So often I hear people talk about having bought a “print” at a décor store, or sometimes even at a framing store/gallery. They are all excited about the picture they have just bought. What they don’t realize is that they haven’t actually bought a print. What they have bought is a reproduction, and that is NOT the same as a print.
A reproduction is produced by taking a photograph of an original piece of art such as a painting, and then transferring that photo to a support surface, usually paper or canvas. Giclée “prints” of paintings are one example of this sort of photo reproduction. The image quality is great. Time has been taken to ensure the colours are correct. The picture is lovely. But it is not an original piece of art. The hand of the artist has not been directly involved in creating the reproduction. There is nothing wrong in purchasing this type of image, but the consumer needs to be aware of what he/she has actually bought. Even when these reproductions are “limited”, they are not prints. (Please note that this distinction does not apply to photographic art. That is in a class of its own. I am speaking here strictly about the reproduction of paintings or other “fine art” works.)
So, what is a print? A print is an image created directly by the artist. It is hand-made art. Like a painting, a print is created by artist’s use of a surface, pigments, and tools. Each time a print is created, the artist must apply the pigment (ink, water colour paint etc.) to a printing plate/screen/stone/wood block, prepare the paper, and then create the image either by hand or using a printing press. Each print created in this manner is an original piece of art, whether it is part of a series that artist creates with etchings, or the one of kind image that is called a monoprint/monotype. Even when photography is used, as in some silk screen images, the artist is directly involved with creating the image through the manipulation of the photograph, preparing the screen, and applying the inks.
To summarize, a print is an original work of art created directly by the artist. A reproduction is a photographic copy of an original work.
For more information about the finer details of creating a print series, see my article, “Creating a Print Series/Edition.”