Whether you’re looking to start buying art or wishing to grow your existing collection, prints are a great way to pick up new works at an affordable price.
It has never been easier to buy a print – or so overwhelming – with a host of galleries, fairs, auctions and online marketplaces to choose from. Here’s a guide to keywords, common techniques and buying tips to help you get started:
Original or limited edition prints are much more than a reproduction or a poster. For Pop artist Andy Warhol, printmaking was a favourite technique and many of his best-known works only exist as prints. Other artists, like Jeff Koons, used printmaking, multiples and editions to experiment with new ideas on existing designs.
While a painting can sell for millions in a gallery or at auction, prints and editions by the same artists can be bought for considerably less. Investing in prints can also be extremely profitable: Banksy is the perfect example – the artist originally sold signed editions of Girl with Balloon for £150 back in 2004 – they now regularly fetch well over £200,000 on the secondary market. A purple AP sold in September 2020 for £791,250.
A print is a work of art that exists in many, identical impressions. Most often works on paper, prints were traditionally made through a press machine but now they can also be made using a digital printer. An artist could have made the prints themselves or worked in collaboration with professional printmakers.
An edition is any artwork made in a limited number – it could be a print, sculpture, photograph or video. Editions are usually signed and numbered by the artist: a print of 10 editions will be numbered “1/10” to “10/10”.
A multiple is an artwork with a very large number of editions, or no limit at all. These works are often mass-produced and the artist is less involved, making multiples more affordable than editions.
Before creating an edition, artists often make a small number of proofs to check the quality. These artist’s proofs are labelled “A/P” or “AP.” Traditionally, artists made notes on these proofs and kept them in their own collection. Due to their rarity and unique qualities, artist’s proofs are more expensive than editions.
The techniques of printmaking are always evolving, but here are some of the most common types.
The drawing is created using a stencil on a fabric mesh. Different meshes can be used to create a layered effect. Screen printing was one of Warhol’s favourite techniques.
The drawing is scratched onto a metal plate, which is submerged in acid to create deeper lines. The artist then fills these lines with ink and presses it against paper to create the print. Lucian Freud made many etchings throughout his career.
The design is drawn onto a flat stone or metal plate using a greasy substance. Printing ink sticks to the grease, while the non-greasy areas are ink-repellent. This technique has been used by artists from Pablo Picasso to Frank Stella.
An image is carved out of the surface of a block of wood. When coated in ink, an impression is created from the block’s raised areas. Woodcut is one of the oldest forms of printing but is no less inspiring to contemporary artists, including Damien Hirst.
The cost of a print can vary depending on its popularity, rarity or quality. Some artists command higher prices than others. Signatures can sometimes – but not always – add to the print’s value. Its provenance and history can also be a major factor: if a famous collector once owned the print, or if it has been featured in a book or museum exhibition, can all contribute to its price.
If you’re looking to buy a print by an artist you love, check galleries that represent them and see if they have any prints available. Or, if you’re not sure what you’re looking for yet, browse galleries, art fairs and auctions for inspiration. Online is a great place to start too, and MyArtBroker offers authentic prints by leading modern and contemporary artists, with drastically reduced costs compared to buying from a traditional gallery or auction house.
Rarer editions are more valuable. If few people are selling a similar print to you – because other editions are lost or in museum collections – yours will be more sought-after by other buyers.
Trends in the art world can also make a crucial difference: if an artist is in the news or has a major exhibition, there is usually a renewed interest in their work and often an increase in their prices.
Prints that are in good condition will be more valuable than prints that are damaged or poorly stored, so take care of your print and it will take care of you.
We recommend you take your print to a reputable framer – have it mounted using the right materials and placed under high-quality glass. Don’t trim your print to fit into a smaller frame, as this will affect its value. Hang your print away from direct sunlight and keep it away from moisture and fluctuating temperatures. Carefully store any paperwork that came with your print too, especially certificates of authenticity – you will need these if you decide to sell your print later.