There is an old saying in the art community that goes something like this: “Buy only what you like and pay only what the enjoyment of owning the work is worth to you”.

People who follow this rule when buying art prints have the satisfaction of building a collection that can provide many years of enjoyment.

Because tastes in art vary widely, “what you like” isn’t necessarily what your neighbor – or the art critics – like. Generally, we buy artwork because the subject evokes pleasant memories or experiences. The setting, atmosphere, and mood also add to enjoyment of the artwork.

So, unless you’re collecting art as an investment, buy what you like and enjoy the result. And here you can’t go too far wrong with art prints.

Today, art prints offer a huge range of choices and are also the most affordable. Note that we’re using “art prints” to mean art reproductions and not original prints.

Okay, so what’s the difference?

An art reproduction is where a high resolution scan is made of the original painting and then copies made using a variety of printing methods including off-set printing, giclee, or high quality inkjets. The reproduction can also be printed at different sizes and on different surfaces such as textured paper or canvas.

An original print on the other hand is not a copy of an existing work. Instead, from the outset the artist envisages a picture that can be created a number of times from an image drawn initially on a printing surface such as a metal plate, wood, linoleum, or stone (called a matrix).

This matrix is then used to print the image, usually by hand, on sheets of paper. So each print is in effect an “original”. Examples include etchings, lithographs, serigraphs (silk-screen), woodcuts and linocuts.

Because each print is usually hand-made by the artist, the number produced is typically quite small. Traditionally each print is then signed by the artist in pencil and given a number to indicate the size of the edition. This is the origin of “limited edition” prints.

The end result is that a genuine or original print will cost a lot more than an art reproduction. Below is an example of an etching by Eric Hesketh-Hubbard, an English artist born in 1892, titled “The Wheelwright”. It is signed by the artist in the margin and is number 32 of 50. (Courtesy Anne Hedley Fine Art).

Original etching, The Wheelwright

Although modern artworks are also sometimes produced as limited edition prints, the size of the editions is much bigger, often numbering in the hundreds, as the prints can be machine produced.

In most cases though art reproductions are “open edition” – in other words, there’s no limit on the number that can be printed and more can always be made to meet demand.

The advantage for the buyer with open edition prints is that prices can be kept low, while the artwork is also available in a variety of sizes and on a choice of surfaces. Add to that the many framing options and there’s no reason why you can’t decorate your home or office with tastefully framed prints that reflect your personal style, that will give years of enjoyment and – importantly – will not drain your finances.

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