What is an Original Print?

While there have been heated debates around the distinction between original prints and reproductive prints, a general definition is echoed by both the Print Council of America and the International Fine Print Dealers Association:

“A print is work of graphic art which has been conceived by the artist to be realized as an original work of art, rather than a copy of a work in another medium. Prints are produced by drawing or carving an image onto a hard surface (known as the matrix) such as a woodblock, metal plate, or stone. This surface is then inked and the image is transferred to paper by the application of pressure, thus creating an impression, or print. The printed image that results is the exact reverse of the image on the matrix.”

Unlike paintings or drawings, prints usually exist in multiple impressions, each created from the inked plate, block or stone. The total impressions made is called an edition. Artists began to sign and number each impression around the turn of the century to ensure that only the editions they intended to make would be in circulation. Plates are not to be used in subsequent printmaking runs without the artist’s explicit authorization. The process of printing the edition is therefore just as important to the authenticity of a print as the act of inscribing the image image onto the matrix.

From The Carved Line: Block Printmaking in New Mexico by Josie Lopez, Museum of New Mexico Press, 2017.

Albert H. Marvin, Jr., Junk Dealer, Taos, ca. 1935-1941. Lithograph, 9 3/4 x 12 inches.

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