For most art-lovers, the possibility of owning a masterpiece by our favorite artist is out of reach, perhaps impossible.
However, thanks to the power of photography and printing that dates back several decades, we are lucky enough to surround ourselves with all sorts of printed trinkets and merchandise that allow us to live our favorite art every day.
Amongst our shopping carts, we might find posters or prints that we can hang on our walls at home, in the boardroom or maybe in classrooms. Although we get to enjoy the thrill of seeing our favorite masterpiece every day, the quality – and now, texture – that feeling can be heightened the more a piece replicates the details of an original.
So, how do you decide what to buy and what is the difference between a poster, a giclée and an elevated print?
Fine Art Prints are typically serigraphs (screen prints) or lithographs, which both provide vivid and sharp appearances and uses high-quality paper stock. The most valued part of the fine art print process is that they are deemed as “multiple original” prints instead of reproductions. This means each print is made by hand, one impression at a time, and allows for a manual proofing process to make sure each print turns out as intended. In many cases, the artist will work directly with the print maker to check and sign each print, ready to be sold.
These high-quality multiples are often coated with a silken finish that protects the inks and creates an elegant look, striking a balance between quality and affordability.
Proofing and Signing Fine Art Prints. Photo Credit: Mike Lyon and Lyon Arts Ltd
The newest in art-printing mediums, elevated prints typically use high-end technology to map the color, geometry and brushstrokes of an original painting. Verus Art’s 3D digitization system uses lasers to scan a painting, capturing detail ten times finer than a human hair. Data is then processed and color matched, ready for the printing process, which uses polymer, pigment based inks that are durable and offer the greatest limit in printing colors that are true to the original.
Each print is formed from layer upon layer of fine ink, as opposed to some textured methods of placing a film of ink over a mold. This provides an accurate finish and durable prints that can even be touched and gently wiped clean when needed.
Giclée prints are deemed to be one of the best print reproduction options because they created using a sophisticated and patented printing process known as "giclée". Using the highest levels of precision available, the process delivers a fine stream of 12 pigment-based inks (compared to four on a standard digital printer) to saturate the fibers of high-quality watercolor paper. Combined, this results in pure, rich color and remarkable detail that doesn’t degrade or yellow over time.
With such a premium finish that lasts for generations, museums, and galleries around the world favor giclée prints over digital prints. Compared to Fine Art Prints, multiples are printed in a batch and there isn’t usually an involvement from the artist unless they sign a limited edition of prints. However, compared to digital prints, a high-quality scan is used and prints will be color matched to the original piece.
Photo Credit: Soho Frames
The raised texture of some prints can either create an illusion of canvas or even create the look of 3-D brushwork like that of an original painting. Some techniques use molds that are produced with the texture, before having the colorful film printed and placed on top to match the original brushstrokes. It is common to see marginal errors where the colored surface doesn’t perfectly line up with the texture below. Most textured prints are created by painting a transparent gel on top of a giclée print. This is typically done by hand, painting the gel in the same motion as the original brushstrokes were painted.
Using loose, brushstrokes or focusing on small areas of the painting still makes for an efficient way to reproduce a painting while keeping texture, as demonstrated in the video below. Even if the paper and inks are high quality, the overall finish allows giclée prints to be represented in a more authentic way than normal 2D brushstrokes.
Although most fine art prints use lithographs, offset lithography is an industrialized version of the same printing technique. Offset lithographs originally became a popular printing technique because thousands of exact replicas could be made that were like drawings on paper, without degradation of the image. Although offset lithographs can be a cost-effective way to print reproductions, the initial outlay to set up a print is the costliest part of the process, making it an unpopular for small print runs. Over 1000 copies are commonly printed from each lithograph plate.
Photo Credit: Creative Review
Digital printing is typically the most affordable method of printing as they are often produced on mass scale, with no interaction from artists, and the quality can vary widely. Although digital printing typically uses a four color process, printing technology is always improving and it is common to find watercolor paper, comic paper or high gloss photo paper being used. However, the process and type of inks also mean colors might not last as well as a giclée and, even for prints from a quality print shop, it is expected that color could be as much as 10% off from the original piece.
So, when you are next faced with a dilemma of what prints to spend your hard-earned cash on, our advice is to consider these three main points:
If an artist’s work is composed of thick, energetic brushstrokes, you’ll not want to miss out on this in a printed form. For the most authentic reproduction of brushstrokes, look for elevated prints that have been digitized, color matched and printed to replicate every original brushstroke.
A great alternative is to consider textured giclée prints as they will give that depth and illusion of real brushstrokes, which would otherwise be lost in a normal 2D print.
If you are investing in work by your favorite artist and have the opportunity to buy a fine art print, in which they have been very involved, this is highly satisfying and worth spending a little extra. Artists will typically work with high-quality printmakers so the paper and inks will look and feel amazing, and will last a long time. In some cases, fine art prints might even increase in value over time.
A more budget-friendly option, that still guarantees high-quality ink and paper, is to buy a giclée. However, it’s likely the artist will have little involvement, and prints shouldn’t be considered as an investment opportunity.
If you find yourself drawn to a piece that would perfectly finish your newly decorated kitchen/bedroom/living room, you might be happy to order a cost-effective digital print. Sure, look for high-quality paper and select from matte/gloss/photo finishes.