About Original Prints
What is an original print?
The most important definition of an original print is a piece of artwork that is conceived as a print and then produced using one or more printmaking techniques. Printmaking often refers to the artform that involves creating a matrix by hand using a range of techniques, and then produce paper-based images – the final artwork – from the matrix.
Contemporary artists now use a range of techniques from classic techniques such as etching, woodcut to digital imaging. Although an original print is usually produced in multiples – but limited edition*, some artists also produce one-off work.
When an artwork is conceived in another medium – such as painting or drawing, copied (usually through a photographic process) and then printed using commercial processes such as giclee, it is a reproduction and not an original print.
*When a print is editioned, the artist is committed not to exceed, extend or re-edition that same image – in some parts of the world, this is regulated by law. Once the full edition has been made, the printing matrices (plates or blocks used to print the image) are usually destroyed or defaced so no more prints can be made.
What are editions?
You will often see pencil writing of something like ‘6/25’ at the bottom of an original print, that indicates the edition number of the print. It means that there are in total 25 prints made – from a single plate, screen or digital design, and the print you are looking at is the 6th out of the 25. Sometimes you will also see variables in an edition which is intended by the artist, which could be through the change of colour or inking process.
You may also see some other edition markings on original prints – most likely the ones use more classic techniques:
An impression that is for artists’ personal use, often identical to the numbered edition. The artist can mark A/P on up to an additional 10% of the edition. For example, an edition of 100 will have 100 numbered prints produced, and an extra 10 A/P prints.
Artist’s Proofs are sometimes deemed more collectable and/or higher value – due to their personal nature.
A working proof produced through the process of development of the image – and many may be produced before the BAT or PP.
Means ‘Good to Pull’ in French. It is the final trial proof that is approved by the artist, and the guideline for the rest of the edition in terms of quality, colour etc..
Means ‘Outside of Commerce’ in French – they are not originally intended for sales, but for display, and sometimes made with slightly different paper stock and/or ink for better durability, so it can be handled many times.
If there are printers making editions for the artists, they will often get a complimentary Printer’s Proof.
Sometimes you may find an embossed mark made on the paper, to show the publisher or the workshop the edition was printed in.
You may also find other inscriptions on prints – especially historical ones, when the production of a print involved more people with different people working on drawing, carving etc.. But this is less common in contemporary printmaking.
Do all artists make their own prints?
Creating a piece of artwork using printmaking techniques requires a great understanding and experience of those techniques. Many artists make all their own prints – from the initial design to creating the plate/screen, to inking and pulling, they will make the whole edition in their own studio.
Some artists work with printers, master printmakers and publishers. They may develop the design, create the plate/screen etc, up until the when they have a BAT, then they will hand over to a professional printer / print workshop, where and the printer will produce the full edition that will match the BAT, using the same plate/screen, and the same process.
Artists also collaborate with printers or master printmakers in the process of creating the print and producing a BAT – especially when they are experimenting with new techniques. The edition will then be produced either by the artist or the printer.
How Do I Look After Prints?
When you buy an original print from House of Prints, we will send you information on how to look after it. But the general principles are:
Many of the original prints we sell are unframed and unmounted. Most prints are printed on paper, which can easily pick up grease and dirt and can be creased and torn, we would suggest making sure your hands are clean and dry or wear cotton gloves when handling prints.
When you come to frame your print, make sure the framer use acid-free materials, and that the print itself never touch the glass. Consult your framer and make sure they understand what you would like before framing. You will find a list of recommended UK-based framers by our artists and locations.
When hanging your framed prints in your home, make sure the hanging method you use is stable and can withstand the weight of work – framed and glazed work can be heavy. Exposure to strong/direct sunlight (e.g. near an east-facing window) should be avoided, as it may cause fading.
Keep out of direct sunlight, and well wrapped. If it’s unframed, use acid-free tissue and store flat in a drawer, if framed, wrap with packaging clingfilm and then bubble wrap, store upright. Make sure the environment you store the print is clean, dry and at a consistent and cool temperature.
For damaged prints, we suggest that you contact a professional conservator – you can often get in touch with your local museum or public art gallery with a historical collection. They will have the expert knowledge on conserving original prints and will be able to document any repair that has been made to your print.