expensive. Honestly, prints are a minefield. 
Some artists will produce prints using techniques such as screen printing or etchings, others will produce fine art prints using giclee techniques, and how the print was produced usually gets reflected in the value of the art. 

art editions for collectors
So what about editions?
Editions are where prints get really interesting and knowing exactly what type of edition to buy can pay dividends if it is your intention to collect prints for their investment potential. Just like any other aspect of the art world though, the price of art whether it is an original or a print can go down in value just as much as its worth can increase. One thing I always say to everyone thinking about collecting art is to buy it because you love it, if it goes down in value you won’t ever be stuck with something that you don’t love or at least like.
Open Editions…
I mentioned earlier that open editions can be just as unique as original artworks if you know what to look out for. In terms of value, they are unlikely to increase much in value at all but occasionally they do especially if the artist decides to retire the original image, I have retired some of my work before so some buyers might not know that they are the only people to have ever purchased that particular print. 
The problem with open editions is that there really is no way of truly knowing how many other prints of the same painting have been sold and it is more likely that you will be buying the same piece of art that hangs on your neighbours wall and every other person who thought that it would match the décor. 
The trick to buying open editions that truly are more exclusive is to look out for prints that haven’t sold in huge quantities. Now that’s not to say that they haven’t sold because the art is bad, but more often than not because the artist selling the prints hasn’t as yet been discovered. Again, if the artist does get discovered in the future the value of the print is likely to go down as more people buy it, but many artists will be painting for a particular audience and often those audiences are quite niche. 
If you are buying from an artist who has a better chance of one day becoming a discovered artist, then you could easily own something that few other people have hanging on their walls, and maybe you will be the only person to have that particular work hanging on their walls. 
Are open editions inexpensive?
Yes they can be but equally not always. Sometimes the price of an open edition can cost as much as an original work by other artists, sometimes even more. Recently I visited an exhibition where open prints (signed) were going for in excess of a thousand dollars and these were at most 24-inches wide. The thousand dollar plus giclee is officially a thing it seems.
I can walk into any chain store and pay less than a hundred dollars/pounds for open editions and some of the discount stores here in the UK are selling prints for between £10 and £20, all of them will be open editions. But what those prints don’t have at that price point is a uniqueness or the quality that you would find in a fine art or professionally produced giclee print. 
Most of the prints I saw when I walked through a local discount store were of stock images which have been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times and used to decorate everything that needs some kind of artistic or graphic design element placed on it, and the artist might be getting less than pennies on the dollar if anything at all for their efforts, even though their work might sell frequently. 
Signed open edition prints are different to standard open edition prints and whilst they can still be purchased over and over, they will be signed by the artist, in most cases. This is always a case of buyer beware. In some instances prints might be initialled rather than signed, don’t worry if this is the case because it won’t really affect the value, and some printers will use a stamp to tell you exactly where the print was manufactured. 
Again this is something else that you do need to be aware of when purchasing signed open editions and to some extent even limited editions. Some signed prints may still not have been touched by the artist at all, with lithography used to reproduce a copy of the artist’s signature. If you plan on collecting these you should take a more cautious approach and buy from reputable dealers, or even better directly from the artist. 
Signatures on artwork can count for a lot and in some cases can make a huge difference to the price of the artwork, but some prints will have value only to those who might wish to collect autographs. The entire worth of some prints really does come from the signature alone. 
There are some in the art world who will tell you that the print signed by the artist means that the artist endorsed it or had some involvement in making it, but the reality is that in some cases the only input into making the print the artist has made is to sign their name on it. Some artists have been known to sign blank mediums such as paper and canvas stock before the print has even been made. 
When it comes to signatures it really comes down to who the artist is and what involvement that they have had in the printing and production process, and/or the sale of the work itself. 
Take a cautious approach when buying signed work…
This is why I always favour buying art from independent artists who are as yet to be truly discovered. They are more likely to have been involved right the way through the process, or will only allow their work to be reproduced if the quality meets their standard. 
Sometimes we hear the words limited edition, or signed by the artist, and unless there is definitive proof that the artist has been involved or does endorse the print then the signature really does become nothing more than an autograph. 
We also hear words and phrases such as artist’s proof, printer’s proof, and numbered by the artist, again none of this necessarily means what you think it means, well not always. It depends on how such phrases are interpreted so a limited edition might be limited by how many people will buy it, or it might be limited in that size on that particular medium. 

what do limited edition art prints mean
Limited Edition prints…
Limited edition prints can vary in price depending on all manner of factors including the artist, the size, the medium, but one of the key factors that can affect price is the edition size. The more limited a collection is, the higher the chances of the artwork becoming more valuable. 
As an artist it’s not always the right thing to do to offer limited edition prints especially if you are relatively new and don’t already have a number of sales under your belt. More established artists though can do well out of limited editions assuming that they are truly limited editions. 
For new and lesser established artists who want to get into providing limited editions it is wise to start off with higher edition numbers of say between a couple of hundred or three hundred works. This affords the artist some more opportunity to sell more but less expensively. More established artists might have smaller edition sizes and still make the same amount or more than a larger edition size. 
Currently whenever I create limited editions they will either run at 1, 5, 10, 25, or between 150 to 250 pieces depending on what the artwork is and how it is sold and the size of the work. The smaller artworks I sell tend to be the ones with the higher edition numbers. 
Does the numbering on the edition print affect the cost of the art? Not really. Many people do think that owning piece one of five is going to make the work more valuable but the reality is that it doesn’t make any significant difference unless a buyer is prepared to pay extra for the low numbers. What tends to happen is that prices of limited editions can increase towards the higher numbers if the market is willing to pay for the opportunity to buy the last remaining works of the edition pieces, but having a low number doesn’t really make a huge difference at all. People prefer to own 1 of 5, but it is a preference.
When looking at buying limited edition works if you plan on making an investment it might actually be wiser to look at any artist proof editions instead. These will usually be marked AP, and will have a number next to them which is almost always lower than the limited edition numbers. 
Essentially an artist proof is the proof of the work that will come from the printer and tends to be the print that is closest to the artist’s hand. In the early days of print making the plates used in prints would wear down over time and the first prints were always the freshest and cleanest versions so it makes sense that for older works the lower numbers were the very best and obviously more expensive. These earlier numbers would have been designated with the letters AP and were considered the best prints within the edition.
Today technology has improved and pretty much every print produced will be of equal quality. But owning an AP edition is seen as owning an important a rarer and scarcer proportion of the print run. HP is also used which means “hors de commerce” and which translates from French to “outside of business.”
The problem is that today because all of the prints are generally produced without the degradation that we have seen in the past, APs of modern prints are not always worth any more in the secondary art market, but they sometimes can be. Art, or rather owning art is a gamble when it comes to investment. Art is only ever worth what someone is willing to pay for it. 
Paper Quality…
I am obsessed with the paper quality of my prints. I prefer to go for anything that is archival and the thicker the stock the better, although it depends on the inks used and the printer. The choice of paper and the ink can affect the printmaking process. Some of my artworks will work better on glossy stock, some look much better on matte or an alternative medium to paper altogether. 
In the past artists such as Andy Warhol produced works on thinner paper to emphasise that his work should be enjoyed by the masses, and how the print appears on the paper in terms of size can affect the value too.
Is the artwork full sheet (border to border), does it have margins, has the paper been trimmed to fit the image, all of these can impact on the prints value. Even the production facilities used for prints can influence price as some printers are well regarded for producing the highest quality prints. 
If you are collecting older prints then look out for names such as Paragon Press, Gemini G.E.L and ULAE. These are signs that the printing process has been followed to the letter and the work produced will be very good, some collectors are known just for collecting prints from a single studio.
Are prints worth collecting?
In many cases the only affordable way to own a particular piece of art is to purchase a print. Not only that but it becomes easier to fill in the gaps you might have in original collections and to see the way the artist evolved over a period of time. 
To give you an idea, I purchased two Disney prints from Disney World back in 1999. The prints wouldn’t be worth much at all today except that they had been mistakenly signed by the animators who were supposed to only be signing the original artworks on the day. I paid somewhere in the region of $20 for each of the prints, and in 2018 each are worth at least a few hundred dollars, maybe a little more. 
Not bad for a couple of open editions that lots of people will have purchased. Whilst those are signed by the esteemed Disney artists who worked on them, there have been many times when I have stumbled across people buying prints that have been worth much more and cost only a fraction of what they are worth.
If you are looking for investment potential then purchasing editions from reputable artists and dealers are the best way to go. Smaller edition sizes with some confirmation that the edition hasn’t been replicated in any other way are the obvious things to look out for.
Look for prints in charity and reuse shops too. It’s not that unusual to find a real gem of an artwork hiding inside the frame behind the print, and make sure that if you are buying editions, the certificate is ideally signed by the artist and that it is worth more  paper it is written on.
Caring for your print…
Caring for your print is crucial if you want it to last for generations. Framing it and having it mounted properly in the first place is most immediate thing you need to do, and making sure that the frame and the mount are acid-free are vital.
Some say that any print if it has bright colours should be kept out of sunlight. With very few exceptions I would even say that any print should remain out of sunlight, even if it is under UV proof glass, regardless of the colour. 
It surprises me too at just how many people will buy an expensive print to hang in a bathroom or other area where it can be exposed to damp conditions. Unless a print is on the right medium that is water repellent and has been printed using waterproof inks, there really is little point in displaying in those kinds of areas because the decay will happen quickly once the water starts to form on the artwork. 
Essential tips to artists on editions…
If you are offering a limited edition, that really does mean limited. It means that you need to commit to an exact number and it means keeping a pinkie promise (one you can’t ever break) that you won’t produce 500 more in a few years’ time.
Artists proofs belong to the artist but you should always disclose to buyers how many artist proofs there are. They don’t count towards limited edition sizes as these are different, but having 500 artist proofs with a limited edition of five will devalue the five in the edition. 
Edition sizes should be chosen carefully. Once you commit you are committed and that’s it. You may introduce another variation of the work perhaps in a different size or medium, but this really should be communicated up front to buyers. 
Just taking a part of the original work and cropping it is also considered not just rude but it’s not within the artist’s etiquette that one would expect from a professional. It may be that if you sell on Print on Demand that you offer one of the special sizes for a limited time through one of the limited time promotions, but unless you have a way of ensuring that you can sign these works it is probably best from using the term limited in any other way than it will be available until next Friday. 
I know exactly what it is like to sell out of an edition and then have nowhere else to go to reintroduce the work at a later date. It can be tempting to pop the design on a notebook but art buyers are a savvy bunch and art collectors are savvier still. They’ll notice and they will complain. 
Make sure that numbering is consistent on your prints too, and sign them with pencil and try not to sign the work in an area that will be covered by a mat or hanging mount or fixing. Properly label any artist proofs and keep them separate. You might want to hold on to these until after the initial limited editions have sold out. 
Build trust with buyers and collectors and never deviate from a firm strategy that you commit to, and you will see these buyers and collectors return. The art world is all about creating and building trust based relationships and it is a long game. 
Prints are fantastic ways to expand your artistic diversity beyond your original art and they are becoming increasingly popular. Print buyers can be converted into original buyers, prints can be the first step towards an aspiration to own the original.
But there’s something else too, and that is that not everyone buys art with the intention of making a profit on it down the line. People today buy art for all sorts of reasons other than financial gain. People buy prints because they might not want to commit to an original, or can’t as yet afford it or just because the original is not available, or they might want something that just happens to fit on their wall and yes, it could be just to match the décor. 
If you are an artist in the 21st Century, prints can turn a starving artist into a thriving artist and for buyers they can really brighten up any home.
About Mark…
I am an artist and a blogger, and I have a passion for the work of independent artists. My work is sold right here
You can check out my brand new portfolio website right here: https://beechhousemedia.com and you can also follow me on Facebook at: https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia where you will also find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit which you can utilise in your own art projects. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest here.
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If there is a subject that you would like me to cover then please get in touch or leave a comment below!
Mark Taylor artist Staffordshire Cannock

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