Gallery Focus

Print or Reproduction?


by K J May

Harris House Fine Art




     What, exactly, is an original print? This question frequently causes confusion and sparks debate amongst present-day art lovers, collectors, dealers, and even artists themselves.

     Commercial art reproductions based on photographic processes have been around for well over a century. The most common publishing method, offset lithography, has been joined recently by giclee—digitally reproduced images printed with inkjet—and these methods are well suited to posters, book illustration and advertising art. Unfortunately, the art markets have been flooded in the last thirty years or so, with costly yet ultimately worthless reproductions posing as limited edition prints.

     This confusion has been created by art publishers, investors, and ambitious artists with an eye to making large profits from an uninformed public—a public who are under the impression that if it’s signed and numbered and comes with a certificate, it is not only worth paying a high price for, but will appreciate in value as well. In many cases, the artists themselves, particularly those without a background in the methods of original printmaking, have been led to believe this as well.

     Yet true printmaking—in its various forms—is as legitimate and exciting a visual art form as any other original medium such as painting, drawing, and sculpture. And, as with other art forms, the history of printmaking is rich with accidental discovery, experimentation, improvement and mastery of technique.

       Traditional printing methods—relief (such as woodblock and linocut), intaglio (such as etching, aquatint and drypoint), planographic (lithography and chromolithography) and serigraph (silkscreen)—are still being practised today. Some artists adhere closely to the time honoured methods of earlier masters, while others are finding new means of expression through the blending of old and new. A contemporary sensitivity with regards to environmental and health issues has led to some innovative new techniques such as Polyester Plate Lithography and Solarplate etching.

     Whatever route an artist chooses to go, it is heartening to know that original art in the form of the print is making a comeback, is constantly evolving and  is available, affordably, to the sophisticated collector who demands the real thing.  

      It is our hope that, through education, enthusiasm, and perhaps most importantly, integrity, more artists will be encouraged to pursue traditional printmaking methods as another form of artistic expression and offer, at the same time, artwork that is both original and affordable, to a better informed public.


For more information, and for those interested in contemporary artists involved in traditional printmaking techniques, it is well worthwhile visiting:


For further reading on the fraudulent practice of selling art reproductions as valuable prints, an excellent article

“The Michigan Art Multiples Sales Act” by Skip Natzmer appears in the Michigan Bar Journal.