Confused about the difference between a “limited edition print” and an “original print”? Well, you’re not alone, as it can be a very confusing subject when you are looking for the right piece of artworke, but are not sure what exactly you’re purchasing. We’ve included a glossary of common print terms below, to help you better understand what you’re looking at, when shopping for art.

Originals

One-of-a-kind artwork

  • Acrylic: A type of water-based media used by artists. Drys faster and is safer to use than oil paints.
  • Oil: A medium in which the vehicle is drying oil, generally linseed. It takes longer to dry than acrylic, but gives a strong color and can be used to build texture on canvas.
  • Watercolor: A painting done with water-soluble pigments and water on an absorbent paper.
  • Mixed Media: A technique involving the use of two or more artistic media such as ink and pastel or painting and collage. The various media are combined to create one composition.
  • Encaustic: The art or technique of painting with hot wax colors that are fused after application into a continuous layer and fixed to a surface.

Original Prints

This term includes all forms of printmaking in which the artist is involved with the hands-on production of the print, such as etchings, monoprints, serigraphs, original lithographs, and intaglios. A limited edition print is not an original print.

  • Intaglio: This term covers a wide range of printmaking in which the portions of the plate that accept ink are recessed below the plate’s surface. Intaglio prints include etchings, mezzotints, drypoints and engravings.
  • Drypoint: An intaglio printing process in which a pointed needle is used to inscribe the lines. Tiny uplifts of metal, called burrs, are left along the incised line. These burrs result in a soft, fuzzy line in the image when the plate is printed.
  • Etching: An intaglio process in which an etching needle is used to draw into a wax ground applied over a metal plate. The plate is submerged in a series of acid baths, each biting into the metal surface only where unprotected by the ground. The ground is removed, ink is forced into the etched depressions, the unetched surfaces wiped, and an impression is printed.
  • Image Size: The size of the work reproduced on a print, not the overall size of the paper used for the print.
  • Mezzotint: An intaglio process that is tonal rather than linear. A metal plate is first worked with a curved serrated tool called a rocker, raising burrs over the surface to hold the ink and print as a soft dark tone. The design is then created in lighter tones by scraping out and burnishing areas of the roughened plate so that they hold less ink, or none, in the highlights.
  • Monotype: This is the only type of print that comes in an edition of one. The artist draws or paints a design on a flat surface and pulls the package through a press. Because there has been no fixed design – no stencil, no etched lines – the design can never be duplicated exactly. Thus the term ‘mono’ – meaning one.
  • Platemark: The embossed mark left on the print by the edges of the plate from which the print was made. This is often a clue to the identification of an original print.
  • Serigraph: A process of printmaking in which a stencil is made (generally on a silk surface) and ink is forced through a screen in order to produce the desired image. Also know as a SILKSCREEN print.
  • Vitreograph: The use of glass as a printing plate is the unique aspect of the vitreograph. 3/8″ float glass is textured with Carborundum in order to hold pigments.
  • Woodcut: A relief print made from an image cut in a piece of wood. The surface of the wood that remains after carving is inked and transferred to paper. Woodcuts are often identified by thick, bold lines.

Limited Editions

This term refers to a print of which a pre-determined, limited number of images are printed, after which the means by which they were produced is destroyed, thereby ensuring that no more will ever be made. This limiting of the number of copies printed creates the value of the limited edition print. This term is most often associated with offset lithographic reproductions.

  • Documentation: Information which verifies authenticity of the print. Usually includes artists name, publishers name, type of paper used, type of printing process used, and size of edition. This information is printed on a separate, small piece of paper and included with the print in the print folder. We always put the documentation information in a pocket on the back of the framed piece.
  • Duck Stamp Print: A term used to describe a limited edition print taken from a federal or state stamp. It is usually mounted and displayed with the stamp.
    Edition: Number of prints made from an original. This number generally does not include any artist’s proofs or any special editions.
  • Giclee (Iris Print): A computerized reproduction technique in which prints are created using a very high quality inkjet printer. The inks come in various grades of water-based dyes. It is very important to use UV glass with these prints, because being printed with dyes, which historically are not very colorfast, they can fade quickly.
  • Offset Lithography: The photomechanical reproduction of an original piece of artwork. The image is burned onto a plate and is printed with ink coming from a roller.
  • Remarque: A small original sketch done by the artist, often outside the actual image of a print. It may be in pencil, watercolor, or pen and ink.
  • Signed and Numbered: Refers to an artist’s signature (generally in pencil) and the numbering of an edition.

Posters

Most other paper artwork falls into the ‘poster’ category. Posters are actually reproduced photomechanically, like limited editions, but are not signed and numbered, and are printed with cheaper paper and inks. In other words, they are not produced with any long lasting qualities.

  • Open edition: This poster, reproduced from an original, has an unlimited edition size. It may or may not be signed by the artist, as well. Posters could be considered open editions.

Photographs

  • RC Photographs: This is the most common photo you will see. All of the snap shots that you have developed at the local drug store are RC (resin-coated) photographs. An RC photo is made up of a layer of paper with resin coating on either side, and an emulsive surface on top. The easiest way to identify them is to look for the manufacturers name printed on the back of the photo.
  • Fiber Based Photographs: These photos are printed on paper with a silver gelatin emulsion, and no resin coating on the back. Look for a paper backing instead of the plastic texture of RC photos to identify a fiber based photograph.
  • Ilfachrome (Cibachrome): A type of photograph which consists of 100% polyester (which makes them very heat-sensitive). It has a very glossy, almost liquid texture, and is much more colorfast than other photos. The surface is very easily damaged, so handle with cotton gloves and extreme care!

Animation Cels

Individual cels used to produce animated cartoons and films. Usually painted on sheets of acetate or Mylar D, and not meant to last beyond the production time of the film. Disney and Warner Brothers now produce ‘Sericels’, which are made exclusively for the collectors market and are printed on Mylar D.