What is a print?
Unlike a painting, prints are created through an indirect transfer process. Images are not drawn directly onto paper, but on a surface such as a stone or a metal plate, from which the image can then be printed a number of times.
The transfer occurs when a sheet of paper, placed in contact with this surface, is run through a printing press.
Original prints are referred to by the technique that was used to produce them, such as etching, engraving, lithograph, linocut, monotype, monoprint, woodblock and so on.
Click here to see an interactive demonstration of
how prints are made
Tips for the beginning collector of prints
- Before starting any collection it is important to find a focus for your collection. You may want to collect only bird prints, landscapes, Japanese prints, or perhaps just prints by one artist or prints of one class, such as black and white lithographs, monoprints, or miniature etchings.
This way, your collection will become more important and therefore more valuable, because it makes a statement. Focusing on one area and learning all about that particular subject will also make you more knowledgeable in that area; once you are familiar with your field seek it out. If you are on vacation visit local galleries and dealers. Different areas have different fancies. You may find that the works you desire may not be as popular in a given area and therefore their prices may be lower. It is almost always true that art objects are cheaper at their point of origin (especially folk art). If you are travelling in an area which produced a specific type of art you may find some worthwhile purchases. When learning about your art field you will often learn of other collectors who share your passion. These people may be potential buyers or sellers that you may contact.
- Hunting for a rare find or a good bargain is part of the fun of collecting prints. But first your eye must be trained to recognize value. The best way to begin is by visiting museums and galleries. Ask questions and read reference books about the areas or artists you like best.
- To start your collection it is a good idea to buy a couple of inexpensive prints first. That way you can start examining prints carefully and learn more about the different printing techniques. Keep an eye on eBay as you can sometimes find really good bargains. People don't always know what they are selling
and sometimes very proficiend dealers are just selling old unwanted prints which may be a good way to start a collection.
Studying reference books and viewing exhibits is invaluable, but hands-on experience is a must as well.
- If you buy from a
dealer, ask for a written guarantee. Buying directly from the artist is much better, not only because it will be cheaper, but because establishing direct contact and learning more about the artist will make you appreciate the print more. Always ask for a certificate of authenticity even if you are buying from the artist. This will be useful when re-selling the print as a proof or guarantee.
Always ask to see if there is a buy-back policy, or if you can trade a previous purchase toward a more valuable or more satisfying piece.
- Ask lots of questions. A dealer or artist will be happy to talk to interested clients. Artist love to let others know more about their creations and will be happy to answer all your questions.
- When purchasing prints, consider their value according to rarity and condition. The more people collecting in one area, the more the demand will raise prices in that area.
- Be Patient! Don't rush into buying or selling anything. Patience and select buying will help you get the best value for your money.
Caring for your collection
Gravure prints made with etching ink on acid-free etching paper or Japanese washi are among the most permanent works of art available. The pigment in black etching ink is finely ground carbon particles: it never fades. Etching paper is made from cotton fiber, washi from kozo or mulberry fiber, neither of which contain the lingin from wood pulp that causes deterioration of ordinary paper.
Nevertheless, as you develop your collection, make sure you learn to care for it properly, providing a good environment, and safe handling and storage conditions, critical to preserving paper collections.
- Don't handle the print itself any more than necessary.
- Avoid excessive humidity, light, or temperature.
- Protect your print using good acid-free mats and good framing.
- Do not cut or trim a print or puncture it with thumb tacks. Simply try to maintain it in its original condition.
- If your print is damaged due to spotting, foxing, acid burns, or stains, take it to a professional restorer. If a print is valuable enough to save, it deserves proper restoration, and a good professional is worth the cost.
When handling prints, always use two hands to lift the paper so that the edges do not get crimped.
Hands should be clean and dry before handling paper items, as the natural body oils from fingers can cause staining on the paper. Better to handle prints using cotton gloves.
Avoid having food or drinks in the area of your collection.
Never hang or store prints over or next to a radiator or any kind of heat source. Don't hang prints over a fireplace as the combination of heat, soot and smoke can do extensive damage in a very short period of time.
High humidity can lead to the development of foxing (small brown disfiguring spots in paper) or mold growth, which grows in excess of 70% relative to humidity. According to museum curators, 50% humidity is ideally suited for keeping fine works of art on paper.
Most paper items are susceptible to damage from ultraviolet (UV) and visible light. UV radiation, which is emitted by the sun and fluorescent bulbs, is particularly damaging to prints. as it fades inks and colors. Fading cannot be stopped by keeping your art in subdued light; oxidation will occur naturally even in the best condition. It is advisable not to hang your prints opposite a window nor expose it to direct sunlight as this will soon fade colors and paper will burn. Also avoid reflecting light as it has ultra-violet rays that can be very harmful to inks and paper.
Taking print out of direct light and putting it in a closet will not restore the color.
Never frame directly on glass. Before being framed your prints have to be matted using good quality acid free matting. To block harmful light on framed pieces UF-3 plexiglass can be used. If your prints aren't matted, condensation will form, the print will be damaged and ultimately destroyed.
Mats should be changed every few years, especially in humid environments. Good conservation practice protects both the print and its investment value as well.
Many framing shops use acid-emitting adhesives and backing papers to seal the backs of frames. They also often use hard-to-remove glazier's points to squeeze the print tightly into the frame, leaving marks around the edge of the mat window on the print. A much better print conservation practice is not to seal prints in frames permanently, so that the mats can easily be changed every few years. Avoid glue, tape or other adhesives like the plague! Use only wheat paste and rice paper to attach a print to a matte.
Always ensure that there is air circulation behind your print.
Make sure you check for dampness on any outer wall where you are hanging your prints. If there is a lot of water, moisture will seep through and into your prints.
Basements are not the ideal place to hang or store prints.
It is best to store paper items flat, rather than folding and unfolding, which can lead to creases and tears but never store or leave prints flat on the floor; get them elevated so that air can circulate underneath and around them.
Never store unmatted prints directly on top of the other, unless an acid free tissue has separated them. Ideally, your prints should be kept in their individual folios with an acid-free tissue on either side of the print, or mat your prints and use and acid-free tissue on top.
If you can have an option of wooden or metal shelving, it is better to opt for the wooden shelves, as metal tends to cause condensation of water over a period of time. Metal is also a greater conductor of heat in case of fire.
Clean and air (remove backing) framed prints every once in a while as dust contains air borne mold spores that can cause deterioration of the prints.
Pollution, Dust, and Pests
Pollutants, such as ozone and fumes from photocopy machines, car exhausts, and heating systems can cause damage to prints which should be protected from dust and dirt. Monitor for evidence of rodents and insects, such as silverfish, book lice and book worms, which can eat, soil and damage paper; good housekeeping and environmental conditions will help reduce the threat of these pests.