Prints, once known as an alternative for paintings, have become a phenomenon on their own. Nowadays it's an essential art category for every modern collector. No matter which, style, size, colour or theme you prefer.
“Printing is a process for mass reproducing text and images using a master form or template.”And we should be very grateful for that invention. Let’s start at the beginning, what did printing bring us and why was it so important for the art world?
First of all, printing wasn’t used for art at first. It actually made the lives of scholars and religion figures a lot easier. The first printing techniques, dating back to around the year 300, were used to print texts and images, mostly for religious purposes. The techniques were very impractical. A template was carved out of wood of one entire page or image. This was, of course, great, because now you could make infinite copies, but you had to make a separate template for each page you wanted to print. These woodblock templates later evolved into modular templates. This was around the year 1050. The modular templates allowed you to reshuffle the letters to print any text you wanted.
What you just read is true, but only for china. In the western world people weren’t so quick to invent printing. In Europe books and imagery was still created by hand. A process that was so slow that it could take years before a single book was finished. It was only around 1300 that block printing was quite common. It was mostly used to print religion images. Around 1450 there was a huge breakthrough. During this year Thomas Gutenburg introduced the first movable printing press. An invention not just essential to the art world, but to our way of living and thinking. The printing press allowed people to print knowledge and images in quantities which were unheard of. This technology played a key role in renaissance and the scientific revolution and laid the groundwork for the information age. So, it probably won’t come as a surprise that Gutenberg’s printing press is considered the most important invention of the second millennium.
In the above you already read about the printing of images. It can be said that these were the first instances that printing was used to create art. These days, the art world would look completely different without the prints. In essence, prints make art available to everybody. If only unique works of art are made. And each work has to be hand crafted. Just a handful of us would be able to afford an art collection.
Today even, there are artists that only create prints. Artists like Philippe Grimaud, a french illustrator and printing artist. In a world without printing he might not even be able to express his creativity. And what about pop art? How it all began. One of the most influential pop art pieces is a collage using material cut from magazines. In other words, another amazing work of art that would not have seen the light without the invention of printing.
We keep talking about “printing” and how it produces “prints”, but that’s not very detailed, is it? There are so many different printing techniques and all have different pro’s and con’s.
Let’s begin with a big one, giclee prints. Giclee printing is an invention from the United States. The word is derived from the French word “gicler”, which simply means “spraying”. It's a technique very commonly used in fine art reproductions. This is due to the tremendous amount of details that can be accomplished in the print. A great example of this technique is used in art can be seen when you look at the works of Joaquim Falco. He uses very complex and bright giclee prints as the basis for his art.
Another important technique is that of digital printing. It basically comes down to printing digital images directly on a surface. This technique eliminates the need for templates, which can save a lot of time and money. Especially now that the technology standards are so high digital printing has become a great alternative to more traditional techniques. This technique is commonly used in fine art photography. For example, Ugne Pouwell prints all her photos with digitally.
A printing technology that a lot of artists rely on. The name is derived, simply, from the way it works. When creating a screen print a template or screen is applied to a sheet of paper. Ink is then poured over the paper and spread out with a blade. This process can be repeated to create several different layers. A great example of this technique is Blek le Rat’s Rat No 5. A total of 6 screens with different colours had to be used to create this fine print.
There are many more different printing techniques used today to create all kinds of art. These 3 are some of the most important and most common techniques.
Better question would be, why shouldn’t a print be the right choice for you? Prints come in all shapes and sizes and all colours of the rainbow. And don’t worry about style. You can find prints in every art style. There is no difference.
Another great aspect of prints is that most often they are more affordable compared to hand crafted works of art. Simply due to the reason that the complexity of creating only has to be endured once. After which it can be copied theoretically an invite amount of times. That said, it’s important to look at how many editions are printed of each work. Most prints are found in edition sizes of 50 or a 100. More established artists, for example, Blek le Rat, tend to create editions sizes higher than that. Rat No 5 for example is printed a total of 300 times.
The most important aspects to consider when acquiring prints, besides if you love the work, is quality. Two vital aspects here are printing techniques. Is it one of the common, widely used techniques? And which quality paper was used? An artist might print with the most expensive ink using the best technique. It still won’t work if it’s not done on quality paper.
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