Lynne Roebuck (Handwritten) 

Three kinds of ‘fine art’ prints

Giclée, litho or ‘original’ – a really simple guide

You can't always tell by the price, what kind of print you're looking at.

There are broadly three kinds of ‘fine art’ print you're most likely to encounter for sale online, in an art gallery, exhibition, or elsewhere: Giclée prints, lithographic prints and ‘original’ prints.

There is much confusion about prints, even among website owners, artists, original art sellers and exhibition curators. This means that sometimes artwork is labelled incorrectly, and even wrongly included in exhibitions claiming to show one kind of print. I've seen Giclée prints incorrectly included in a prestigious ‘Original’ prints exhibition I'm sad to say.

It isn't that any of these types of prints are bad and should be avoided – not at all. It's simply that you don't want to buy a print thinking it's something other than it is, do you?

For reasons which will become obvious below, 'Original' prints tend to appear to be the most expensive for their size when compared with the others

It's not always the case that original prints are the more expensive, however, because an artist's reputation and the size of the edition can influence the price being asked.

Differences between prints

    • (Key) Print type:

    • Hand made

    • Machine made

    • Reproduction of another artwork
    • How long they last*
    • Giclée prints

    • Between 70 and 200 years
    • (Offset) Lithographic (“Litho”) prints**

    • Begins fading/yellowing after 30 years
    • “Original” prints (Sometimes called “Artist’s” prints)

      Linocut/print, woodcut/block or wood engraving, etching, collagraph, monotype/print, stone/plate lithographs***

    • There are prints of this kind around which are over 200 years old

* I do not know if these claims are true or not, and it very much depends on how prints are cared for. Works on paper are more delicate than works on canvas or board. 

  ** Lithograph is an awkward one. There are three kinds of this type of Lithograph (It's not made easy is it!?). Offset lithograph, stone and plate lithographs. However, the type of lithographic print you're most likely to encounter is the offset-lithographic limited edition prints. 

  *** There are more ways to make original prints, though the above list identifies many of the common ones.

The prints for sale on this website are “Original” linocuts

Ask the right questions

Given the confusion, even among professionals about print types, especially when digital/computer art is involved, it's important you can ask the right question(s) to ensure you know what you're getting for your money.

    • Is it possible for me to see the original artwork which this print is a copy of?
    • Yes” you could see the original art = Machine made (Giclée or Offset-Lithographic print).
    • No” you cannot see the original art. If the answer is “No” then ask a second question…
    • Was the original artwork destroyed/lost, or was it done on a computer – is that why I can't see it?
    • Yes” the art has been lost/destroyed or it was done on a computer = Machine made (Giclée or Lithograph).
    • No” …an original artwork has never existed ever, not on canvas, paper or a computer = Hand made (‘Original’ print)

Hand made

So what does ‘hand made’ mean in this context? Put simply: it means that nothing involving a plug, batteries or on/off switch is involved in the process. Er, apart from the kettle that is, for a nice cuppa break! Oh and perhaps occasionally the radio/gramophone too.

Inks are rolled onto plates by the printmaker, the plates are positioned on the press and the paper carefully placed on top. The press is then wound by the printmaker. The paper is carefully removed and hung up to dry. Then the plate is picked up from the press and reinked to do it all over again. This is for just one colour. The whole process is repeated for the next colour.

Machine made

Giclée prints are made by pressing a ‘print’ button.

It's not that machine made prints are bad things. I'm simply explaining the difference between the types of print on offer.