To understand the difference between a fine art print and a photo print, let’s first look at both of them separately.
What Is an Art Print?
The term art print should not be confused with the term fine art print.
While a fine art print is considered original artwork, an art print is a commonly used term used to describe a type of reproduction (a copy of an original work of art).
Examples of reproductions are prints that can be mass-produced like posters, art prints, and canvas prints.
You can see images of reproductions by visiting iCanvas.
Art prints can be easily mass-produced without the aid of the artist who created the original artwork and they’re typically printed on white, premium, cotton paper with high-quality inks. Usually, the paper used for an art print is matte and can be smooth or lightly textured.
If you go to popular art sites such as Society6 or Redbubble, you’ll quickly notice that what they call art print is artwork printed on medium-weight, cotton paper with a white border. It’s common for art prints to come with a white border around the artwork for framing, but it’s not a requirement.
An example of what most people call art print is in Society6’s product video (below).
What Does Photographic Print Mean?
Commonly, digital photographs are printed on plain paper with a printer, but this is not considered a photographic print.
A photographic print is a reproduction (copy) of a photograph or artwork, and it must use photo paper (paper coated with light-sensitive chemicals). This type of paper is smooth and has a gentle polished look or a glossy finish.
Today, most of the high-quality photographic prints sold online are what you call silver halide photographic prints (see images on Redbubble). Silver halide photographic prints are printed by exposing photo paper to light and having the image infused in the paper through a silver-based chemical process.
High-quality photographic prints are known to have colors that look very natural yet vibrant with amazing highlights and shadows.
Another great thing about a photographic print is that the dye is inside the paper, as opposed to laying on top of the paper, so it’ll be resilient to being damaged by things like scratching and liquids.
What Is the Difference Between Photo Paper and Fine Art Paper?
Although both high-quality photographic prints and art prints are more similar than they are different, the main difference is the type of paper used.
Art prints and fine art prints are typically made with a type of fine art paper. This type of paper is very durable and is usually made with archival, acid-free cotton (or a cotton blend). Photographic prints are made of photo paper. This type of paper is resin-coated and light-sensitive.
Fine art paper is usually matte and thick and can be smooth or lightly textured. Photo paper is glossier and typically thinner and smoother than fine art paper.
Photo paper also helps in giving the print a high contrast look (amazing highlights and shadows) compared to the more muted look of fine art paper.
Compared to other papers used (like photo paper), galleries usually prefer fine art paper because it tends to last longer with less fading, cracking, and yellowing.
Fine art paper can have a lifespan of 100+ years.