Originals and Reproductions

The value of a work of art depends on many things — among other factors, the fame and reputation of the artist, the size of the piece, whether it carries the artist’s signature, whether it is an original, a limited-edition reproduction, or simply a decorative print.

Several years ago a financial magazine ranked the investments that had gained the most in value over the previous fifteen to thirty years, and found that original works of contemporary art were among the top three. All else equal, the more rare and “the closer to the artist’s hand,” the more valuable the work of art — an original work is more valuable than a signed, limited-edition print, a signed print from a smaller edition is more valuable than one from a larger edition, and so on.

For those unfamiliar with the many ways art can be offered, the terminology can be confusing, so we wrote the following brief guide:

Original The original work, the master piece. Whether it is an oil, an acrylic, a watercolor, a charcoal, or an etching, it is the original, unique, directly created by the artist.

Giclée A modern printmaking process in which individual prints are produced on a special large-format printer in extremely high resolution, to give as exact as possible a reproduction of the precise colors and strokes of the original work. The giclée process offers the highest-quality reproduction available. Giclées may be printed on paper or on canvas. They are rarely produced in editions larger than a few hundred — each one printed individually.

Lithograph A print made by the process of lithography, which was created in Europe over 200 years ago. A “mirror image” of the print is carefully created on a smooth limestone surface, which is then directly inked and transferred to high-quality paper under light pressure. For a color lithograph, this process is repeated for each of the four colors (red, yellow, blue, and black) that are overlaid to produce the varied spectrum of the final print.

Serigraph A silk-screen printing process in which a stencil is used to mask areas of a fine mesh (at one time, silk; more recently, artificial fabrics); ink is then forced through the unmasked areas of mesh onto paper to make the final image. Each color used in the final image requires the silk-screener to make a separate screen, masked so as to allow only that particular color to print.

Poster print A poster created by an offset printing process (similar to book or magazine printing) on paper; sometimes called an offset lithograph. The quality of the print and of the paper vary; fine-art limited-edition prints on high-quality paper have been created using this process, and so have inexpensive decorative prints made in large quantities on lower-quality paper.
Signed, limited edition

A small number of identical prints produced under the artist’s supervision; each print is numbered and hand-signed by the artist.
A print that the artist has individually enhanced by hand, adding detail and depth, and creating individual variation, making each print unique.

-AP An artist’s proof, an image made for the artist by the printer. APs are usually produced in smaller numbers than the general edition, are marked as APs, and may be signed and numbered as well. Because the number of APs is smaller and because the APs are “closer to the artist’s hand,” signed APs tend to be more valuable than the prints of a signed and numbered limited edition.

-EA An épreuve d’artist or artist’s proof.

-HC An hors de commerce (“not for trade”) proof, created in small numbers — as few as five or ten — to be shown to gallery owners or art dealers.

-PP A printer’s proof, created in small numbers and given to the printer by the artist in appreciation. These are typically signed by the artist.

-CP Cancellation proof. When a limited edition of a lithograph or other press-process print has been completed, the stone or plate from which the prints have been made is defaced (“cancelled”) so that no more prints can be made. A single print, the cancellation proof, is then made to show graphically that the edition of prints has indeed been limited in the most definitive way, by destroying the “negative” from which the prints were made.


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