Printing can be defined as ‘a process for reproducing image and text, typically using ink on paper using a printing press’ (Wikipedia). Fine Art printmaking is the process of creating original artworks printing by hand or using a press, usually on paper and except in the case of monoprints, are capable of being individually reproduced in a limited edition when each print is signed and numbered. The artist decides how many prints are to be in the edition and doesn’t print any more outside that number. There are variations of editions which are indicated by the handwritten notation at the base of each print. A print is called ‘an impression’ and all of the prints together form the edition.
It is important to know the difference between commercial reproductions (commonly called ‘prints’) and Fine Art Prints. Commercial reproductions are printed by commercial printers and often number in the thousands. Artists may photograph their artwork (for example, painting) and have this image reproduced in a limited edition which can be signed and numbered by the artist. This is NOT a fine art print as it is reproduced photographically and each print is not individually hand made. However it is, of course, a legitimate way for artists to sell their images!
Pulling a colour from a lino plate
In contrast, each Fine Art Print is a handmade original artwork which is limited in its edition: that is, the artist nominates a limited number of prints to be made, creates them, then destroys the plate or surface from which the print was made. The number can be anything from a single print to as high a number as the technique will allow. Perhaps the boredom threshold of the artist comes into play here! Often, the lower the number of the print in an edition, the more sought after the print by print collectors. This particularly applies in the case of etchings as the plates tend to slowly wear away each time the image is inked up then wiped and printed.
Printmaking surfaces include metal plates for etching and engraving, wood, plastic or lino for relief prints as well as stones for lithography. Computers are also used to create original images and there are many more varied surfaces which printmakers can use to create limited edition original prints.
Most artists feel that printmaking techniques add a new dimension to an original work of art, transforming an idea into something more exciting through one or more of the processes of Fine Art Printmaking. Limited editions enable people to purchase original artworks at a lower cost than one-off works. However Fine Art Prints are original artworks in their own right and fit comfortably into the spectrum of handmade artworks.
Completed hand-coloured etching with arrangement of seed pods