What Is a Print in Art? (A Look at Fine Art Prints & Other Printed Artwork)

What Is Print in Simple Words?

A print is a work of art that has been created by printing, either manually (e.g. printing press, stamping) or with a machine (e.g. mechanical printer), on paper or other similar material.

The medium used to create the print can be anything from woodblock printing and screen printing to sending digital artwork or photos to an inkjet printer.

What Makes a Print a Print?

Simply put, a print is any work of art (including photography) that has been created by:

  1. making a unique image,
  2. then transferring that image onto another surface.
What Is the Difference Between an Original and a Print?

An original is a unique piece of art created by an artist, like a painting. An original is one-of-a-kind.

A print is when you make an original image and then you transfer that original image to another surface (like a canvas print from iCanvas). The keyword here is “transfer”.

Fine Art Prints vs Reproductions

Today, most people think that all prints are copies (reproductions) of an original design made by a mechanical printer (a printer similar to the one you might have at home). But that couldn’t be further from the truth!

There are 2 main types of prints:

  1. Fine art print (or original print)
  2. Reproduction (or copy)

Fine art prints are original artwork while reproductions are copies of an original work of art.

To really understand the difference between the two, let’s take a closer look at what reproductions and fine art prints are.

What Are Reproductions?

Reproductions are copies of original works of art. There is no creative process involved from the artist when the copies are made.

Reproductions can easily be mass-produced (e.g. contemporary wall art prints like posters, art prints, and canvas prints).

What Are Fine Art Prints?

A fine art print is a print that’s also an original work of art. In other words, fine art prints are prints handmade by the artist.

Examples of fine art printing are those found on Etsy, including etchings, lithographs, and serigraphs.

Fine art prints are printed using different techniques and using different materials but they all have one thing in common; all fine art prints are considered made with the artist’s own hands so each print is essentially unique (an original).

Basically, to make a fine art print, the artist must:

  1. Draw, paint, etch, or carve a printing surface (the fancy term for this printing surface is “matrix”). The printing surface (matrix) can be a multitude of different materials, like stone (lithographs), screens (serigraphs, also known as screenprints), and metal plates (etchings).
  2. When the ink or paint is transferred from the matrix to a sheet of paper (or whatever material the artist chooses), the final product is called a fine art print.

Learn more about different types of fine art printmaking by checking out the links below:

Fine Art Print vs Art Print

The term fine art print should not be confused with the term art print either.

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).

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 iCanvas, Society6, and 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).

Society6 Art Prints | Product Video
Art Print vs Poster

Art prints are copies of original artwork that are typically printed with high-quality inks on fine art paper, which is thick and sometimes has a lightly textured surface.

Art prints are also typically made using a professional printing process called giclée printing. Giclée prints are considered to be of the highest quality, can last a lifetime, and are used by thousands of artists, illustrators, photographers, galleries, and museums around the world.

Typically, giclée art prints follow these standards:

  • Inkjet Printers: Standard inkjet prints are made using dye-based inks. Giclées are made using pigment-based inks.
  • High Resolution and Colors: They have the sharpest detail and highest resolution, displaying a full-color spectrum. Giclées capture every shade of an original work.
  • Archival Papers: The paper surfaces must be acid-free and of archival quality to ensure longevity.

The standards mentioned above are what make giclée the best art prints that are very resistant to fading and yellowing. (Art prints from Society6Redbubble, and iCanvas are considered giclées).

Posters are also copies of original, artistic images, but they’re usually printed on paper that is thinner, less expensive, smooth, and glossy.

Posters are usually printed in high quantities and use lower-quality inks and sheets of paper. Its lower standards of quality are what make posters much more affordable than most other types of prints. But their lower standards in quality also limit their life span and careful attention to the true color of the image is usually not a top priority.

Conclusion: What Do Prints Mean in Art?

In the art world, prints are one of the most popular mediums. They are versatile, easy to produce, and relatively inexpensive.

But what do they really mean?

Prints have been around for centuries, and their popularity has only grown in recent years. Many people see them as a more accessible form of art since they are often less expensive than original paintings or sculptures.

But there is more to prints than just their price tag. They can also be seen as a way to democratize art. Unlike originals, which are often only available to wealthy collectors, prints can be bought and enjoyed by anyone.

This democratization of art is one of the things that makes prints so special. In a world where original works of art can often be out of reach, prints offer a way for everyone to enjoy and appreciate great works of art.