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Flat Art…Paintings and Prints.

Flat Art…Paintings and Prints.

Paintings and prints are the main categories of flat art that are recognized and collected worldwide. OK I am not forgetting photography but I know a bit more about paintings and prints.


‘Paintings’ could also be listed as Originals, Oils, Water-colours, Acrylics, Gouache, Pastel, Conte Crayon, Drawings, Sketches, Plein Aire, Pen and Wash, etc. These are terms that describe the type of materials used or method of making the picture.

It is usually assumed that a ‘Painting’ is a one-off, every one unique. The criteria for judging a painting are very subjective. Often a painting will be valued and priced by who the artist is or was. Other factors include subject matter, style, size, method, history of ownership, exhibition exposure, age of the artwork, condition, and scarcity, etc.


Similarly, a ‘Print’ could be described, valued, and priced as Original Print, Limited Edition, Open-edition, Poster, Lithograph, Giclee, Etching, lnkjet, Engraving, Mono-print, Silkscreen, Collograph, etc.

Again some of these terms might refer to the method of creation while others describe the status. Terms like mono-print, limited edition, open edition, collectors edition, and poster do not indicate the creative method, but instead refer to the number of repeats and other factors such as whether the item is signed and numbered or not.

‘Original Print’ is a confusing term used by some printmakers to describe an image where the original purpose of the artist was to make a print, rather than the print being a reproduction of a painting. Be aware that an ‘Original Print’ is also usually produced as a multiple edition, the word ‘Original’ does not indicate uniqueness but instead refers to original intent.


The big difference between a ‘Painting’ and a ‘Print’ is usually that a painting is unique and a print a multiple. They may look the same. They may even be distinguishable only with the aid of a magnifying glass. An artwork can even be a hybrid somewhere between a unique original and a multiple. Examples of this might be mono-prints (a one off print), or an artwork where the artist does extra work on a print making it different to others in the edition, such as enhanced prints or prints with remarque in the border. Acrylographs, (new content over-painted onto a canvas print), are another example. Obviously prints that are individually signed and numbered by the artist are also unique even though the image is repeated. And an artist, or even a team of crafts people in a production line process might actually repeat an ‘Original Painting’.


The same criteria are used to value prints or paintings. Artist, subject, style, size, method, history of ownership and exposure, age of the work, condition, and scarcity are exactly the same for original paintings and prints. The extra factor affecting print scarcity is whether there are few or many repeats that are exactly the same. So editions that are limited might be preferred to open ended editions.

Buyers should be aware that calling a print a ‘Limited Edition’ does not guarantee that only that one edition will be published. As in the book-publishing world, instances occur where a limited edition print sells out and then another second edition or open edition is published later or even simultaneously. Only believe that a ‘Limited Edition’ is indeed limited if you get a signed ‘Certificate of Authenticity’ with a promise in writing that the image will have no other use worldwide forever. (Usually such a CofA will make the understandable exception that the image can be repeated in a catalogue, book or other publicity programme.)

The lower numbers of a print are often valued more because historically the lower numbers of etchings and engravings were those that were printed first and would be better quality than later numbers. Modern printing technology has overcome this factor as quality is consistent and higher numbers can be exactly the same quality as earlier numbers.


Since the mid 1990’s digital technology, also known as giclee, has enabled a publisher to store the matrix digitally, and use the digital master file to print using inkjet printers.

Nowadays giclee printing an image means that it does not need to be repeated for a set number of times at the outset. Instead it can be printed on demand. The result paradoxically is that a traditional ‘Limited Edition’ can sometimes have more actual prints printed than an ‘Open Edition’ that has been produced on demand. So an image that is published as a ‘Signed and Numbered Open Edition’ might be scarcer than another so-called ‘Limited Edition’. Self-publishing artists know this, but some traditional dealerships stick to over valuing ‘Limited Editions’ and under valuing ‘Open Editions’.

The new technology also enables artists to afford self-publishing. Cutting down on whole edition production, storage, and marketing costs have been crucial factors. So the few big publishing companies no longer monopolize the supply. They were guilty of keeping the supply down to safe and predictable images because of their investment in storage, and lead-time of older print processes.

Self-publishing using small number editions or print on demand also means that artists can supply niche markets where fewer collectors want the product. The result is that there is a huge increase of affordable images available for collectors. And self-publishing artists get a better share of the sale price. Hooray.

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