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Fine Art Prints vs. Reproductions

Updated on October 8, 2014

Do you know that framed piece of art hanging on your wall that you picked up at a garage sale could be worth quite a bit of money? Fine art prints vs. reproductions - artists, galleries and collectors have wanted to know the difference as long as there has been the technology to reproduce fine art.

If you are a collector, planning to purchase fine art or have art reproductions, this information will be of interest to you. The right type of art reproduction could mean the difference between a reproduction that is priceless or a poster that is worth only a few pennies. There is a big difference between a fine art print and a reproduction.

There is a lot of confusion these days in the world of art collecting, art prints and art reproductions. The reason for this is that art dealers, retailers, artists and anyone else out there selling fine art reproductions don't use the proper terms used to distinguish a poster print from a giclee (pronounced zhee-KLAY).

In order to know the difference between a hand-pulled original print and a limited edition lithograph, you need to learn the various types of reproductions available. It's really just a simple matter of learning the technical terms for each type of reproduction. Identifying the correct type of reproduction can make a huge difference in the overall value of a fine art reproduction.


The Different Types of Fine art Reproductions


Hand Painted or Painted Hand Reproductions

In this type of reproduction, a trained artist will literally look at the original (or representation) and carefully copy each brushstroke using the same colors, type of paints and substrate (paper, canvas, wood, etc.). The artist takes great pains to duplicate the texture and exact color to create a hand-painted original copy of the painting.

Lithographs or Lithographic Prints

These are fine art prints typically made by the artist personally on some sort of press or stone. The original process of lithography involved a carefully drawn image on limestone from which the prints were made. Today, some fine art lithographs are still made using the same process.

More typically, modern fine art lithographs are produced using plates made from a photographic duplication process and then printed on printing press. In either case, after the print has dried, it is signed and marked with an issue number by the artist.


Note the repeated original signature and the sequential print number followed by the total number of prints in this series (#13 out of 100 printed).
Note the repeated original signature and the sequential print number followed by the total number of prints in this series (#13 out of 100 printed). | Source

Limited-Edition Fine Art Prints

The limited-edition print must be made from the original artwork under the oversight and direction of the artist. Each limited-edition fine art print is numbered in sequence and signed by the artist. The number indicates the sequential order of a print followed by a slash and then the total number of prints produced (for example: 3/100 indicates the third print of a total 100 prints created).

There is only one print run for limited-edition fine art prints. After this initial print run, the plates are destroyed. Smaller print runs typically indicate greater value. Limited edition prints that have no number or original signature are merely a poster and have limited value.


Fine Art Serigraphs

A serigraph is simply a silk-screened image, technically speaking, each serigraph is an original artwork. The process is very complex and starts with a computer scanning then separating out each and every color used in the original painting or artwork. Then a separate screen is made for each of these colors.

Each silk screen is carefully positioned over the serigraph paper. A skilled technician uses a hand squeegee to push the right amount of paint color through the silk screen and onto the paper. Serigraphs typically use between 80 and 130 specific, individual colors and may be quite valuable.


Giclee Prints Are Very Popular and Affordable

The word "giclee" is a neologism created by Jack Duganne in 1991 to define fine art digital prints which are produced on a special inkjet printer. Typically, the quality of giclee prints tend to be better than lithographs. One of the big advantages to giclee fine art reproductions is the available substrates or printing surfaces.

A giclee print can be applied to just about any surface including just about any kind of photographic paper and even canvas. Giclee prints can be produced as a single print or several hundred at a very affordable price. Using the proper inks, giclee prints are fade resistant and remain bright for as long as a hundred years. Many artists prefer this type of fine art print due to it's affordability in producing even small quantities.


Fine Art Engraving

One of the earliest known types of producing fine art prints, this ancient technology is still used today. This process is based on the 15th century technology that developed the printing press. Fine art reproductions are created by using a "graver" to literally cut the image into a hard surface like metal or wood.

This graver creates very cleanly and precisely cut "furrows" in the surface plate. The ink is then literally pushed into these furrows and onto the printing surface using high-pressure. NOTE: This process is not used for paintings, but is typically used for the reproduction of drawings.


Knowing the Difference Between Fine Art Prints and Reproductions is Important When Valuing Artwork

The value of a piece of fine art print or reproduction is largely based on properly identifying the type of print or reproduction process. There are many folks out there who throw around these terms and really do not know their true meaning. You see a lot of these so-called "fine art prints" or expensive "reproductions" on various websites, online businesses and at auctions.

The technology is now so fine-tuned at reproducing fine art that even some museums have purchased fakes or reproductions of well-known fine art. There is hardly any type of regulation to protect the artist or the collector so both should be very careful about the methods used to create or purchase fine art prints and fine art reproductions.



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    • MKayo profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Texas

      Maddie - if it's a serigraph, it could be worth quite a bit. Thanks for the read - high praise indeed! Best, M

    • Maddie Ruud profile image

      Maddie Ruud 

      6 years ago from Oakland, CA

      This Hub showed me how very little I actually knew about fine art prints and reproductions. It also reminded me that I have a limited edition print (1/250) given to me 2 years ago that I have yet to frame. I better get on that!

    • MKayo profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Texas

      MT - The reason limited edition lithographs or prints are signed in pencil is because a signature is much harder to forge or duplicate if the print or litho is reproduced without authorization. Signatures in pen are more easily duplicatable using the printing process or by using a stamp. Artists will typically use a soft lead pencil for signed and numbered prints.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 

      6 years ago from USA

      I purchased some art as a very young adult, for what was a lot of money ($500), and it turned out to be limited edition reproduction prints. I don't know what method they used though. Since then, I've bought more limited edition prints, because they are more affordable to buy. They are always look like they are signed in pencil, which I think is strange, because someone can easily erase it and put something else there. I appreciate the information - I feel better about my prints now - maybe my purchase wasn't so stupid after all.


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