What Is an Original Print?

An original print is a copy of an artwork that is made from the master image of that art piece. The master image is often carved into a durable material, such as stone, which is then used to produce a limited run of original prints.

In finance, original prints are classified as an alternative investment asset, and they can be closely sought after by collectors.

Key Takeaways

  • An original print is a copy made from the master image of an art piece.
  • Original prints are limited edition artworks by their nature, making them prized collector's items.
  • They have grown in popularity in recent years, as investors have sought returns in alternative investments such as fine art and antiques.

Understanding Original Prints

Original prints are rare, due in part to the wear and tear caused by the process of producing them. Of course, the exact number of original prints in circulation will depend on the preferences of the artist and printers involved.

Generally, original prints are inherently limited edition art pieces, as it is rare for more than 50 original prints to be created—and often the number is far smaller than this. Once the original prints are made, any plates used to produce them are effaced to avoid unauthorized reproductions. Because of their limited nature, original prints are often prized by art collectors.

Each original print is signed by the artist and given an edition number, indicating how many original prints were made and which number within the series the particular print corresponds to. The master image is either destroyed altogether or marked off to prevent its reuse. Naturally, when master images do survive, they can also be prized collector's items. The presence of an author's signature can significantly enhance the value of an original print, in the same manner as with first-edition books.

In the past, original artworks were photographed and reproduced using an offset press process. Today, however, reproductions are made using large-format ink printers. These images are typically marked as "giclee" reproductions (pronounced "gee-clay") and are often printed on water-color paper or canvas to ensure they resemble the original.

Printmaking Materials

The original print can be made of various materials, including stone, block, or screen. Each impression yielded by the original print will be slightly different, due to the fact that each image is individually hand-pulled.

Real World Example of an Original Print

While it is true that most investors gravitate toward unique artworks rather than prints, the popularity of art prints has grown in recent years. Indeed, some prints have even crossed the $1 million threshold, while high-end auctions regularly produce four-figure and five-figure sales prices. For example, an original print of Rembrandt's 1653 work entitled "The Three Crosses" was sold in 2004 for $1.5 million.

This rising popularity of prints stems from the growth of the fine art market more generally. According to research conducted by the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS), the global art market achieved nearly $70 billion in annual revenue in 2018, across all sales channels.